[Editor's note: The main premise of this post, written by SPNAC's editor, is based on its author's opinion.]
Although Christopher Orr in a review in the New Republic is quasi-evasive in addressing the particulars because, as he puts it, “much as I’d like to spoil it, I won’t,” there is no question that his criticism of Seven Pounds centers on its ending, in which Smith’s character dies by suicide, a trope which Orr calls “morally grotesque.” His verdict:
Seven Pounds is … a dour, morally beclouded film that confuses generosity and grief, self-abnegation and self-annihilation. Yes, it comes prettily wrapped as the package of holiday uplift it fatuously imagines itself to be. But this is a present best left unopened.
Since I’m not a movie reviewer whose ethic forbids him from “giving away” an ending, I’ll share what a blogger at Paste Magazine writes about it: Will Smith’s character, Ben, announces his suicide in the opening scene then …
… tracks down seven strangers in need: Woody Harrelson plays a blind pianist who gets his eyes, “Ben” gives his lungs to his ailing brother … he gives a single mother his house, some other woman gets his liver, some dude on dialysis takes his kidney, another guy gets his bone marrow, and he gives Rosario Dawson, the movie’s love interest with congestive heart failure, his heart (barf!) … Anyway, yes, the film’s title refers to the “seven pounds” of flesh that Ben gives to [Rosario Dawson's character].
I’m in good company when it comes to not feeling remorseful for that “spoiler,” including New York Times reviewer A.O. Scott, who writes
I don’t see how any review could really spoil what may be among the most transcendently, eye-poppingly, call-your-friend-ranting-in-the-middle-of-the-night-just-to-go-over-it-one-more-time crazily awful motion pictures ever made. I would tell you to go out and see it for yourself, but you might take that as a recommendation rather than a plea for corroboration.
Scott continues with his indictment, calling Seven Pounds “a lugubrious exercise in spiritual bushwa”:
For all its pious, earnest air, Seven Pounds cries out to be remade as an Asian horror movie, so that the deep, creepy grotesqueness of its governing premise might be allowed to flourish, rather than to fester beneath the surface.
Roger Friedman, writing for Fox News, calls Seven Pounds “just gruesome, a horrid misfire … a relentlessly depressing, strange piece of cinema that really has no business being released at Christmas, if ever,” and there are plenty of other high-profile reviews that peg the movie for what it is (perhaps, most succinctly, Scott Foundas in the Village Voice who calls it “a morbid morality play”), but in the end, the reviewer who really says what needs to be said on behalf of the suicide prevention community is, perhaps ironically, “Movie Mom“:
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.
One wonders, with all that is known about the deadly relationship between media depictions of suicide and actual suicidal behavior, whether Columbia Pictures or Will Smith even considered the possibility that their film might harm members of its paying audience who might be at risk. Simply but powerfully stated, in a 2005 literature review published in Academic Psychiatry,
Data support an increased number of suicides resulting from media accounts of suicide that romanticize or dramatize the description of suicidal deaths.
[The abridged URL for this post is bit.ly/poundsguilty .]
[See Comment section: An update to this post in "View Comments" contains a link to an Australian radio talk show interview in which an adolescent psychologist speaks out against the film's possible danger to teenagers as well as a link to a newspaper commentary stating that "any claim that Seven Pounds depicts suicide in a way that normalises, sanitises or glamourises the practice is laughably deluded" (01/08/2009).]