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Note: For his comic book counterpart, see here.

We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home... and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it's common, because it's... trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well, not anymore. I'm setting the example, and what I've done will be studied... and puzzled over... and followed. Forever.
~ John Doe's speech to Detectives Mills and Somerset.
Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer. And then you'll notice you've got their strict attention.
~ John Doe about modern society.

John Doe is the main antagonist of the 1995 psychological mystery-thriller film Se7en.

He is a serial killer bent on savagely punishing those who have committed the seven deadly sins and bring attention to evil in a world that he claims is apathetic.

He was portrayed by Kevin Spacey, who also played Albert Benton in Unsub, Buddy Ackerman in Swimming with Sharks, Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects, Hopper in A Bug's Life, Lester Burnham in American Beauty, Lex Luthor in Superman Returns, Clyde Northcutt in Fred Claus, Micky Rosa in 21, David Harken in the Horrible Bosses duology, Dr. Nerse in The Cleveland Show, Frank Underwood in House of Cards, Jonathan Irons in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Doc in Baby Driver.

Biography

John Doe is a serial killer obsessed with the Seven Deadly Sins. He carefully targets his victims, stalks them and tortures them to death in a way that represents their "sin". The murders are part of Doe's larger plan to make a statement about society tolerating sin.

Doe is highly intelligent and skilled at manipulating the police. He particularly enjoys playing mind games with the film's protagonists, Detective David Mills and Detective William Somerset with a heavy emphasis on the former - taking interest in and eventually stalking and photographing Mills.

The first five of Doe's murders represent five of the deadly sins, and include:

  • Gluttony: Forcing an obese man to eat to death. It is later mentioned that a person cannot physically eat to death in one sitting; as such, Doe eventually deals a heavy blow (via a kick) to the man's distended stomach, causing it to rupture, thus killing him. His decomposing body is found in the kitchen of his house at a table lying face down in a bowl of pasta. The word "GLUTTONY" is written in grease on the wall behind his refrigerator.
  • Greed: Arranging a fatal bloodletting of wealthy attorney Eli Gould, who has made a living defending rapists and murderers. The victim dies of blood loss after he is forced to cut away a pound of flesh in payment for the corruption he has shown and the lies he has told. His body is found next to the word "GREED" written in blood on the carpet of his office.
  • Sloth: Binding drug dealing pedophile Theodore "Victor" Allen to his own bed for an entire year, keeping him alive while his body wastes away by injecting him with copious amounts of drugs and medications and rammed tubes into his testicles. The stench of putrefaction was hidden by hundreds of pine tree air fresheners, and he was forced to wear a gag in his mouth to prevent him from calling for help. When police break into his apartment (believing him to be the killer, as his fingerprints were discovered at Eli Gould's office), they instead discover Victor in such a state of decomposition and rot that everyone is horrified when he comes back to life. He has numerous bedsores across his body, and his hand was cut off by John Doe to plant fingerprints in Eli Gould's office. He is rushed to hospital, where the examining doctor discovers that the experience has completely destroyed his mind and that he chewed off his own tongue in an attempt to commit suicide. He dies of shock later that night. The word "SLOTH" is written on the wall above his bed.
  • Lust: Kidnapping a married customer at a sex club, and forcing him at gunpoint to wear a bladed strap-on and simultaneously rape and kill a prostitute by butchering her internally. She is found chained to a bed, legs spread open and her internal organs mutilated. The word "LUST" is carved on the door of the club.
  • Pride: Mutilating the face of vain model Rachel Shade - at one point cutting off her nose "to spite her face" and forcing her to choose between calling for help and living with her disfigurement, or committing suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. She chooses to die rather than live without her former beauty. She is found dead in her upscale flat. The word "PRIDE" is written in lipstick on the wall above her bed.

Mills and Somerset eventually track Doe to his apartment, unaware that Doe is out grocery shopping at the time. Doe then comes down the corridor and sees the two detectives at his front door, prompting him to fire upon them. Mills chases Doe out of the building but Doe catches him off guard and aims a gun at the side of his head. Mills is unable to identify the killer as his face is shrouded in darkness, but Doe leaves him alive and disappears.

Later, when Mills and Somerset return to the police station, Doe appears to them (having got blood all over his arms and shirt) and intentionally allows himself to be arrested. The police are baffled as to why Doe would hand himself in when he is two murders away from completing his "masterpiece", but through his lawyer, Doe informs them that there are two more bodies hidden away. He then states that he will show them where the bodies are as long as Mills and Somerset are the only two to accompany him, otherwise he will plead insanity. The detectives agree and Doe directs them in their police car to the location of the bodies. Throughout the journey, Mills desperately and aggressively attempts to understand Doe's reasons for his actions, with Doe calmly stating that God told him to reveal to mankind what an awful and tragic place the world has become.

They arrive in a remote desert area in the middle of nowhere and a delivery van steadily approaches them, alarming Somerset. As he halts the van in its tracks, the driver claims that Doe paid him five hundred with instructions to arrive at this location at this precise time to deliver a box. While Somerset looks at the box curiously, unsure whether he should open it or not, Doe tells Mills that he admires him. Though Mills initially ignores this, Doe soon reveals that he also admired Mills' wife Tracy, finally getting his attention. As Mills listens in horror, Doe reveals was envious of his normal life (representing the sixth sin Envy) and went to visit Mills' wife Tracy disguised as a coworker of Mills’. Afterwards, he decapitated her, and Somerset is horrified to find that the box contains Tracy's severed head. Somerset then realizes that Doe is planning to have himself killed by the hands of Mills (in order to fully complete the seventh and final sin Wrath) to complete his work. Somerset rushes back to Mills in an attempt to prevent him from killing Doe, knowing that is exactly what he wants, but Doe provokes Mills further by telling him that Tracy was pregnant, as she had been keeping it a secret from him. Doe then closes his eyes, awaiting the inevitable punishment for his crimes as Mills (unable to contain his fury and distress over the loss of his wife and potential child) shoots him in the head, killing him, before shooting his corpse multiple times, despite Somerset's objections. Despite Doe's death, his plan still succeeds since his masterful manipulation had prompted Mills to complete the seventh sin. Mills later becomes nearly catatonic and is placed under arrest for the murder of Doe, much to Somerset's discomfort.

Personality

Only in a world this shitty could you even try to say these were innocent people and keep a straight face. But that's the point. We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it's common, it's trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well, not anymore. I'm setting the example, and what I've done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed... forever.
~ John explaining his goal.

John Doe was fundamentally a pessimistic man with an fixation on how immoral and evil people were. He was very patient, methodical, cavalier, and had excellent insight into other people's reactions and thoughts that was demonstrated in his uncanny planning and strategic abilities, therefore understood the best ways to manipulate his victims into causing their own destruction, at least for the ones he gave an iota of free rein. John possessed a massive amount of personal diaries, where he hair splittingly recorded his own thoughts. Based on these notebooks and his murders, it becomes evident that John Doe enjoys seeing other people in emotional and physical pain.

John was disgusted by each of the people he kills (including himself) and considered them deserving of suffering and/or dying, which he carried out passionately. Because of this, he took someone claiming they were 'innocent' very poorly, with it being one of the few times he lost his composure. He believed he was chosen by God to punish these people and believes his "work" to be a masterpiece that will be held in high esteem by other people. However, John was also fairly arrogant, since, as Detective David Mills rightfully pointed out to him, the general public likely wouldn't care about his 'masterpiece' nearly as much as he had convinced himself, and he was really just a petty serial killer with delusions of grandeur. Detective William Somerset also pointed out that if he really had been chosen by God, he wouldn't have taken so much pleasure in his murders. Indeed, John freely admitted that he enjoyed killing his victims, claiming there was nothing wrong with a man taking pleasure in his work.

John usually remained unemotional and calm, aside from the occasional angry outburst and fanatical monologue. He was a Christian (most likely Catholic, based in his reading material, crucifixes, and adherence to Catholic moral doctrine i.e. capital vices) and was open about admitting his moral issues—emphasizing his obsessive jealousy of David. He admired David greatly because his thought that he had a "normal life." It was said by the creators of Se7en that John has disturbing sexual fetishes, and the pictures in his notebook suggest that he is a sexual sadist. John wanted to not just exploit people, but imprint his pain upon them, as shown when he ranted at Detective David Mills about how he must remember his life was one that John "allowed" him to have by not killing him during the prior pursuit.

He may be either privy to an extremely high pain tolerance or had masochistic traits, as he was able to regularly and thoroughly slice the tips off his fingers to remove finger prints, and yet was able to still perform routine and complex activities with his hands, unimpaired by the pain and blood loss. Although, despite his pain tolerance or masochism, the design for his own death was swift and painless, at least in comparison to his victims, which reinforces his inherent hypocrisy, since a "true martyr" would suffer for their faith, rather than force that suffering onto others, while minimalising their own.

Despite John's claims that the world was full of sin and that what he did was justified, this is merely self righteous hypocrisy and delusion as not only was he a criminal himself that took pleasure both in what he did and the suffering of others, he was a bigger sinner then any of his 5 victims he murdered for committing one of the seven deadly sins each with all five of his murders being needlessly brutal and graphic in their portrayal, showing that despite all his claims of doing God's work, he is really just a pathological serial killer that is projecting his own misery onto other people.

Gallery

Images

Videos

Quotes

What sick, ridiculous puppets we are, and what gross little stage we dance on. What fun we have dancing and fucking, not a care in the world. Not knowing that we are nothing. We are not what was intended. [...] On the subway today, a man came up to me to start a conversation. He made small talk, a lonely man talking about the weather and other things. I tried to be pleasant and accommodating, but my head hurt from his banality. I almost didn't notice it had happened, but I suddenly threw up all over him. He was not pleased, and I couldn't stop laughing.
~ Excerpts from one of John Doe's notebooks.
Mills: Hello?
Doe: I admire you. I don't know how you found me, but imagine my surprise. I respect you law enforcement agents more everyday.
Mills: Well, I appreciate that... John. I tell you...
Doe: No, no, you listen, all right? I'll be readjusting my schedule in light of today's little... setback. I just had to call and express my admiration. Sorry I had to hurt... one of you, but I really didn't have a choice, did I?
Mills: Hmm.
Doe: You will accept my apology, won't you? I feel like saying more, but I don't want to ruin the surprise.
~ John Doe's phone call to David Mills.
Detective. Detective. DETECTIIIVE! You're looking for me.
~ John Doe surrendering himself to the police.
You've made quite a life for yourself, Detective. You should be very proud. Here he comes. I wish I could’ve lived like you did. Do you hear me, Detective? I'm trying to tell you how much I admire you… and your pretty wife. Tracy. It's disturbing how easily a member of the press can purchase information from the men in your precinct. I visited your home this morning— after you'd left. I tried to play husband. It tried to taste the life of a simple man. It didn't work out. So… I took a souvenir: her pretty head. Because I envy your normal life. It seems that envy is my sin.
~ John Doe revealing Tracy's fate.
Become vengeance, David. Become...wrath.
~ John Doe goading Mills into shooting him.
She begged for her life, detective. She begged for her life, and for the life of the baby inside of her. [Somerset slaps John Doe. Mills is visibly stunned, which John Doe notices.] Oh. He didn't know.
~ John Doe revealing to Mills his wife was pregnant; also his last words.

Trivia

  • Val Kilmer was offered the role of John Doe but declined.
  • R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe was once considered for the role of John Doe.
  • R. Lee Ermey originally auditioned for the part of John Doe. After the part was given to Kevin Spacey, Ermey was offered, and took, the part of the police captain.
  • Upon the film's release, Spacey received critical acclaim for his performance as Doe.
  • In the "Making of Seven", while Peter Sorel is discussing the details of John Doe's apartment, you can see a press photographer pass with the name "Ray Moore". It is possible this could be John Doe's real name or this is just a false name he used to get the pass. You can also see pictures of John Doe as a child and pictures of his mother.
  • It is implied that John Doe decided to involve Mills and Somerset in his plan after they located his apartment.
  • The scene where Mills and Somerset are at the Leather shop, there's a man standing outside with an umbrella for an extended period of time. It could be implied that it's John Doe.
  • Given that John Doe offered to confess to all his crimes, it would have been unlikely that he would succeed with an insanity defense in real life, as doing so effectively showed he was sound enough mentally to distinguish between sane and insane actions (in fact insanity plea rarely ever succeeds, especially with methodical serial killers, whose crimes and care to hide said crimes are far too organized to attribute to a psychotic state). However, he might have been aware of this and simply dangled the offer to the police to lure Mills and Somerset to the desert as part of his plan.
  • Although he despises people who commit capital sins, John himself shows some of them:
    • Envy: He kills Mills' wife because he admires his normal life. This is the only sin he admits to holding.
    • Wrath: He gets angry when Mills says his victims were innocent. The violence in all of his murders also shows a vengeful trait.
    • Pride: He honestly believes that he is a vigilante who is punishing sinners, feeling very proud of his project; he arrogantly believes that his crimes will be studied and even admired forever. He also claims that there is nothing wrong with a man enjoying his work.
    • Lust: He describes lusting after Mills’ normal, love-filled life, and his "pretty wife." His Lust victim was the only one who was raped, with rape being a bestial form of lust.
    • Sloth: While he used inhuman effort in enacting his crimes, in his civilian life, he was already independently wealthy, so never seemed to actually work for his money.
    • Greed: He was rich, but never used the money to help others, just to enable his criminal activities.
  • Se7en isn't the only movie in 1995 that starred Kevin Spacey and Morgan Freeman; they were also in Outbreak, however they shared no scenes together so as not to affect their dynamic.

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John Doe (comic) | John Doe's Mother | Theodore Victor Allen | Eli Gould

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