With our exploration through Wes Anderson’s filmography behind us, I wanted to move on to a director whose films were stylistically different, but still included deliberate, well crafted soundtracks. After a short search, I settled on the films of David Fincher. His adult themes and gritty stories seem like they’re on the other end of the spectrum from Anderson’s childlike, whimsical style.
Last week’s discussion of the “Isle of Dogs” soundtrack composed by Alexandre Desplat, will be quite different from what I suspect we’ll find in Fincher’s “Seven”.
While the score to “Seven” was composed by Howard Shore, there are more than a few pop, rock, and R&B songs in it as well. Jazz and classical music also find a place in this neo-noir crime thriller, and we’ll see how they work when juxtaposed with the narrative. But first, a short summary of the plot [Spoilers ahead].
When retiring police detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) takes a final case with his new partner David Mills (Brad Pitt), they discover a string of elaborately staged murders. They soon realize that they are dealing with a serial killer (Kevin Spacey), who justifies his actions by killing people who exemplify each of the seven deadly sins. The hunt for the killer escalates into a dangerous cat and mouse game, where no one is safe.
There are a few songs that appear in the film, but aren’t included on the soundtrack. One of those is a remix of the Nine Inch Nails song “Closer”, which plays in the opening credits. This is juxtaposed with POV clips of someone clipping together photographs of murder scenes. While it starts off as unsettling sounds and scratches, the mix builds to the lyrics, “You bring me closer to god”, which nicely foreshadows the deadly sins.
In “Seven”, there are actually quite a few scenes that profit from the absence of music altogether. Among these are most of the dialogue sequences, in which you can usually hear background sounds of the city. The absence of background music also has a way of heightening the tension, and drawing in the audience.
The first appearance of one of our soundtrack songs comes in a scene when Somerset visits the library. After a short exchange with the poker-playing guards, one puts on Bach’s Suite “Air” to prove that they have culture. As “Air” plays out, we move between shots of Somerset reading, and Mills pouring over evidence. It’s a short-live moment of peaceful serenity that stands out against Shore’s suspenseful strings.
While Howard Shore’s score fits the tone with its eerie and unsettling orchestral swells, it didn’t at first strike me as much different from other crime thrillers. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. “Suite From Seven” and “Portrait of John Doe” pull most of the weight in building a rising, uncomfortable tension.
The appearance of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” might come as a shocker to some, and it doesn’t exactly jump out. If you aren’t listening closely, you might just miss it in a scene when Somerset visits Mills’ apartment for dinner. As recent transplants, Mills and his wife have a quaint, cozy home that seems out of place in the dark and violent city. “Trouble Man” highlights this with its laid-back tone, while at the same time its title alludes to the trouble looming ahead.
The song that plays in the end credits is David Bowie’s “The Heart’s Filthy Lesson”, which is also absent from the soundtrack. Considering its placement, it’s a shame that it didn’t make it into the soundtrack. Also, because I love me some Bowie.
Overall, Howard Shore’s score does more to bring out the suspense and tension found in “Seven”. The collection of songs by various artists brings out more of the light to Shore’s shade, and the scenes they find themselves in are equally important to building tension. They give us much needed moments of relief, then plunge us into the dark again, more real and frightening than before.
That wraps up our discussion of David Fincher’s “Seven”. Next time, we’ll take a look at Fincher’s 1997 film, “The Game”.