This section of the Apocalypse Films site is dedicated to the exploration, understanding and promoting of Visual Subtext in great works of cinema.


The following breakdown is of an image from the ending of David Fincher’s Seven (1995). This examination of the visual subtext of the mis-en-scene of the moment, gives insight into my intended approach to building this resource for filmmakers.

NOTE: It is difficult to do visual subtext breakdown of the image without revealing some elements of the plot. I intend to keep spoilers to a minimum.  So, without further ado..

visual subtext

Climactic moment from David Finchers Seven

The key elements obvious in this particular image, seem to be:

  • BODY LANGUAGE: Mills (Pitt) and Somerset (Freeman) are  at odds with each other. Their body language suggests high conflict, but kinship. Somerset refuses to engage with this moment. He disagrees with what is about to take place. However,  Somerset does not attempt to stop Mills, maintaining a passive posture. Mills, on the other hand, is active, front and (almost) centre of frame, and is fully engaged in his action.
  • SCREEN DIVISION – Fincher’s composition splits the frame with the electricity tower, to emphasise disconnect between the two officers.
  • BALANCE – The frame is unbalanced, with Mills off-center and Somerset almost pushed out of frame. This technique  emphasises the unpredictable, unstable moment.
  • LINE – strong diagonal lines and crosses give a visual energy to the frame, amplifying the chaotic moment.
  • METAPHOR – The electrical tower suggests, almost literally a ‘higher power’, towering over the moment, which is exactly what serial-killer John Doe (Spacey) claims he is happening.
  • CAMERA ANGLE – the low camera angle places the viewer in the point of view of  John Doe. This camera placement alludes to the control that John Doe has over the moment – that he has made this moment happen.
  • COLOUR – the muted colour palette, earthy tones, suggests the lifelessness of the moment.
  • COSTUME – Mills is dressed in black with small touches of white. He’s accesses his dark side. He is high-contrast, high energy.  A strong, bold stroke of black. This is his moment. Somerset, on the other hand, is almost the colour of the sky. He blends, almost unnoticed, this his influence and power in this moment is hugely diminished.

This is a particularly exciting image that I find almost profound in its command of visual subtext. I hope you enjoy it too.

This project will begin in earnest in 2019. I encourage you to get involved through any format, using the hashtag #visualsubtext.

In the meantime, if you’d like to read more, check out this post and this post for a great place to begin with Visual Subtext.  Or check out our Book Review page.