Cinema Comparison Paper: “Memento” & “Seven” Essay
For my final essay, I have decided to compare and contrast David Fincher’s “SE7EN” with Christopher Nolan’s “MEMENTO,” as these are two of my favorite movies I have viewed this year. Se7en is the story of two detectives, a rookie and a veteran, as they hunt a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins as his M. O. (modus operandi). Gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, wrath, pride, and lust are the seven deadly sins that the enigmatic serial killer is punishing with unimaginable cruelty and calculation.
Memento is the story of a man, suffering from short-term memory loss, who uses a Polaroid, notes, and self made tattoos to hunt for the man who killed his wife. Throughout this essay, I will detail a comparison of these movies in terms of genre, theme, and elements of form and technique, and how these similarities invoke a very similar affect on the audience. Both Memento and Se7en fit the genre of a drama-crime mystery. Both movies leave the viewer straining and watching each scene, searching for the truth.
Each movie is revealed, piece by piece, although in opposite format, while the audience waits for the clues to unravel the mystery. Each movie is a unique puzzle, and one that cannot be solved until the final moments of the movie. In Memento, you are required to scrutinize the film, unfolding backwards in time, trying to discover the motivations behind each character’s actions, later in time. In Se7en, this is done by discovering and developing the seven deadly sins while the viewer is desperately waiting for the final two to be revealed. Each movie also ends in a final “trick play,” which is intended to shock the audience.
In Memento, Leonard constantly believes, as he stated, “I have to believe in a world outside my own mind. I have to believe that my actions have meaning, even if I don’t remember them. ” As we follow Leonard’s quest, the audience believes in this truth until the final “trick play” that causes the viewer to lose faith in this premise. It jolts the viewer as they realize that they, alongwith Leonard, have been manipulated and deceived. In Se7en, the final “trick play” occurs as Detective Mill’s wife’s head arrives in a box, revealing that the final two deadly sins are actually John Doe and Mills.
For these reasons, these two movies are clearly very similar in their genre, although the difference between these two would be that Se7en is also somewhat of a thriller because it has a lot of gore and graphic means of death. In terms of theme, there are several common denominators between the two movies. There is most definitely a common “Good vs. Evil” theme present in both films. Se7en shows a world with little values, destroyed by its own sins. The killer, who hates this world, feels that it is his mission in life to expose the sins of the world. In both movies, however, decent men ultimately pay a price.
Both films show the price these men pay when they fight evil. It is somewhat unsettling that the rule book of life gets thrown completely out the window when fighting evil. For Leonard, he was willing to set himself up to kill Teddy out of anger for stripping away his sense of purpose. By making Teddy his “John G. ,” Leonard becomes somewhat of a villain. True, Teddy was guilty of a few of his own “deadly sins. ” He was a corrupt cop, guilty of greed, manipulation, and selfishness, but he wasn’t John G. , and he really didn’t deserve to die. Similarly, Detective Mills, in Se7en, also paid the price while fighting evil.
His own character flaws (which were always in sharp contrast of Detective Somerset) allowed Mills to also fall from protagonist to villain. At the sight of his pregnant wife’s head in the box, he became the final deadly sin: “wrath. ” Overall, both movies leave the audience examining the grey area between good and evil and questioning your own morality. Although more predominately in Se7en, we see in both movies that sin and evil reside in all human beings. John Doe does not horrify us, the capacity for evil within people, perhaps even ourselves is what is most horrifying.
Although far more prevalent in Memento, both movies also share a theme of manipulation. In this movie, manipulation occurs to not only the main characters, but the audience at the same time. Because of the reverse narrative presentation, the audience starts out by making faulty assumptions about each character. Without knowledge of what had occurred earlier in time, the audience automatically feels pity on Leonard because of his amnesia. We sympathize and trust Leonard. This is further strengthened by witnessing snippets of his wife’s brutal death. Leonard’s quest for vengeance seems noble. Who could not feel sorry for Leonard?
However, if we had experienced the movie forward, we would have witnessed Leonard do a very bad thing; to decide to set himself up to kill Teddy. If watched in true order, we would have made far different assumptions regarding Leonard’s character. The audience was therefore manipulated into making incorrect assumptions, sympathies, and attachments toward Leonard. Instead of seeing Leonard as a murderous barbarian, we see him as a sympathetic, wounded creature. It is not until the end (which is really the beginning) that we learn Leonard’s true nature. From early on, the audience also feels distrust for Teddy.
This is another form of manipulation on the audience by Christopher Nolan. This was a result of watching Leonard write on the Polaroid NOT to trust Teddy. This was a powerful sentence which caused the viewer to make another inference; Teddy is bad. We do later find out that Teddy is a bad guy, but not for the reasons we assume. Teddy is just a guy of very poor character who becomes the focus of Leonard’s hunt. The characters in the movie are all guilty of manipulation in some form or another. Teddy manipulated Leonard to kill the drug dealer in order to make an easy $200,000 dollars, by taking advantage of Leonard’s memory problem.
He convinced Leonard that the drug dealer was John G. Natalie is another character that we are manipulated by, whoalso manipulated Leonard. The audience wants to trust her because Leonard seems to trust her. She seems sympathetic at first, having also “lost someone,” but the audience AND Leonard are deceived by her, believing she cares and supports him. She is really seeking her own revenge and only wants to manipulate Leonard for her own purposes. Even Leonard manipulates himself when he sets himself up to kill Teddy. Sammy Jenkis is yet another shocking form of manipulation on the audience.
We believe Sammy is a character from Leonard’s past, but we eventually find out that he is Leonard’s alter ego. Anything that Leonard would rather forget, he remembers as part of Sammy’s story. Yet again, the audience is deceived and manipulated by Sammy’s character. Because of the theme of manipulation, the viewer leaves the movie feeling violated because they are so shocked their assumptions were so terribly wrong. On a much smaller scale, the movie Se7en creates some of the same feelings and also uses the theme of manipulation.
John Doe is like a puppeteer manipulating and orchestrating a show, from completely baffling the detectives, to turning himself in, to knowing at the end that there WOULD be people dying because of the last two deadly sins: envy and wrath. Overall, I would say that Se7en primarily focuses on the evil within us all, while Memento focuses on manipulation, yet there are some definite crossovers in the themes within these two movies. There are many similarities and differences in the elements of form and technique between the two films. The first element I would like to discuss is lighting.
The lighting in Se7en has a very powerful impact that gives a sinister and disturbing feel to the film. The movie is mostly dark; even outside in the middle of the day, the lighting is not natural. David Fincher often uses a processing technique that deepens tonal qualities and makes whites harsher. There are lots of shadows and silhouettes throughout the movie, and there is a generally darkness as though something evil blankets over everything. In the murder scenes, the lighting was very dark with most light being provided by a flashlight. This was perfect for highlighting the blood stained walls and the blood throughout the scenes.
Overall, the lighting gives a suppressive, unsettling, ominous feel to the film. The interesting contrast is the final scene of the movie. During the climax of the film, the lighting becomes natural for the first time. The sun is bright, and the characters are squinting. This is a drastic change from the earlier scenes in the movie, which is an element I found interesting. There were some definite contrasts in the movie Memento. For the most part, the lighting seemed more natural, although there were a couple variances to the natural lighting.
One was the murder scene, and the other was the black and white clips. In the murder scene, Leonard wakes up in a dark bedroom, and as he enters the bathroom the viewer notices the contrast to the harsh white room where his wife was being murdered. The deep tonal qualities make the white seem very harsh and white, and the blood is highlighted. In this scene, we can see lighting similarities between the two movies. A unique feature in Memento is the use of black and white clips. Black and whites scenes are edited into the movie to show events from Leonard’s past.
The colored scenes are from the present lead backwards in time until the two timelines intersect. By the use of the black and white scenes, the audience is able to create a mental timeline to better understand the events which have taken place. Music and sound play a big part in films. Without music and sound, the film would be quite boring, and would decrease the audience’s enjoyment. I have observed in both of these movies how the sound added to the suspense and tension. For example, in the movie Se7en, the film begins somewhat relaxed and laid back, with no major action taking place.
It shows Detective Somerset getting ready for work. Then, suddenly the movie credits are introduced, and the movie atmosphere quickly changes. I believe the intention was to shock the audience and capture their attention. During these opening credits, there are scenes of someone cutting their fingertips off, as well as other subliminal images and flashes of words such as “God,” and “die. ” It is a disturbing scene, but what makes it most disturbing is the sound. The background music contains screeching, shouting, heartbeats, and whispering.
This instantly increases the audience’s anxiety and creates a tension that will remain throughout the film. It is interesting to note that the scene just prior to the opening credits contained almost NO sound, which is why the sound in the opening credits creates such an impact. The opening credits, along with one other scene (the chase scene) are the only two scenes in which music was utilized. But there are, however, a lot of sound effects and background noise used throughout the film, such as sirens, and screaming from outside, which highlights the neighborhood in which they lived and worked.
In the movie Se7en, lighting and sound have a powerful impact because of how they control your own thoughts. The darkness, the rain, silence, the noise all make you feel as if you were inside the movie, chasing a serial killer that is far smarter than you are or ever will be. In contrast, in Memento the viewer has more emotional freedom because of the minimal use of music and sound. I also observed contrasts in the camera techniques used in the two films. While in both films, the majority of camera angles and focal lengths were mid-shot and midrange, there are a few examples of differences.
For example, in Memento the black and white scenes are shot from a high angle. This causes a psychological effect on the viewer, causing them to feel as though Leonard is smaller, insignificant, and weak, which makes us feel pity and sympathy. Conversely, in the movie Se7en, the camera angle was often shot from a low angle. Psychologically, this makes the viewer feel as though the two detectives were more masculine, strong, and powerful. For example, when Detective Somerset was in the library looking for books on the seven deadly sins, the camera follows him from behind the book cases.
The camera angle is facing up towards Somerset, which gives the impression that he is powerful and in control because we are looking up at him. As far as focal length, close ups were rarely used in both films to show emotion, and reserved mostly for scenes that involved driving in the car. Overall, there are similarities and differences in form and technique between the two movies. But, there is an overall similarity in the experience for the viewer. The mood that is created in both movies, through these elements, is tense, irritating, yet all-absorbing.
In my opinion, both Se7en and Memento are flat-out amazing. They are two of the most brilliant, clever, and well-crafted movies I have experienced. Both movies held my interest every moment, as I collected small pieces of the puzzle, piece by piece, until the final scene of the movie. Christopher Nolan is a genius with the editing style of “Memento. ” The acting is fantastic, particularly in “Se7en. ” Kevin Spacey brilliantly delivers a perfect portrayal of insanity in his chilling role as John Doe, the serial killer with a blank human face, and diabolic beliefs.
I will never forget the chills I felt when he said to detective Mills, “become wrath. ” Both movies were so cleverly crafted, that the audience is all-absorbed to the very end. I think the Cranky Critic, in describing the movie “Memento,” said it best, “Those of you who live for trying to figure out the mystery before the final reel unspools will probably crack… ” To me, these two films have all the ingredients of a perfect movie, and will likely be classics of their genre for many years to come.