Monday, April 13, 2009

Movie Review: Seven Pounds

Spoiler Alert! If you read this blog, you will find out what happens at the end of the movie. Also, if you read this blog, you will never want to see the movie. It was, in my opinion, morally appalling.

In the opening scene of the drama "Seven Pounds" (Columbia/Relativity), Will Smith calls 911 to report a suicide. Asked who the victim is, he answers: "I am." The remainder of the film, which sets out to confound the viewer at every turn, gradually explains how his character reached this desperate pass.

Although he's fond of flashing his credentials as an IRS agent, Ben Thomas' interaction with the taxpayers he visits seems to have as much to do with a hidden personal agenda as with the work of his office. Burdened by a terrible secret -- flashbacks hint at a horrific car crash -- he's out to discover a group of genuinely decent people to whom he can offer life-altering assistance, thus atoning for what he regards as a virtually unforgivable sin. Unfortunately, Ben is suffering from depression and is selfishly wrapped up in his own despair.

His carefully chosen beneficiaries include blind pianist Ezra (Woody Harrelson) and struggling Latina mother Connie (Elpidia Carrillo), who's being physically abused by her boyfriend. Ben's interest in the case of artistic printer and cardiac patient Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson) gradually flowers into romance, despite his initial efforts to remain aloof. After lying to Emily about who he is and claiming to fall in love with her, he kills himself so that she may have his heart for a transplant. Note: in real life, you cannot choose who will be the recipient of your organs should you choose to donate them.

Ben relies on the reluctant support of his best friend, Dan (Barry Pepper), who's concerned about the lengths to which Ben seems willing to go for his do-it-yourself redemption. And not without reason, since Ben's spirit of self-sacrifice, by which he would make himself into his own redeemer, extends to donating bone marrow without the benefit of an anesthetic.

Also worried about Ben's mysterious behavior is his younger brother (Michael Ealy), whom Ben assures of his love but consistently evades. We find out that Ben took over his brother's identity and lied to all of the people he meets, including Emily who he claims to have fallen in love with.

Contrary to the bedrock principal of Catholic moral theology that holds that even the noblest ends do not justify or excuse the use of wrongful means, "Seven Pounds" seems to endorse an obviously unwise and sinful choice driven by confused idealism. The message I received was that you can break any commandment if your intentions are well meaning and the desired outcome is good. Were it not for the humane character of the project as a whole, the script's muddled ethics could otherwise warrant an O classification for morally offensive by the USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting, but they require careful interpretation by mature, religiously well-grounded viewers.

The film contains a suicide theme, nongraphic premarital sexual activity, a few sexual references, occasional crude and crass language, and a couple of uses of profanity. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

I think the movie deserves the Morally Offensive rating and should not be viewed by anyone with a conscience.

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