David Fincher’s film, rebroadcast this evening on TMC, is on the cover of the Première Classics of the fall.
Seven returns to TV on TMC on Sunday September 24 at 9:10 p.m. Be careful, if you haven’t seen it, we risk (slightly) spoiling the ending – even if David Fincher’s second film is remembered, it’s not only because of its traumatic finale, but also because of everything that precedes this finale: the insane artistic direction, the overwhelming image work, the dynamic of the duo of cops played by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, and obviously the diabolically methodical script by Andrew Kevin Walker.
We tell you behind the scenes of the filming of the film in issue 25 of Première Classics, which has just been released on newsstands. It’s okay, you just (re)see Seven ? So, how about we talk a little about the ending? Or rather ends, since Seven almost didn’t finish as we know…
Summary of Première Classics n°25: Seven, Jane Birkin, American Night, Wim Wenders, The Wicker Man…
“In 50 years, 20-year-olds will be having a drink, and they will be talking about last night’s film on TV, they will no longer remember the names of the actors – but they will say that Seven will be “the film with the head in the box”. This is how Fincher tried to persuade the film’s producer, Arnold Kopelson, to keep the ending originally written by Walker. Fincher had reasons to fight: flushed by the disastrous shooting of his first feature film Alien 3which made him swear never to work for a big studio again, he was mistakenly sent a script for Seven with the original ending… The one with the “head in the box”. Excited by what he reads, he agrees to shoot Seven : but the violence and darkness of the film is such that Kopelson refuses the ending as it is. “This film will not end with a head in a box”, he says. So how to do it?
A hostage situation in a church
Before David Fincher was hired on the film, Seven was to be made in the early 1990s by Jeremiah S. Chechik. The latter had filmed the successful Christmas comedy National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) with ex-Saturday Night Live Chevy Chase, and released directly on video here, nicely translated by The tree has the balls…And Walker has to change the ending of his film to make it a happy ending. “The change I was asked for all the time was to keep Gwyneth Paltrow’s character alive. That she’s in danger at the end, but she’s saved,” Walker told us in 2014. “When Chechik was hired on the film, he even had me write an ending set in an abandoned church with seven paintings representing the seven sins…” And where Mills confronts John Doe who has taken his wife hostage, but saves her life. But the studio which had the rights to Seven closed in 1994 and producer Arnold Kopelson bought the script to offer it to the New Line studio, who in turn offered it to Fincher…
Se7en: the dramatic ending of David Fincher’s film almost never existed
The dog in the box
In one version of the script, a dog’s head is there (since the David/Tracy couple owns three mutts) in order to attenuate the violence of the thing a little. But Kopelson is the only one who thinks we should get rid of the head. Brad Pitt, who signed on to star in the film with the first draft of the script, also wants the head in the box. Morgan Freeman too. Everyone wants the lead, except Kopelson.
The “cut to black” test
In mid-1995, during the test screening of Seven at the Lincoln Center in New York, Fincher gave strict instructions to the projectionists: end with a “cut to black” and leave around fifteen seconds of deep black after the last image of the film so that the audience can absorb the final twist. In the projected montage, Mills guns John Doe, and a police officer in a helicopter covering the scene screams for help. Fine on deep black. Except that instead of the much-desired “cut to black”, the projectionists immediately turn the lights back on in the room. On the way out, Fincher comes across three middle-aged women, “Midwest schoolteacher genre”. And one of them says this sentence: “We should kill the people who made this film”.
Going to retire
In order to soften the violence of the ending, Fincher was also offered a funny alternative ending: it’s not Mills who shoots John Doe, but Somerset! Just after the shot, we discover that it was the old cop who killed the serial killer. And who declares, revolver still smoking in hand, “we’re going to say that it’s my retirement…” A downright cheesy punchline, like The lethal Weaponwhich was never shot, but simply storyboarded in order to show that it did not work.
The happy ending
Following the disastrous test screening, Fincher still agreed to shoot a nighttime epilogue. This is the end of Seven as we know it: the cops at the crime scene, Mills in the car, with the voiceover of Morgan Freeman philosophizing while quoting Hemingway… It’s a slightly shaky postscript , which is perhaps the worst scene in the film, yes, but it must be said that the bar is really very high.
David Fincher prepares a reissue of Seven in 4K