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John Doe

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Become vengeance, David....become Wrath.
~ John Doe encouraging Detective Mills to kill him.

John Doe is the main antagonist in the 1995 film Se7en.

He is portrayed by Kevin Spacey, who also portrayed Dave HarkenVerbal KintHopperLex LuthorClyde Northcutt,  Rufus Buckley, and Frank Underwood.

In the Film

John Doe is a psychopathic serial killer obsessed with the Seven Deadly Sins of Christianity, and he kills his victims in symbolic murders representing in an attempt (at least in his own mind) to remind the world about the inevitability to avoid these sins. His insanity is based on fanaticism and obsession but did little to damage his knowledge; in fact, his madness may have added to it as he is portrayed as a twisted mastermind who is comfortable with toying with the authorities. Doe particularly seems to enjoy playing games with the film's protagonists, Detective David Mills and Detective William Somerset, in a similar fashion to killers such as Jack the Ripper.

The first five of Doe's murders represent five of the Deadly Sins, and include:

  • Gluttony: Forcing an obese man to feed himself to death. It is mentioned that a person cannot physically eat themselves to death in one sitting, so Doe eventually deals a heavy blow to the man's stomach, causing it to burst.
  • Greed: Arranging a fatal bloodletting of a rich attorney.
  • Sloth: Tying up a drug-taking child molester on a bed for a year, keeping him alive and eventually letting him die from shock.
  • Lust: Forcing a man wearing a bladed S&M device to simultaneously rape and kill a prostitute.
  • Pride: Mutilating a young model's face to drive her into suicide.

Mills and Somerset eventually track Doe to his apartment, unaware that Doe is out 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 gets himself arrested. The detectives are confused as to why Doe would hand himself in when he is two murders away from completing his "masterpiece", but Doe tells 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 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 he was told 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. When Mills questions him on this, Doe reveals that he was jealous of his normal life (representing the sixth sin, Envy) and went to visit Mills' wife Tracy, attempting to "play husband" by raping her. Since this didn't work out, Doe 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 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 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 of distress over the loss of his wife and potential child) shoots him repeatedly to his death (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 catatonic and is placed under arrest for the murder of Doe, much to Somerset's discomfort.

Se7en Comics

A series of comics, written by Mike Kalvoda, explore more of John Doe's life prior to the film. Doe had begun life as an ordinary God-fearing boy. As a child, Doe suffered from excruciating cluster headaches which were treated with a botched attempt at electroshock therapy. Doe's mother was a religious fanatic, obsessed with sin and eternal damnation. At one point during his school years, Doe began to develop carnal desires for a sexually-active girl in his class, which his mother condemned. His mother became infuriated upon finding Doe masturbating in the bathroom and severely beat him. Doe would later witness his mother making love to his equally God-fearing uncle.

As a teenager, he became besotted by a pleasant young girl in his religious-education class. At this stage in his life, Doe began the habit of writing journals describing his every thought and action. He wrote that his feelings toward this girl were pure and that she was nothing like the girl he lusted over years before. He offered to help the girl with her revision and invited her to his house. Upon entering his room, however, they encountered John's mother, now a violent alcoholic. She was reading John's journals and mockingly read them out to the girl. The girl ran away, with John's mother physically attacking him and telling him that no matter what he did, he would always be a sinner, and would inevitably go to Hell.

Aside from having a violent, abusive alcoholic mother, Doe's life was pretty basic yet he took all the negativity his mother directed at him impassively. He had probably been bottling up his anger his whole life, which might have been what caused him to go over the edge when he could no longer take any more. Later in life, Doe married, but found his wife cheating on him; John never had children because his wife was unable to, so he never touched her. After being cheated on by his wife, Doe started to become less unemotional about his rotten luck. He had a normal job until he had a disagreement with is boss about the handling of the company that John worked for and he was then fired. After witnessing a car crash, Doe began to question if God was really watching over humans.

John visited his mother at his childhood home and found her burning his belongings. She died in the flames, leaving John a key for a box containing the book of the Seven Deadly Sins. Experiencing an epiphany, John proceeded to shave off his fingertips, pull out his teeth, and castrate himself, thus renouncing his former identity. Since then, Doe dedicated himself to making a statement on the ugly side of humans by using the seven sins against people who had committed them.


Nothing wrong with a man taking pleasure in his work. I won't deny my own personal desire; to turn each sin against the sinner.
~ John explaining his goal

John Doe was a malevolent, twisted, sadistic, deadpan, cruel, God-fearing vigilante who thought he was doing the right thing and flatly would not consider the possibility he was wrong. John was also calm, cool, collected and apathetic. He had a very gentle, smooth way of speaking and rarely raised his voice. He took it very poorly however when Detective Mills suggested that Doe's victims were "innocent," as Doe thought everyone who committed one of the Seven Deadly Sins was a criminal. Doe suffers from both borderline personality and antisocial personality disorders with schizotypal features and occasional schizoid disturbances.

Doe did not consider himself mad or evil, both of which he evidently was, because he felt he was working in God's best interest. Doe admittedly enjoyed the harm he caused his five victims, probably because he liked bad people (they were bad as far as he was concerned) getting what they deserved. Even though the subjects of Greed and Sloth were not ethically good people, Doe's method of dealing with them was downright demonic, to say the least.

Despite his insanity, Doe was extremely intelligent and was capable of working everyone involved in his scheme, victims and law enforcement, with no trouble. Had he not been a psychotic killer, he might have been capable of serving the community as a detective as he was incredibly cunning and fearless.



  • Val Kilmer turned down the role of John Doe.
  • 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.

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