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Putting a lot of Sloth into it: Sloth in se7en…

A few months back, I watched the film se7en twice in quick succession, as I knew two people who hadn’t seen it, and thought I might join them. The film actually rewards repeated viewings, which is nice, but I couldn’t stop a particular question from popping into my mind as I watched the film again. The murders in the film, as the title implies, all follow a fairly basic theme, with each based around one of the seven deadly sins. However, I had a bit of difficulty making “sloth”stick.

Dead tired...

In most cases, it’s a fairly obvious example of that sin. For “gluttony”, our serial killer had a guy literally eat himself to death. For “lust”, he had another person kill a prostitute. For “greed”, he killed a lawyer. The pattern is quite apparent, not least of which because it’s in the title of the film. However, the victim of “sloth” confused me a little bit. By the way, I checked the on-line dictionary for a definition of “sloth” and the following came back:

Reluctance to work or make an effort; laziness.

The victim here is a drug-dealing pederast who John Doe tied up and doped up in his bed for a year, feeding and maintaining (and sanitizing and bandaging) him, just enough to keep him alive – to the point where his poor victim’s brain turned to mush. It’s fairly obvious where “sloth” comes into the creepy poetic fate Doe has mapped out for the former criminal, to the point that the character can’t actually leave the bed.

Clearing the air...

However, with one big exception towards the end of the film, Doe doesn’t appear to force the sin he punishes on to the victim in the first place – he just exacts a sort of “poetic justice.” As a rule, looking at the majority of the victims, the sin is major part of their lifestyle before they meet John Doe. The lawyer is greedy, the fat man over-eats, the prostitute makes a living off sex. However, the guy locked in his apartment (and, about a year afterwards, inside his own head), doesn’t appear to have been especially slothful.

He was convicted with having sex with an underage girl, which would lead one to assume “lust” might be a more appropriate sin. He dealt drugs, so he earned a living (even a criminal one). Had he just been a user, perhaps it would seem a better fit – it’s easy to picture a zoned-out stoner as the very embodiment of “sloth”, sitting there and doing nothing all day – occasionally giggling uncontrollably to children’s television.

You snooze, you lose...

On the other hand, I suppose, as I sit here thinking about it, you could argue that John Doe wouldn’t consider selling drugs to be a job at all. Or, perhaps, merely fronting for a drug organisation isn’t exactly the most demanding of occupations. From what I gather in popular culture, it works in a fairly simple manner: a few people show up, pay you a large amount of money, and then leave. It isn’t exactly meeting deadlines or pushing paper. However, I think there’s more to it than that.

Maybe the guy was just withdrawn and quite. After all, he’s the kind of person who can disappear for a year without anybody missing him enough to check his last known address. Even the landlord doesn’t seem especially bothered that he never sees his client, only happy paid on-time and not asking any questions. One would imagine that a person must be quite distant from those around them to vanish completely unnoticed. Of course, given the film’s attitude towards life in a big city, it’s entirely possible that the lack of anybody noticing was meant to refer more to the city than the victim in question.

Call the detectives!

Perhaps there’s an aspect of enablement to this. Perhaps, as the prostitute might be argued to encourage lust, you could argue that a drug dealer encourages and enables sloth – he allows and fuels a lifestyle built around that particular deadly sin. However, in the murder of the prostitute, Doe makes her client complicit – here there’s no such element to proceedings. I don’t think that’s quite it.

I don’t know. This is just one of those minor little questions that occurs to me on watching a film like this. It’s amazing and sometimes bizarre the questions we have after watching a film – particularly after we’ve already seen it, so we aren’t focusing on the plot so much. I find that’s when you start to notice stuff like that. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it and the guy was just a lazy bag of bits, but it’s strange that this grabbed me weird fancy one evening. What strange movie questions bother you?

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23 Responses

  1. I love those kinds of details in films. It reminds of the part of Inception where they blow up the hospital. It works on a superficial level, but the more I think about it, the less it makes sense, and the more I want to discover a way for it to make sense. I think it’s a mark of quality that a movie makes you delve into details like that.

    That being said, I’ve never really understood the appeal of Se7en. Sure, it’s an entertaining and interesting serial killer movie but I don’t see how it’s a “masterpiece”. I never really felt like any of the characters were particularly interesting. Both Pitt and Freeman do a great job lending their movie personas to their roles, but these roles are fairly conventional “rookie” and “soon-to-be-retiring veteran”. John Doe doesn’t seem to have much characterization, other than his signature criminal pathology. Like most of Fincher movies, I sometimes feel like the dialogue “tells” us what kind of characters they are, rather than a demonstration through their actions. In this respect, it felt similar to The Social Network.

    Even this kind of characterization wouldn’t be a problem if the story and plot was inherently interesting. But again, it feels like the story is there to only live up to the premise of “what if there is a serial killer who murders are based on the 7 deadly sins?” In other words, it feels fairly straightforward and arguably predictable (other than ending, I suppose).

    I don’t know. I guess I feel like the movie is just a vehicle for it’s “artsy” message. Don’t get me wrong, I like it when directors take “trashy” genres and class them up, but I guess I prefer it when something more interesting is done with story and character.

    • I don’t know. I think se7en suffers because every serial killer movie since has been trying to ape it – at the time, the only film that really felt similar was The Silence of the Lambs, but now films like that are a dime a dozen. I think it works so well because, as you observe, they’re archetypes – even the city is just “the city”, archetypal and anonymous.

      • Fair enough. I saw Se7en years after it was released, so that might have influenced my opinion.

  2. This is, literally, the exact same issue I had with the movie. I loved it, but I have no idea why sloth wasn’t as self explanatory as the other murders.

  3. Sloth means spiritual apathy. When you’re smuggling drugs and abusing children (like the guy in the movie was), you’re showing spiritual apathy.

    • Thanks Casper. Very fair point, certainly on dealing drugs. Never thought of it like that.

      That said, abusing children seems like more than spiritual apathy – it’s a much more direct and active type of crime, and it feels like it would have been more firmly rooted in lust.

  4. He didn’t directly kill him by imposing sloth upon him, he forced him to live the sloth lifestyle for ages and then he died.

    • Yes, but all of the other victims had aspects of their life that made the punishment poetic. The lawyer was greedy. The lust guy was visiting a prostitute in the first place. The greed guy was fat. I suppose drug dealing is a lazy way to make money, but child abuse doesn’t seem slothful. Unless you accept the well-argued comment above about sloth being mroe spiritual than literal.

  5. “Sloth,” as it was understood by the early theologians who formulated the seven deadly sins, is called “Socordia” or “akedia” in Latin and Greek respectively and referred to the idea of failing to foster or develop spiritual virtue because it is difficult or taxing. Think about R. Lee Ermey’s line in the film about Victor being raised a strict Southern Baptist but eschewing it in favor of dealing drugs (neither a difficult or virtuous job) and being a paedophile (real relationships take work and commitment, overpowering a minor with rape is neither difficult nor committed). His sins weren’t overtly passive (like our modern view of sloth) but they were easy choices to make that avoided the overt difficulty of virtue. Hope that helps!

    To be honest though, I stumbled on this blog looking for more theories about the research into the victim’s deterioration. I’m really curious how accurate Fincher’s depiction of the victim is.

  6. I think Doe chose Victor, a pederast and drug dealer as a victim because honest work is hard to do and requirse a lot of effort. Choosing being a criminal and to rape children is easy to do, because he chooses not to work hard and prefers to make money in the easy way, meaning forms of both physical and mental sloth. Falling into his desires of raping children is a form of mental sloth.

    Tht’s my point of view.

    • Thanks Sen. It’s not a bad point, but it still seems a bit more of a reach than the other sins.

    • John Doe chose Victor as he was the pedophile that the (Greed) lawyer set free. If you go back to the scene where Pitt and Freeman search John’s apartment you will see a newspaper clipping that reads something like “Lawyer sets free pedophile, public is outraged” and John circles Lawyer and pedophile.

  7. The sin that got me was Pride. I guess because the chick was some Supermodel or actress or whatever she was guilty of pride? That’s not necessarily right. Being a Model is a job, it does not make up for who you really are. If your an attractive person, and offered a career to Model…who wouldn’t be tempted to take advantage of that opportunity? Easy money. So basically because she was beautiful she had to be taught a lesson? Of course she chose to overdose rather than call for help. He cut off her fucking nose! Good grief. She probably swallowed the pills and chased them down with her own blood. I don’t know, maybe she was a unnecessarily nasty person inside and “deserved” it.

    • I think pride was the choice made after the disfigurement:
      a.) call ambulance, live, but wind up disfigured;
      b.) suicide by pills.

      I think it was the choice itself that marked her sin as pride. (Although one suspects he picked his victim based on observation and knew she was pre-disposed to pride.)

      With regards to “being taught a lesson”, I don’t think any of Doe’s crimes are justifiable. So a guy is large, that doesn’t mean he deserves to be punished; a lawyer is successful, that doesn’t merit Doe’s justice; the prostitute killed during the lust crime was probably just trying to make ends meet. However, I can understand the logic of most of them, barring Sloth.

    • I was thinking the same thing… how did she swallow all those pills with no water? Then I too thought oooohh she must of used the blood rushing out of her nose.
      And the reason she was (Pride), if you look at the scene she has pictures of herself framed on wall and on her nightstands. So Im guessing he picked her cuz she thought she was so pretty

  8. Much like “sloth” in this film, you need to get out more.

  9. You’re stoner comment’s inaccurate , I think you just watch to many movies. As for this movie “se7en” not the greatest.

  10. I’ve never been enamored by Se7en. To me, the motivations of John Doe never made sense. Here’s what I mean:
    My favorite “murder” of this film was pride. In my mind, this was the perfect way for John Doe to demoralize the detectives by showing them the inescapable nature of our sins. A woman makes the choice to take her own life rather than abandon her vanity.
    This left me feeling hollow about the rest of the film for I feel that none of the other murders, with the possible exception of wrath, managed to capture this feeling. As mentioned in the original post, the sloth victim had his sloth inflicted upon him. The gluttony victim wasn’t given a choice or opportunity like the pride victim, he was simply murdered in a horrific way.
    I know this movie came years before Saw, but I would have liked John Doe a lot more if he had a bit more Jigsaw in him. I think the message of this movie would have been much more poignant if each of the victim’s had been given the chance to avert their fate but decided not to.

    • This is the thing about Saw, though. I’m not sure that he does allow his victims a chance to avert their fate. After all, even the survivor from the first film is [spoiler] irrevocably changed by her experiences. I think Saw affords the illusion of the possibility of escape, but not the reality of it. Which is – to me – just as (if not more) sadistic than John Doe’s “okay, you’re dead in a horrific manner.” Not that either option is anything less than horrifying.

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