Murder by Imitation: The Influence of Se7en’s Title Sequence

Tim Groves
April 2018 (Issue 43)
Screening the Past

The serial killer film is nothing if not prolific: Robert Cettl discusses over six hundred examples in his annotated filmography, Richard Dyer argues that there are over two thousand serial killer films, and the IMDB lists more than 3500 film and television titles. [1] As with any genre, the serial killer film is marked by its typicality. Indeed, Philip Simpson criticises the serial killer film as a subgenre that is “endlessly derivative of its predecessors”. [2] The tropes of the clever, fiendish killer, his grotesque, ritualistic ‘signature’ and the gifted but damaged investigator are certainly familiar, but how does the serial killer film replicate itself on a textural level? This article will analyse the influence of Kyle Cooper’s much admired opening title sequence in Se7en (David Fincher, 1995). [3] However, rather than exploring the general influence of the sequence, I will focus on its stylistic similarities to the credit sequences of other serial killer texts such as The Bone Collector (Phillip Noyce, 1999), Red Dragon (Brett Rattner, 2002), Sanctimony (Uwe Boll, 2001), Taking Lives (D.J. Caruso, 2004) and the first season of Whitechapel (Ben Court and Caroline Ip, 2009). I will argue that their imitative or plagiaristic qualities can be interpreted in terms of Mark Seltzer’s work on the repetitive and circular discourse of serial killing.

Se7en

The title sequence of Se7en appears a few minutes into the film, occurring after a brusque initial encounter between Detectives William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt) at the scene of the first murder. The sequence runs for just over two minutes and contains over a hundred shots, many in close up. It shows a person (whom we retroactively infer is the killer John Doe [Kevin Spacey]) shaving off the skin on his fingertips, and then working on a group of notebooks while wearing bandages. We see Doe writing in longhand, and highlighting and erasing portions of other texts. He also develops photographs and uses scissors to trim Polaroids and pieces of film. Doe incorporates some of these images and texts into the notebooks and then uses needle and thread to stitch the pages of his journal into a book, one of many.

The title sequence provides vital story material for the viewer about Doe’s activities. He removes his fingertips to ensure that he does not leave fingerprints behind, either in his apartment or at crime scenes. This also enables him to toy with the investigators by leaving a message composed of fingerprints on a wall at the second murder scene. Instead of this resulting in Doe’s apprehension, it points the police to his third victim, whose amputated arm was used to ‘write’ the words “help me”. After Doe surrenders, the police discover that he does not have a Social Security number, nor any banking or other official records. He is also, as Somerset states, “John Doe by choice”. His anonymity focuses police attention on to his mission or “work”. Indeed, during the final confrontation, Doe insists that he is not personally important, but that his crimes will be remembered and studied because of their shocking nature and diabolical logic (and Se7en is more memorable than many other serial killer films for precisely this reason).

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Thanks to Joe Frady

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Art of the Title: Angus Wall & Elastic

Art of the Title: Angus Wall

Art of the Title: Elastic

In Studio Partners:

Design: Elastic
Editorial: Rock Paper Scissors
VFX: a52

Still Image: Joe LaMattina

The One Thing Game of Thrones, Westworld, and The Crown Have in Common

Along with shows including American Gods, The Defenders, True Detective, and more, they’ve all got gorgeous, elaborate opening credits designed by Elastic.

By Nick Romano
August 24, 2017
Vanity Fair, Hollywood

How do you set the tone for the sprawling world of Game of Thrones in just under 120 seconds? Ask Angus Wall. For the past six years, the designer—who created the HBO drama’s striking main-title sequence—has been devising new bits of opening animation for Thrones to coincide with the drama’s plot progression. Viewers know within the first two minutes of an episode whether they’re heading to Winterfell, King’s Landing, or beyond the Wall—where the night is truly dark and full of terrors. This year, the show’s plot has taken fans to new and long-absent locations including Dragonstone, Oldtown (where Sam studies to be a maester), and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, which means the sequence itself has also had to evolve.

Read the full article

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Art of the Title: David Fincher

David Fincher: A Film Title Retrospective

August 27, 2012
Art of the Title

The History of Movie Title Sequences

John P. Hess
July 30th, 2017
Filmmaker IQ

Not only do Title Sequences tell you the name of the film and the stars, they can also set the tone and mood and put you in the right frame of mind to experience the film or TV show to come. Explore the history of the title sequence and how they’ve evolved along with business of filmmaking over the past century.