Se7en, between catastrophic screening-test and imposed end: the crazy bet of David Fincher is 25 years old

David Fincher’s absolute masterpiece “Se7en”, released just 25 years ago, has redefined the codes of thriller. However, between a catastrophic test screening and an end demanded by the producers, the filmmaker had to fight to win.

Se7en between catastrophic screening test and imposed end the crazy bet
New Line Cinema

Just 25 years ago, on January 31, 1996, a film was released in theaters that would pulverize and redefine the codes of the thriller: Se7en by David Fincher. With more than 4.9 million admissions, the film remains the filmmaker’s greatest success to this day; very far even in front of his second best indoor success which was The strange story of Benjamin Button and its 2.59 million spectators. Se7en, a work that has left a lasting mark on the memory of cinema and the retina of spectators. A film of abysmal darkness, a thriller, a thriller, a horror film … Se7en is all of these at once. But above all, it is one of the most original, provocative and disturbing films to come out of the Hollywood stables in decades.

Warning, the following has a major spoiler. So if you’ve never seen the movie before (but is it even possible?), Go your way!

A catastrophic test projection

Yet the affair got off to a bad start for Fincher. This is because the filmmaker is used to arm wrestling with the studios. Already, at the time of the release of his Alien 3, the Fox pundits were panicked after the test screening. The major ordered Fincher to do reshoots. But, even with that, and in the face of the announced or expected disaster, the studio put the film back on the back of the apprentice filmmaker.

Less than a handful of years before his Fight Club, which will also give some gray hairs to the Executives of the Twentieth Century Fox in front of the nihilism of his work, it was the turn of his masterpiece Se7en to face the verdict of the screening test. The director himself will deliver this anecdote about it, in the audio commentary of the film : “I was sitting at the back of the room, I think I was with Bob Shaye [NDR : à l’époque, le PDG du studio New Line Cinema], when three women approach, and one of them says to the other two: “the people who made this film should be killed”. Nice … As for Brad Pitt, also present at this screening, he will evoke this one a few years later : “When the movie ended, the lights came back on, and I looked at the people in the room. They all got up from their seats and walked out. […]. I remember looking at Fincher and saying, “Oh my god! But what have we done ??? What’s going on?”

“The film of the head in the box”

Se7en was thus poorly rated by the public at the end of the screening. Major point of tension: the end held back, of atrocious pessimism, with the tragic fate of the character played by Gwyneth Paltrow. But Fincher, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman were determined to make it happen.

For Fincher, “the story begins as a thriller and turns into a movie of manners, a pact with the Devil. When I reached the end [NDR : à la lecture du script de Andrew Kevin Walker] with his head in the box, I just thought, wow, it won’t be a guy jumping in a speeding car, going through town going through all the red lights, pulling out his badge, climbing up the emergency stairs … It’s over. She is dead. It’s over”. It was precisely this ending written by Walker that convinced the filmmaker to make the film.

But after speaking with his agent, the director realizes that he received, by mistake, a previous version of the script. He reads the latest version and finds, to his dismay, that it performs significantly less well. In it, remained in the state of storyboard (visible here), it is Somerset who kills John Doe, thus saving the career of his colleague by sacrificing himself, while he was very close to retirement.

When Fincher talks about the film’s project to one of the producers and asks him why the ending, which has now remained as a storyboard, is the one chosen, the latter replies that it is simply out of the question that the film will end. finish with this head in a box. Helped by Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, Fincher manages to flex the producers: for him, the original pessimistic ending is the condition sine qua non to make the movie: “I simply said: in fifty, sixty years, when we are no longer there, a few young people gathered around a bottle will talk about the film they saw the day before on TV, at the end of the evening, and the one of them will say, “I don’t remember the actor’s name, but this is the movie where the van comes to the end and the guy has a box with a head in it. The film of the head in the box “ says Fincher.

The end that we know, grandiose and atrocious, reveals a vision of the world of terrible pessimism. An end that makes us understand that even a world that is neither beautiful nor fair, somewhere deserves to be fought for. This is the meaning of the final masterful replica of the work, when Somerset quotes Hemingway. This replica was added by mutual agreement between Fincher and the producers, barely softening the darkness of an apocalyptic picture of the meanders of the human soul.