I’ve never been much one for Will Smith. Sure, he’s likeable in most of his roles, but for the most part he seems to just be playing himself with a different career. Many people, man and woman alike have been won over by some supposed charisma he harbours, but I am not one of them. I don’t hate him as an actor – far from it; you pretty much can’t go wrong with any episode of Fresh Prince of Bel Air – I just think there are more diverse actors out there, and that he’s not as good as his alleged charm.
It took me quite a while to see The Pursuit of Happyness – I’d suffered a case of Hype Aversion with it, and the amount of praise it was having heaped on it put me off until early last year. When I sat down and watched it, I was pleasantly surprised. The film was still absolutely a vehicle for dear Will to get himself an Oscar, and it was still glorifying one of the most selfish men I’ve come across in film, but it told the story well, it was pretty easy-going and despite the faults of the character they try to gloss over, Will did give a pretty good performance.
But the hype aversion that hit me with TPOH was about tenfold for Seven Pounds. I’d seen the trailer that deliberately left you guessing. It should have intrigued me, but instead I was left generally “meh” about it. Then it opened, and while I avoided it, friends of mine flocked to it and gushed about it, but refused to tell me the outcome because they didn’t want to spoil the mystery. Little did they know I didn’t care all that much. But in fairness to their devotion, I decided I would see the film eventually.
Now that I have seen it, I can say, resolutely, that I’m pissed off. This film is a conniving and incredibly distasteful excuse to work your emotions into thinking this is profound.
The film opens with Will’s character reporting a suicide – namely his. Then it flashes back to some time before it, and we see a series of set-pieces involving Will being disagreeable with a lot of people he encounters. Long, pretentious and convoluted story short, he’s testing them to see if they’re worth his organs when he does finally commit suicide.
He’s committing suicide because he’s still feeling guilt out of causing a car crash that killed seven people. Will is paying his seven pounds of metaphorical flesh (read The Merchant of Venice, kids) as payment for the lives he ended, by improving the lives of other people. Of particular note are Rosario Dawson as Emily, and Woody Harrelson as Ezra. Ezra’s blind, so he gets Will’s eyes, Emily has a weak heart, so she gets Will’s. If you want an extra heaping of schmaltz, Will falls in love with Emily beforehand, so you can play around with the whole “love = giving your heart to someone” metaphor as much as you like.
So Will commits suicide, by running a bath and then pouring a box jellyfish into it with him – it’s meant to be a moment of sad beauty, but I found it as ridiculous to watch as it is to suggest on paper – and his organs get divvied up among the worthy. Emily meets Ezra, she feels reunited with Will because Ezra has his eyes, end film, fetch bucket.
Why did I hate this movie?
There are many problems I have with this film. I’ll get the technical out of the way right now.
It’s too long. This is a film that wears out its welcome a quarter of an hour into its two-hour running time. If you took out all of the shots of Will crying in his car, crying in a hallway, brooding or looking tortured while gazing just to the left of the camera, you’d have a much shorter film and not at the expense of anything. We get that he’s a tortured character – we don’t need to be reminded of it every 30 seconds.
The pacing of the film is also leaden. I can appreciate a film that moves slowly if its doing it around something worthwhile, but this film is like watching a snail crawl over a bed of hot coals – it’s taking too long and it’s an unpleasant experience. The thing is, in trying to keep this film a mystery for the viewers, a much quicker pace would have served it well, to add a sense of desperation into the proceedings. Instead, it’s boring. The score does nothing to help this – it’s eternally underwhelming – it’s the music that plays in the quiet moment of an action movie except it’s stretched out for two hours.
If you want to see a movie that gets it right, and is quite tonally similar, see the incredibly underrated Veronika Decides to Die.
Oh, and as for the mystery – way to ruin it right there in the opening scene! Yes movie, do tell us he’s going to kill himself – it definitely won’t alter how we interpret the following scenes and lead us to figuring out what’s happening well before the movie decides its time to tell us. Nicely done!
To its credit, the film is photographed quite nicely. Rosario Dawson also does some quite nice work with a pretty bland character. But that’s another thing – there are no characters in this film save for Will – there are people who exist in the film around him to serve a purpose, and actors to showcase how Godlike his character is meant to be.
Which brings me nicely to my main problems with the film.
Will is not a good protagonist. Will is a bastard, and despite the pretence of his nobility through saving other people’s lives, he’s actually playing God with the lives of others. We’re supposed to see it as a heart-rending act of goodwill that he kills himself so other people can use his organs, and there’s another character who he sets up in his house so she can escape her abusive boyfriend.
This is all well and good, were it not for the fact that doing this automatically means he’s denying other people the right to life – he personally calls Ezra, and provokes him, abusing him and being cruel, but when Ezra doesn’t react harshly, this proves he is “a decent man” – no it doesn’t. It proves that he’s slow to anger. For all Will knows, Ezra snorts lines of cokes off the arse of underage strippers when he goes home at night. Yes, Will has suffered an enormous amount of grief in his life, but who is he to say that these people are more worthy than others, especially when it comes to his bullshit methodology for testing them?
Another thing – Will kills himself with a box jellyfish. He makes a point out of describing it as the most deadly creature on earth (a claim many would contend) and when he does pour it in the bath, it does look like a suitably excruciating death. But hey, shame that the venom from a box jellyfish would render his heart completely unusable for Emily!
And that’s yet another asinine plot point. Will lets himself fall in love with Emily, and leads her on into thinking they’ll be together. She doesn’t know he’s planning to off himself, and give her his heart, so she lets herself fall in love too. This is just cruel on his part, as he could’ve easily kept his distance, knowing that she was going to be the one he would donate his heart too, but instead he just adds a lot of grief to her new lease on life.
Also, he doesn’t seem to have any difficulties with his finances. He seems to have had a very comfortable life. Surely he could’ve spent the rest of his life opening up a foundation or something similar and improving the lives of a lot more people over a longer course of time? Seven people is nice and symbolic (though the film would’ve worked a lot better if it had been called “three pounds” and the random characters excised) but there’s a lot more good to be done than just improving seven people’s lives.
Now my biggest problem with the film. Suicide is not something to glamourise or make noble. It’s a serious issue, and the events that lead a person to kill themselves are often traumatic and unbearable, hence the act. It’s also a selfish act that ignores the grief of loved ones left behind. I don’t mean that to sound as callous as it does, but killing yourself leaves behind people who care for you, and, uncomfortable to admit though it is, suicide is a decision to end everything for you but not for those you leave behind. It’s tragic that a person might want to kill themselves, but the death doesn’t end with just them. It’s an inherently complicated and painful issue, and it’s entirely distasteful that Will Smith has exploited it and added a sense of nobility to it so that he can glorify himself in a shallow and painfully transparent attempt to gain an Oscar.
Final point: I’ve been calling him Will because that’s what this is. His character’s name is Tim, though throughout the story he pretends to be his brother Ben. I’m aware that he isn’t playing himself on screen. But for all intents and purposes, this is a calculated ego-trip for Will Smith, designed to prey on and pry apart your emotions so that the Academy will vote him in for the win. It pleases me incredibly that he wasn’t even nominated.
This film is something disrespectful and cruel, masquerading as something noble and heart-warming. There are far worse films out there, but this has the rare audacity to be part of the Hollywood machine disguised as something genuine. It’s not that at all. This is little but manipulative, emptily-sentimental bullshit.