Seven Pounds

Posted on March 31, 2009 at 8:00 am

The way you feel about “Seven Pounds” will depend on the way you feel about the choice made by the main character at the end of the film. Some may consider it admirable and selfless but for me the choice, while understandable, is unforgivable. And that makes it impossible for me to recommend the film.

Will Smith stars as a man who has clearly faced some deep tragedy, and his sensitive portrayal of loss and regret is heart-wrenching. As the movie goes back and forth in time and place, we begin to piece together his past. He is an IRS investigator who at one time had another job, another home, another life. Now he has a desperation that all but consumes him, a fury for some sort of completion or expiation. He says he has the power to fundamentally change the circumstances of some people and we see the way he decides which ones deserve that help.

One of those people is Emily (Rosario Dawson), $56,000 behind on her payments to the IRS because of medical bills for a congenital heart weakness. As he gets to know her in order to decide whether to and how to help her, he finds himself drawn to her. Despite her illness, she has a life force that warms and centers him and he finds himself disconcerted at being helped as well as helping.

The movie is undeniably touching, skillfully and sincerely made. But its decision to portray behavior that is at best morally compromised as an idealized sacrifice is a poor choice as an ethical matter and as a narrative matter. The issue of how we can find redemption after causing great harm is an important subject and it deserves a more thoughtful exploration than this ultimately superficial film. SPOILER ALERT It is not the obviousness and phoniness and manipulation that bothers me as much as the clueless and even condescending immorality of it. No one thinks that suicide, even to benefit others, is a legitimately redemptive act, and it is contemptible and irresponsible of the movie to suggest otherwise.

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49 Replies to “Seven Pounds”

  1. Hello, I didn’t know where else to post this…hope you read this. Movie mom, can you do a review of the upcoming “Revolutionary Road” film when it comes out? The movie is rated R for language and sexual content but it seems like it will be a good movie for families to watch that have older children (high school/college).

  2. Thanks, Alex! Yes, I have seen “Revolutionary Road” and will review it. I’m not allowed to post a review until the movie opens, so look for it in two weeks. If you want to know more before then, email me at
    (And I read every comment — hearing from readers is one of the best parts of my job!)

  3. Hi Nell–
    I agree completely with your fine review of this film.
    And to add to it, here’s a tiny snippet of my review. Did this jump out at you as odd?
    The decision to score the final scene to an onscreen children’s chorus singing a cover of Herman’s Hermits’ “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good” is also ill-considered. Besides being inextricably linked to 1988’s spoof extraordinaire “The Naked Gun,” the lyrics don’t exactly lend themselves to an elementary school choir (“I walked her home and she held my hand/I knew it wouldn’t be just a one-night stand”). It comes dangerously close to earning a bad laugh when laughter should be the farthest thing from the viewer’s mind.

    Peggy, the main character commits suicide so that he can donate his heart and corneas. He caused a terrible automobile accident that led to the deaths of seven people and he gives away everything he has, including his life and vital organs, to try to make up for it.

  5. I won’t be able to see this on big screen- have to wait until video release. Please share the ending /decision he made with me?

  6. Thank you, Dustin. I appreciate it. I’m glad you mentioned the song at the end because it is a rip-off from the underground classic, The Langley School Project, a recording made by a Canadian elementary school music teacher of his class singing 70’s hits like this one and “Desperado.” The original is a haunting and heart-piercingly sweet and this version, down to replicating the slightly off-the-beat woo-woo-woos, seemed cheap and forced.

    Hi, Becky! The significance of the name is not revealed but I believe it refers to the organs the main character donates to save the lives of the people he helps.

  8. no, the seven pounds does not refer to the organs at all. yes it is revealed. very obviously aswell. it refers to the seven people he killed in the car accident shown in pieces throughout the film. there are newspaper cuttings in his room that say seven killed in fatal accident. duh

  9. Bryce, the seven pounds is a reference to what he gives up to save the seven people he is helping, not to the people who died (what would the term “pounds” have to do with the people killed in the accident?). The studio will not comment on the meaning but I agree with those who say that it may recall the “pound of flesh” payment in stories like “Merchant of Venice.”
    Thanks for writing!

  10. Nell, you are eloquent and tactful. I appreciate your not responding with wrath to pompous and attempted demeaning posts.

  11. Many thanks! You made my day. It is very important to me that this be a welcoming and comfortable place for visitors and people who post comments. And I think it is more effective to set a good example than to respond in kind. I am really glad you appreciate my efforts.

    At the end of the movie, it is revealed that Tim’s brother, the real Ben Thomas, also needed a double lung transplant and that’s what got ‘Ben’ started in donating his organs. He also donated part of his liver to an ailing woman, Holly, who is shown earlier in the movie. Emily cries hearing this news. She decides to seek out Ezra. When she finds Ezra, he is playing the piano at a big event with a children’s choir performing behind him. He is no longer blind. Ben gave him his eyes. Gone are Ezra’s blank blue eyes; now he has ‘Ben’s dark brown eyes. Ezra realizes who Emily is and as tears roll down her face, they embrace and the movie ends.
    Tim Thomas had decided long ago to commit suicide and decided to donate his organs, but only to ‘good’ people who were deserving of such a gift. Hence, Tim tempted Ezra to get angry and discovered he was a good man. Tim refuses to help and did not donate his bone marrow to the caretaker Stewart Goodman, because he was a ‘bad’ man.
    The seven people Tim helps are Emily Posa (to whom he gives his heart), Ezra Turner (to whom he gives his eyes), Ben Thomas (to whom he gives his lung), Holly (to whom he gives his liver), Connie (to whom he gives his house), Nicholas (to whom he donates bone marrow) and George (to whom he donates a kidney to in order to get off dialysis). Hence the title of the movie is finally revealed: ‘Ben’ Thomas donates seven pounds of flesh in order to seek redemption for the seven innocent lives he took that rainy night.

  13. Hope i didn’t ruin the movie for anyone, but the ending is disturbing and sad, tim thomas trys to play God by taking his only life, God decides when you leave not you, but overall it makes u step back and examine your life and see how selfish we can all be

  14. I just saw this movie a few days ago, and I understand that he gave away seven thing to help other people (Which makes up part of the title ((SEVEN)) pounds). But some some people say that he gave up seven pounds of flesh to gain redemption for killing seven people in the car wreck. What is this seven POUNDS of FLESH they are talking about? Please help MovieMom.

  15. I saw this movie with my 14 year old daughter. Unfortunately, I did not read reviews before we chose the movie. We had seen all sorts of ads for it, and read the information at the theater. I had also seen Will Smith on a couple talk shows and never thought it would be such a disturbing movie. Even Oprah (whom I tend to dislike and do not watch very often) gave the movie good plugs on her show.
    I was quite uncomfortable early in the movie, but still stayed, as my daughter just covered her eyes during the graphic parts. I guess it is to keep the suspense, but the ads should hint at the suicide aspect so that people are prepared. I would not recommend this movie to any one with young teens or under. Although my daughter has not opened up about how she felt, she was silent the whole way home. I myself, dreamt about the movie for the following two nights.

  16. Thanks so much for sharing your experience, which will be of enormous help to others, especially parents, who want to know if this movie is appropriate for them and for their families. I tried to convey in my review the concerns I had and hope in the future this site will be helpful to you in deciding what you and your daughter will see. The studio deliberately hid the content of the film — ostensibly to preserve the suspense — but the result is that some audience members found it unexpectedly disturbing.
    I hope you and your daughter will find a way to talk about your reactions to the film as it can be of great help in processing its images and themes.

  17. this movie is a master piece will smith has done it again he has given yet another hit and afantabulous performence the way he emotes is lines has been a sight to see the suspence is good enough it keeps u on ur seat till the end ………. so u must go and watch it atleast once ….

  18. The phrase “7 pounds of flesh” is from Shakespeare, in *the Merchant of Venice*, which explores issues of paying-back a debt under a system of usury. A good story outline, of the complicated debt issues, appears here:
    and explains how an Italian merchant promised a pound of his own flesh (closest to his heart) if he couldn’t pay back the money he owed on a loan. The play explores possibilities of how society should respond to the loan-shark who insists on collecting the (unreasonable) flesh payment.
    The play also includes themes of religious conflict.

  19. I saw the movie 7 pounds also and agree with Williams explanation of the title with some confusion. I guess what I am confused about moviemom is the fact that Connies donation of a house is included in the “seven pounds of flesh”. I woke up the next morning after seeing the movie trying to figure this out. When I mentioned the seventh thing being the house obtained by Connie to a friend he stated maybe the weight of the house keys was what was included. But even so, keys nor house are “flesh”. What do you think of this?

  20. Thanks for these comments. “A pound of flesh” does go back to “The Merchant of Venice” by Shakespeare but that story is very different from this one. Shylock makes an agreement that if the borrower cannot repay the loan he will provide a pound of flesh. He does this as an act of revenge for the loss of his daughter. But the man who owes the pound of flesh never has to pay. Portia successfully argues in court that a pound of flesh cannot be provided without spilling blood, and since blood was not promised in the contract, it cannot be fulfilled. So this story may be the origin of the phrase, but it in no way suggests or portrays the idea of a pound of flesh as payment or expiation.
    The term “seven pounds” as used here is not intended to be taken literally. He did not give a pound of bone marrow or a pound of lung. And the house is not his flesh. It is more in the way of a suggestion or metaphor as he gives up all he owns, down to his own organs, to give life to replace the lives lost due to his mistake.

  21. Another angle on the movie is comprehensively explored by “Suicide Prevention News and Comment” — — in a post titled “‘Seven Pounds’ Is Guilty of Irresponsibility with Suicide” at
    The content of that post culminates with this quote, from one of the featured reviewers, who happens to be Movie Mom herself, writing in a Dec. 21, 2008 post: “It is not the obviousness and phoniness and manipulation that bothers me as much as the clueless and even condescending immorality of it. No one thinks that suicide, even to benefit others, is a legitimately redemptive act, and it is contemptible and irresponsible of the movie to suggest otherwise.”

    The character’s name is actually Tim, as when he tells Emily the story about a little boy who wanted to fly – aerospace engineer – he went to MIT. Tim’s brother, the lung recipient, is named Ben, the IRS agent. When Tim/Will Smith talks to his brother Ben, he asked if he had taken anything of his from his house, Tim/Will Smith doesn’t answer. In the confrontation at Emily’s house he even gives back the stolen “credentials” that Tim/Will Smith had altered with his own photo. So the Will Smith character is actually NOT an IRS agent, but impersonating one to get data on the folks he may or may not choose.

  23. I know, Another Mom, thanks — I try to describe the movie in a manner that is fair to the story without spoiling its surprises. I will add “Spoiler alert” to your comment.

  24. Best movie I’ve seen in years. Will Smith deserves an academy award. the Movie was good even though you don’t really know what’s going on to the end. This movie is not about suicide at all. It is trying to payback for lives he accidentally took including his beloved wife. And although I don’t take 7 pounds literally, the house wasn’t the gift he gave the woman. If the woman and children had stayed with the husband they were subject to abuse and possibly death so he surely saved her life as much as any of the others. I don’t think of it as a romance but as simile of giving his heart. I can’t even begin to praise all the nuinsances of this movie. Emotions of all kinds were portrayed and also felt by the viewer in the mystery of one mans atonement for lives he’d taken. For me a movie I’ve watched 3 times and will continue to watch through my life. WATCH IT!

  25. I’m sorry, I’m an old lady who’s lost some of her ability to feel things. And this movie let me feel on many levels. Probably a Movie for mature adults not even young adults. A movie that does deserve much comment however. A movie of grays, not black and white. A movie for much discussion, even among teenagers. My son and I both enjoyed it (26 and 61).

  26. Thanks for your comments eileengrma. I am glad to hear that this film was so meaningful to you. You are right that the issue of “payback” is at the heart (literally) of the story.

  27. I saw the ending as selfless, to say that laying your life down for someone else to live is suicide would say that Jesus committed suicide when He laid His life down for all of us.

  28. Thank you very much, Ben. There is much that is moving and inspiring and admirable about the notion of sacrifice, like that of soldiers, police, and fire fighters. But Jesus did not commit suicide and Christianity does not sanction suicide, even to help another.

  29. Eileen, I couldn’t agree with you more. This was the best movie I have seen in ages. It should have won best picture last year. It’s making me re-think my own life and what it means to live life abundantly.

  30. I think think this is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. It has made me think about how I affect the people around me. If I had to ask myself the question “Do you consider yourself a good person?”, I don’t know how I would answer that. Am I doing enough “good” to be a good person?
    Life seems to short to just wait around for something good to happen. I want to be remembered like Ben Thomas.
    I highly recomend this movie to watch. It has changed my outlook on life. It may just do the same for you. Seven pounds nourishes the soul.


    he wasn’t actually an IRS agent.
    his brother was, and he had taken the i.d. to get access to these people to help him. although he goes by ben thomas throughout the whole movie, that is actually his younger brother. his real name is tim.
    he didn’t committ suicide out of vanity. or because he was depressed or had gone through a lot.
    he did it for the others.
    for emily and ezra to donate organs.
    he was paying back his part in the accident, and the 7 people dying by giving pieces of himself to help others.
    and everything everyone is saying about his suicide being unforgiveable, or immorral, or whatever else is all based on your own personal beliefs. religious or not, don’t be biased.
    other people see it different ways. what is right to you isn’t necessarily right to someone else.
    there’s no reason to bash an amazing, beautiful movie by complaining that the ending is wrong and morally bankrupt.
    because that’s how you see it. not how EVERYONE sees it.

  33. Thanks for the comment Ally! First, I had to describe him as he appeared in the first part of the movie to avoid giving away too much about the story. Second, I made it clear from the first sentence that how you feel about the movie will depend on how you feel about his decision at the end, based on what you refer to as personal beliefs, so we agree about that. SPOILER ALERT Third, I do not agree with you about that decision. “Paying back his part in the accident” should not require suicide. I would argue that by definition he was clinically depressed to think that it did and that deliberate suicide is never justified. There are many things people can do to expiate their sins short of obliterating themselves and those whose lives have been devastated by the suicide of a loved one can tell you what a tragedy it is. Finally, I am glad you think it is an amazing, beautiful movie. I am always glad when someone is touched by a film. But the purpose of a review is to express my own opinion, not everyone’s. And if you were genuinely inspired by the sacrifice and kindness of this movie, it would be nice to see you expressing your views with a little more compassion and courtesy.

  34. Having just watched the film i felt i had to comment, although i would never condone suicide, i think Ben aka Tim found a personal redemption in being able to change these peoples lives for the better, and in the end ending his life was his way of saving himself too. A thought provoking film that kept me gripped right to the end.

  35. I disagree that his decsion, while potentially compromising, makes the film bad. I am religious and I do not believe in taking one’s life either for the purpose of redeeming one’s self. However I have not heard a clear definition as to whether or not some circumstances of GIVING one’s life might be more tolerable than other instances of TAKING one’s life. I have not made up my mind as to whether or not his decision was right or wrong but(for those of you who are religious) did Jesus Christ not do something very similar? He was knowingly giving his life for humanity while Tim Thomas gave his life for one.

  36. Thanks, Dylan, for an exceptionally thoughtful and nuanced comment. As I said before, I do not think anyone would characterize the crucifixion as suicide and of course the church opposes suicide. But you are right that there is a fine line between, for example, the kinds of risks fire fighters take all the time to save others and taking one’s own life.
    I am glad that this movie has provoked so much discussion of values. I appreciate your sharing your views and hope you will return often to comment on the movies you see.

  37. but the fact that she is not abused to death any longer because she has a new house, a chance to a new life, means her life has been saved. Keys, or house here carry the weight of a life to the abused woman with two kids (you can think 2 more lives saved?!)

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