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Explain and discuss the idea of evil in seven and the idea of how we should respond to evil that is defended in Fincher's film

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Explain and discuss the idea of evil in seven and the idea of how we should respond to evil that is defended in Fincher’s film

The idea of evil in seven can be interpreted in many different ways, therefore the idea of

evil must be discussed. In order to respond to how Fincher portrays evil, again the idea of

evil needs to be analysed to fully understand the philosophical concept. Seven is very

much a film which involves religious concepts, but the question I think is vital is that is

evil associated with religion?, for example if you are atheist and evil is not a sin, how do

you distinguish what is right or wrong? What I do not understand about how we should

respond to evil in seven is that Jon Doe may be said to represent the devil and that’s quite

understandable in some ways(which I will explore later) but does the devil not corrupt

through exploiting the human race through sins? And if so why did John Doe need to

murder his victims? Shouldn’t he enjoy the fact that his corruption is working? It seems

extremely ironic to say but John doe seems to be acting out his acts on the sinners of

God. However, later on in my essay I am going to explore the meaning of the devil in

order to try and answer my question. Also I am going to try to understand the varied idea

of evil and if it is portrayed typically in Seven and if the traditional medieval  religious

concept of evil still occurs today, as in Fincher’s film medieval evil values are portrayed

in today’s hectic city society. The issues addressed in seven are extremely important as

considering last century the world experienced two world wars and many events as what

you could describe as evil such as the Auschwitz killings, it makes one wonder if the

same issues of evil can still be addressed today.

The film Seven is set in modern New York, the dark chilling story tells of how two

detectives have to hunt down a serial killer, as over the course of a week seven murders

appear all associated with the seven deadly sins; Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Pride, Lust,

Envy and Wrath. Although set in the twentieth century the origins of the seven deadly

sins date back as far as the time the bible was being written. Instead of being listed all at

once they occur in different sections throughout. It was Dante Alighieri (1265 - 1321),

however, a Catholic priest who listed them together in his book the Divine Comedy as a

method to teach virtue and the dangers of the individual relenting to their base

desires.(Unknown: 1996)

But the question this leads me to ask is; what kind of reality does God actually have? If,

hundreds of years ago when civilization was unaware of the world, all one had to believe

in was God and the afterlife of heaven, how does that compare to nowadays where we are

aware of the world we live in? nowadays there are more and more people turning against

religion, but does that mean they still withhold moral values? And if a wrong is not a sin

what does it mean to them and are they actually born to be evil or born to recognize evil

and avoid it even though the threat of the devil is not occurring. Atheist philosopher

Nietzsche commonly used the phrase ‘God is dead’ to describe how a number of people

in modern day do not need to believe in God, therefore acts such as the seven deadly sins

may be seen as wrong but not, anymore sinful. Nietzsche believed that humans should

look past the idea of ‘evil’ if we want to realise our full potential for

living(Grundy:2005). His idea was that humans were living as what he described as a

‘herd’, living by everybody else morals and values, so that life can be kept sensible.

Therefore his concept of evil was that we are conformed to not commit evil and when we

do we are going against how people want life to be but we are starting to express

emotions that are really inside of us but what humanity wants us to keep hidden        

                                                                                                                                     (Salubri:1997). ‘The death of God’, however can not just be interpreted in Nietzsche’s

view. Neietzch used the phrase to describe atheism and how the thought of God is no

longer needed. It is known as ‘radical theology’ and can mean different things altogether.

There is also the view that there once was a God and that admiration and praise once had

its place, but somewhere along history God has died and the world has changed, therefore

evil is unjustified nowadays (Sams: 2005). Kant, on the other hand rejects the Neietzch

theory as his ideas of morals and evil are completely different. Kante believed we are free

to distinguish our own morals and what can be classed as evil, therefore we are capable

of making the decision as to what is right or wrong. "Act only on that maxim whereby at

the same time you can will that it shall become a universal law"(Unknown: 2005). In

other words, if we are to commit an evil we should imagine what would become of the

world if we were to all do the same. These theories are particularly important when

discussing the film seven, in order to trace the concept of the idea of evil in seven and

how we should respond to evil that is defended in the film.

Seven involves four main characters; Mills, Somerset, Jon Doe and Tracey (Mill’s wife).

Somerset and Mills find themselves teamed together to investigate the gruesome murders

that begin to occur and eventually start to show their own characteristics and

representations, throughout the film. The murderer John Doe is portrayed throughout the

film as a man with serious psychological problems, easy to understand why one could

come to the conclusion that he represents the devil, he commits seven gruesome murders

in which he justifies by stating that his victims were committing sins of religion anyway.

However, the irony is that these sins would lead to a spiritual destruction therefore it was

not his place to become involved. To explain the idea of evil in seven with regards to the

character John Doe it is vital for one to analyse the concept of the devil himself. It is clear

that John Doe hated the world as he cannot be as he wanted to be, thus he was struck with

envy. The devil is an important factor to discuss evil as the bible state that “all God

created was good” (Devil: 2005), meaning that the Devil must have been created good

originally. If that lays the case then does that mean we are all created good and evil is

inflicted upon ourselves? Kant suggests that ‘nothing is good in itself, except good will’

suggesting that no action we participate is either good or bad just the way we plan the

outcome to be morally (Bivins: 2005).

The presumption that John Does represents the devil can be made in many ways. In seven

John Does is patient and calm, all the way until the end of the film as long as he was the

one in control and powerful he was getting along well. Even though it was acts that were

of an evil nature as long as they bought him power he did not mind. Extremely similar to

the devil, an example would be another passage from the bible “Satan rules the world

through deception and sin, not legitimately by God” (Devil: 2005). However, the problem

we have with the existence of the devil is with the devil comes evil, author Peter Kreeft

quoted in one of his books:

The problem of evil is the most serious problem in the world. It is also the one serious

objection to the existence of God. More people have abandoned their faith because of the

problem of evil than for any other reason. It is certainly the greatest test of faith, the

greatest temptation to unbelief. And it's not just an intellectual objection. We feel it. We

live it. That's why the Book of Job is so arresting.


Leading back to the question what kind of reality does God actually have? As mentioned

the bible states all God created was good so how did the world get this way? Why did the

devil appear with his sinful temptations? It may seem like an unanswerable question but

even empirical philosophers seem to believe it can be answered. Somebody who practices

empirical theism thinks you cannot answer a question on the world unless you have

experienced it, thinkers such as Hume demonstrate this. However, Hume does believe

one can answer the question of Gods existence without experiencing God firsthand as the

universe is so complex and everything fits together perfectly, therefore there must be an

intelligent being that created us, thus God. Meaning that we can learn to associate God

with evil and accept god with all the wrongs in the world, even if we do not necessarily


Another way to understand evil in the film seven is to also try to understand the role of

good throughout the film. My thoughts on the film were that John Doe represented the

devil and that Somerset represented God. As viewers, we see how Doe was content on

destroying life as Mills knew it; however Somerset did not seem to be affected personally

by Doe, could this be because Doe is aware Somerset is plating the role of God?. Back to

what I mentioned earlier about Doe committing murders on people that were committing

sins on earth, at the end scene in the car Somerset seems to agrees with Doe, yet although

realising that their consensus does not justify Doe's irrational, yet seemingly rational

killings. This leads me to believe that Somerset is speaking as God that there are many

people on earth committing what are classed as deadly sins.

In conclusion I have discovered that the idea of evil in seven is portrayed through Doe

and although the crimes he committed were on what he would call sinners, these people if

believed in religion would meet their fate spiritually. Doe was portraying the devil in

wanting power and the feeling he was in control of the situation he created. By reading

other philosophers theories I have concluded that evil is portrayed in how the viewer

wants to portray it. If one believes that we are born good and that we decide our fate then

Seven can be taken as a film that sees Doe as the evil being and the people he gruesomely

killed as everyday people who just lost their way somewhere along the line, but however

committing ‘sins’ such as the seven deadly sins they are deciding their own fate, Doe on

the other hand was deciding other peoples which I believe is rightfully evil.

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