House Church Central Goes to the Movies

New Line Cinema. Produced by Arnold Kopelson and Phyllis Carlyle. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Directed by David Fincher.

This is a dark, clever, and suspenseful film showing two extremes on how the abundant sin manifest in society might be dealt with. One extreme is to flee from it, and the other is to take it seriously. Even though the film has images and situations that are difficult for many viewers to take, it would be a shame to miss this masterpice of David Fincher filmmaking that demonstrates that both extremes are bankrupt.

Two homicide detectives, William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt) pursue an insane but well-read and intelligent killer who has dedicated his life to the problem of sin by carefully planning series of murders: Seven murders for the seven "deadly" sins, each of which has been cleverly designed to make the victim's sin the instrument of his own death. The murders, indeed, are sermons--seven sermons to a sick society--each preaching against the toleration of sin.

Somerset himself has his own problems with what he calls the public "apathy" toward sin in city life. He is planning to enter a retirement far away from the city, and simply can't understand how his new partner can bring his young wife, Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow), into a place where such conditions exist. He will change his mind when the sinister plan of the mysterious "John Doe" (chillingly played by Kevin Spacey) comes full circle.

The essence of Doe's obsession with sin is clearly seen in this brilliantly written dialog concerning the sins of gluttony and greed between Detective Mills and John Doe:

Doe: "I don't deny my own personal desire to turn each sin against the sinner."
Mills: "Wait a minute. I thought all you did was kill innocent people."
Doe: "Innocent? Is that supposed to be funny? An obese man, a disgusting man who can barely stand up, a man who if you saw him on the street you would point him out to your friends so they could join you in mocking him? A man who, if you saw him while you were eating, you would wouldn't be able to finish your meal? And after him I picked the lawyer, and I think you both must have been thanking me for that one. This is a man who dedicated his life to making money by lying, with every breath that he could muster, to keeping murderers and rapists on the streets."

The film points out that the "seven deadly sins," along with the "seven cardinal virtues," were concepts that propelled medieval sermons. Any modern theologian would probably have difficulty mounting a biblical defense of the concept that these sins are particularly dreadful, or, for that matter, that any attempt at ranking sins or virtues at all. But the question of what to do about the sins of the world can make a good discussion within the church. Should one approach this question the way Somerset does--by fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah? (Yes, those cities are mentioned in the film.) Certainly no one should deal with it John Doe's way, attempting to correct wrongs woth other wrongs! Or should one simply continue to "tolerate" sin? Are there any other choices?

Would anyone want to live in a society that was run by John Doe's rules, where sinners are systematically murdered? Would there be any of us left (Rom. 3:12)? Perhaps, in his refusal to bear the sin of his neighbors, John Doe represents the ultimate in piety, ironically becomming the most evil character in the film.

Christian theology, of course, makes a distinction this film avoids. The church is to tolerate the sin of the world around it (Rev. 22:11). But it is not to tolerate sin within its own ranks (1 Thess. 4:1-8). Rather, she should deal with sin among believers through correction (Mt. 18:15-20) and, where that does not succeed, expulsion (1 Cor. 5:1-2).

With all the suspense that this film builds, the actual ending is of little importance. In fact, DVD owners will see a completely different optional ending in the Speical Features section. But it would be a shame to view this film and not catch the central irony: Virtuous Detective Somerset and murderer John Doe are both trying to solve exactly the same problem!

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