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.