The newest movie starring Will Smith got savaged among reviewers. I saw it recently, and I think the ultra-harsh reviews were a bit unfair. The movie is about a man named Ben who seems to be stalking and examining an odd array of people. He also seems very troubled. What's going on? It's impossible to talk about the specifics of the movie without spoiling it, so I'll do that below the picture. But just about anyone paying close attention to the movie can figure out in broad strokes what's going on in the first 15 minutes. But this is one thing I actually liked about the movie. It was a puzzle of sorts. You're given fragments, pieces of something broken, and you need to piece them together to make sense of what you're seeing. I think movies like that are interesting, if done well, and I think Seven Pounds is done reasonably well.
So what's the big mystery? Ben is not Ben, but actually Tim. He's using his brother's credentials as an IRS agent to investigate people, specifically people who need organ or tissue transplants. Tim used to be a big-shot aerospace engineer with a beautiful fiance. But one night he was driving his car along a windy road, checking his Blackberry, and he caused a wreck which killed seven people, including his fiance.
So he decides to help seven other people. But he wants to make sure they're good people, hence the stalking. He donates part of his liver to a social worker. He donates bone marrow to a dying boy. He gives a kidney to a man and his house to an abused woman and her children. But he's apparently so stricken with guilt that his final acts of charity involve killing himself. His final donations are his eyes to a blind man and his heart to a woman named Emily who has congenital heart disease.
There's a wrinkle with this last one, since while investigating Emily, he falls in love with her. But her condition worsens and when the doctor tells him that she has about a 3% chance to find a donor, he does the math and kills himself to give her his heart.
All the actors are good, and the direction is competent, and I actually found the situation poignant. I would have liked a scene between Tim and his friend or a psychiatrist or someone trying to talk him out of it, just to see more of what was going through his head and his rationale, but that might have actually made the film worse. I could actually believe that someone who had killed seven people through recklessness would try to atone for it this way. The only really absurd part that pulled me out of the movie was the way in which he killed himself.
By jellyfish. Yes, that's right...he got a jellyfish into his motel room, filled his bathtub with ice, and went swimming with a jellyfish. He even put down a laminated sign near the tub that read "DO NOT TOUCH THE JELLYFISH" for the paramedics. I think the writers thought that this was a poetic way to commit suicide. There's an early scene where Tim as a boy is taken to the zoo by his father, and we see the ethereal movement of the jellyfish in their tank. So I'm pretty sure I know what the creators were going for, but unfortunately it didn't really work, and as a result was the silliest part of the movie. I think the suicide by jellyfish is what earned it such scorn (28% on Rotten Tomatoes as of this writing). Which is a shame, because it really is an interesting, well-made, if emotionally-manipulative movie. It could even have been a powerful movie if Tim had actually researched a way to kill himself that would preserve his organs that didn't involve a friggin' jellyfish.
One last note: I was reminded of the philosophical conundrum of sacrificing a single person to save some number of strangers. It usually goes something like this: Is is ethical to kidnap and kill a healthy person in order to use their organs to save seven healthy people? In studies, people usually find such scenarios highly unethical, though in forced choice situations (e.g., a madman puts you in a room with two buttons, one of which kills a single person, the other kills seven, and if you don't press either, they all die) it is usually deemed ethical to kill one person rather than seven. The organ transplant scenario is not normally seen as a forced choice (even if we could reliably predict that all seven people will be dead within a month). Anyway, Seven Pounds has the capacity to lead to some interesting discussions of philosophy and morality, despite the silly business with the jellyfish.