Se7en: The Diner Scene
by Kristin Grady
Often overlooked and seemingly out of place in David Fincher’s 1995 horror/crime drama “Se7en”, the scene portraying a conversation between Tracey (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Somerset (Morgan Freeman) may be the most important in the film. The crux of the scene foreshadows the eventual climax, when Mills (Brad Pitt) is pushed over the edge upon learning of his beheaded wife’s pregnancy, and subtly brings a controversial topic into the subtext. Tracey and Somerset find an unexpected kinship contemplating a difficult (and often painful) question: Is it okay to bring a child into a world full of so many evils? Some people have hard opinions either way, but this scene presents a choice, not an answer.
The diner scene is less than four minutes long, full of subtext that increases the timeline of the plot by decades, and gives both characters an incredible amount of depth. This is the only time any of the characters face each other on screen and it’s stylistically different from the rest of the film. All of the other scenes are dark, gritty, and contain a lot of wide shots to absorb the whole picture and create distance. The diner scene starts with a pattern of medium wide shots to introduce us to our environment. Tracey sits across from Somerset, looking rather rough compared to her previous scene. Her hair is hastily pulled back, she’s not wearing makeup, and has thrown what looks like a men’s black overcoat over a t-shirt. Eyebrows persistently furrowed, her wall of politeness starts to crumble with an unconvincing, high-pitched “I’ll get used to it!” She mentions she (used to) teach fifth grade, almost pleading with him to believe she’s a good person who loves children.
Somerset is a good detective. He can read people, understand motivations, identify methods, and predict patterns. That doesn’t mean he’s an excellent people person. The stark solitude of his home life is clear evidence that he rejected close relationships in favor of his profession long ago. Although Tracey invited him to dinner and they had a brief personal connection, showing her loving and gregarious personality, Somerset senses there’s something seriously wrong. Not only is Tracey stalling by eeking out small talk, she appears to be resisting what’s really bothering her. Tearing up with her forehead in her palm, Tracey confesses:
“David and I are going to have a baby…” Accompanied by an absolutely miserable expression. She says “going to” as if she’s positive about her decision to go through with the pregnancy, but her inflection flips the meaning of her words around. The subtext is: “…and I’m thinking of having an abortion.” No one says the word “abortion” in this scene or the rest of the movie, everything is heavily implied, conveyed by the superb performances of skilled actors. Tracey’s confession is the exact center from which the plot revolves, where everything truly clicks into place. Morality has a lot of grey areas. Not all decisions are black and white, and it’s entirely possible to feel two ways about life or death situations. The next cut to a close-up of Tracey emphasizes the excruciating indecision tearing her apart.
Somerset is understandably shocked and uncomfortable. It seems inherently weird for her to come to him about this. Every woman has someone, (mom, best friend, aunt, sister, cousin, etc.) she calls when she’s pregnant. Somerset and Tracey only met once and he’s an older man. What appropriate advice could he possibly give? The answer, again, is delivered with a lot of subtext simmering under the surface. Tracey lowers her head as tears start to fall.
“I hate this city.” This is the most truthful statement she’s made in the conversation so far. It negates her flimsy “I’ll get used to it” defense and reveals how much life has been sucked out of her. Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker said “Se7en” was inspired by his misery living in New York City. Tracey echoes this feeling while also implying why she chose to confess her pregnancy to Somerset. She knew he wouldn’t judge her. Loved ones may think they’re doing the right thing by convincing her to have the baby no matter how she felt. Somerset’s response shows he knows exactly how she feels.
Relating his own experience with abortion, Somerset brings up a long-buried, painful secret. His apathy towards human interaction and desire to retire on a farm is telling of his contempt for their sinister surroundings. Hunting murderers for a living has given him an extremely high bar for the lengths of evil, so relatively, the choice Tracey is considering wouldn’t be as bad as she thinks. He sees a scared, vulnerable young woman, expecting condemnation for even considering an abortion. Instead he opens up to her, gives her perspective and understanding. Even married women who want children can be conflicted about going through with a pregnancy. She lives in a vibrating apartment and her husband is hunting a serial killer, it’s not an ideal environment for an infant… As we all find out in the end.
The language Somerset uses while telling his story switches the dynamic of the conversation. He hesitates before he says “the pregnancy” instead of “the baby”. Putting emphasis on the words “a long time ago…” in retrospect seems to imply this was before Roe v. Wade, increasing the stakes of the decision with his former romantic partner. Somerset confesses “I wore her down…” almost pleading with Tracey to believe he’s still a good person, diametrically opposed, yet somehow aligned to her tone at the beginning of the conversation. Tracey’s empathy and gratitude reads without words.
“I want to have children…” Tracey confesses, again, absolutely miserable. This scene doesn’t directly mention the murders central to the film’s plot. Tracey vaguely references “everything going on”, which has a long list of connotations attached. Ostensibly, she means the gruesome tableaus of the seven deadly sins being discovered by her husband and Somerset. She also means moving from “upstate”, where it was a “different vibe”. Mills previously relates his one experience firing a gun on the job, resulting in the death of his fellow officer, whose name he couldn’t remember (obviously due to trauma). Tracey was dealing with a traumatized spouse, leaving the only life she’s ever known for a rather depressing city, a killer is on the loose, and a pregnancy on top of it all. The life she wants is slowly slipping away and she’s terrified to bring a child into that.
Both Tracey and Somerset reveal almost life-long character arcs that intersect for this brief, intense moment in time. The advice Somerset leaves her shows the difference between remorse and regret. He says “I know I did the right thing…” and “I wish I hadn’t…” Regret is wishing you had done something different, remorse is wishing you had done something different because you’ve done something wrong. Guilt is the difference. Tracey could have to live with guilt either way. He insists that she alone make the decision by saying “if you choose not to… don’t ever tell him you were pregnant…” also sparing David the emotional torment he’s had to live with all these years. In the end, he encourages Tracey to do what they both know will make her happy, “spoil that kid rotten.”
After this scene, an unexpected change occurs in Somerset. Unlike his steady, predictable life ticking away like the metronome on his night stand, he decides to dip into a grey area of the law in order to catch the killer. Through a secret contact in the FBI, Somerset violates (pre-Patriot Act) federal privacy laws in order to track down the villain through his library card. Before this conversation with Tracey, Somerset may not have risked his career and his freedom to catch a murderer. Perhaps he was inspired by Tracey’s bravery and selflessness, caring about the greater good, and being conflicted about doing the right thing? The right thing is to catch the killer, even if the methods break the law, right? Even if the law is there to protect people against unlawful surveillance? Well, John Doe was VERY sure he was right.
Depending on your definition of the word, Tracey and her fetus were the most innocent victims in the film. Like psychopaths who murder healthcare providers, John Doe was absolutely sure her death was justified for “the greater good”. He closed his eyes and accepted his death after (possibly) sexually assaulting (“tried to play husband…” in the biblical sense?) and beheading a pregnant woman. A haunting echo of Sharon Tate’s murder by the Manson family, Tracey pleaded for the life of her baby. By this point in the film, the intensely shocking images of the murders have almost drowned out the subtle diner scene and we’ve forgotten David didn’t know until John mentions it. He seems to delight in the irony “He didn’t know…”
David Mills is the perfect example of Wrath. He’s a little stupid (compared to Somerset), he’s hilarious, doesn’t care about details, just seeks out the criminal with a dogged determination. All that blind rage was bound to spill over. John extrapolated his “admiration” and David’s precarious emotional state into a maliciously orchestrated finale. The trajectory of Tracey’s life was headed in a positive direction with or without David and whether or not he realized it, the only warmth in his life had been snuffed out. A subliminal flash of Tracey’s face, backlit like an angel, snaps his tenuous hold on reality. In a final twist of irony, if Tracey had never met Somerset in the diner and told him she was pregnant, he may not have used his FBI contact to find John, and ultimately her head wouldn’t have ended up in that box.
She still did the right thing, if you choose to see it that way.
Kristin Grady is a freelance writer, video editor, and graphic designer in Hollywood. Check out more content on imaginationforsale.blog!