Se7en (Seven) Ending Explained – So what was in the box? And how did the studio almost change the iconic ending?

Se7en Plot Synopsis

Written by David Fincher, Se7en is a simple but bleak crime thriller, centering on two detectives – a rookie and a veteran – who work together to hunt a serial killer. This killer is using the seven deadly sins as his motives, going after those he deems need to be treated a lesson.

Unfortunately, this brilliant mastermind has his own ideas on how to end this deadly game, and as Mills and Somerset dive deeper into the truth, they soon realize that this could well involve both their lives.

What secret is Tracy keeping from her husband?

The story begins with soon-to-retire Detective Lieutenant William Somerset teaming up with idealistic detective, David Mills. He’s just moved there with his wife Tracy, who happens to be pregnant. Only, she hasn’t actually told her husband yet but does confide in Somerset, whom she grows closer to.

The pair have similar ideas about the town she’s moved to, with Somerset sympathizing with her plight. However, he does tell her to inform Mills if she plans to keep the child.

How do the murders begin?

The first crime scene we’re introduced to is absolutely grim and it’s such an iconic scene that avid film-goers will recognize it from the cinema shot in 2003’s The Butterfly Effect.

Anyway, the pair arrive at a rank kitchen where an obese man has been forced to eat until his stomach bursts. His ankles and wrists are bound while a bucket under the table is full of vomit. The coroner actually deduces that this could have gone on for more than 12 hours. And this first murder is based around the sin of Gluttony.

Another victim soon shows in the form of a criminal defense attorney, who’s killed after being forced to cut a pound of flesh from himself, representing greed. Clues at both murder scenes lead the pair to a suspect’s apartment – where they find a third victim.

This man happens to be a drug dealer and child molester, representing sloth. The thing is, this third victim is actually still alive. He’s in critical condition though and unable to answer any of Somerset and Mills’ questions.

The pair of detectives do find daily photographs of the victim, taken over a year, which reinforces that these crimes had been planned in advance.

Who is the murderer?

Somerset and Mills use library records to identity a John Doe and track him to his apartment. He seems to be the right guy too, and as Mills gives chase, he falls and injures his arm.

Unfortunately, he’s also struck in the head with a tire iron before having a gun placed to his head. The killer doesn’t shoot though, given we know he’s instrumental to Doe’s plans later on in the film.

For now, Doe scurries away but in doing so, Somerset and Mills find a litany of clues in the apartment, including hundreds of notebook that reveal Doe’s psychopathy and how dangerous he actually is.

Somerset and Mills are too late to stop the next murder – representing lust-  where a man is forced to rape a prostitute with a bladed strap-on. If that wasn’t enough, the fifth victim happens to be a model mutilated by Doe himself. She was given the choice of calling for help and living disfigured or committing suicide by taking pills. In choosing the latter option, Doe set this up to represent Pride.

Why does Doe turn himself in?

As the film progresses, Somerset and Mills are caught off-guard by Doe turning himself in to police, covered in the blood of an unidentified victim. He offers to confess his crime on one condition – Mills and Somerset drive him to a secret location where the victims of Envy and Wrath are buried. If not, then he’ll plead insanity.

Somerset is wary but feisty Mills agrees to his terms. As they drive together, Doe isn’t remorseful for his crimes, and matter-of-factly declares that his victims deserved to die. He likens himself to a martyr, someone chosen by a higher power to shock the world out of apathy.

There are some lovely foreshadowed moments here too, with Doe making threatening remarks toward Mills, which becomes more obvious as the film gears up for its final act. For now though, Mills just thinks Doe is insane.

What happens during the climax of the movie?

Eventually the trio make it to a remote, deserted area. Minutes after their arrival, a delivery van approaches. Mills holds Doe at gunpoint while Somerset is given a box by the driver, instructed by Doe to bring that to this location for “a guy called David.”

Somerset opens the box… and immediately tells Mills to stay back. This is the final game, as Doe reveals that he himself is the representation of Envy. He’s been jealous of Mills’ life with Tracy and that’s what’s driven him to conduct the next stage of his dastardly plan.

What’s in the box?

Se7en ends with a devastating big reveal, as it turns out Doe has decapitated Mills’ pregnant wife and her severed head is what’s in the box.

With Mills distraught and overcome with grief, Doe taunts him further, revealing that Tracy was pregnant. Doe is sickeningly delighted to learn Mills had no knowledge of this and urges Mills to kill him.

Somerset tries in vain to stop him but it’s no good. Mills shoots Doe, carrying out his master plan.

In shooting Doe so brutally, Mills unwittingly falls into the killer’s trap, as he becomes the seventh and final sin – Wrath. Police show up and arrest him, with Somerset gravely retorting that he’ll be “around.”

It’s a really bleak ending and interestingly, not what the studio originally wanted.

What were the alternate endings to Se7en?

We’ve all seen examples of studio interference absolutely butchering a movie and its original screenplay. Seven was almost changed radically from the ending we received.

The ending was actually re-written several times as the studio was uncomfortable with the bleakness of the conclusion to the movie and wanted to soften it up.

In one version, additional scenes see Somerset intervene with a switchblade before Mills can shoot Doe. Mills shoots Somerset in the shoulder, and then kills Doe. In this version, the scene resumes several weeks later with Mills sending a letter to Somerset prior to his appearance in court, telling him “you were right.”

Another that the studio were keen on involve Doe not killing Tracy and holding her up at gunpoint instead, sending both detectives on a race against time to save her life. Funnily enough, the main cast and director threatened to walk away from the project if the original ending was not agreed to.

The actual ending we receive is iconic because of this very bleakness and an excellent detective thriller almost ended up becoming generic studio fodder. Thank goodness we received the ending that we did!


Thanks for reading our Ending Explained article! What did you think of the ending? Have we missed anything? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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7 thoughts on “Se7en (Seven) Ending Explained – So what was in the box? And how did the studio almost change the iconic ending?”

  1. In regards to why the wife is killed when she seems “innocent” or order for mills to be “wrath” is a good thought. But maybe the writers were playing off the many times in the bible where god kills innocents to punish the wicked. Like the first born sons killed by the angel of death in egypt

  2. The sin of envy was Does’. He was envious of Mills life with his wife. That’s why he killed her, she was the object of his envy . He couldn’t kill Mills because Mills was going to be his wrath.

  3. He wasn’t in prison when he killed her (when she was killed). It was her blood Doe had on him when he turned himself in. He killed her before he turned himself in. He mailed the box before he turned himself in.

  4. while the scene is excellent, I don’t get why he uses Mill’s wife who is not a sinner to commit the sin of envy, I don’t specifically believe he was envious of Mill’s life, and Mills living while being wrath does no make sense to me.

  5. He arrived at the police station covered in blood. He had already done the deed.

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