I also watched Se7en on Netflix recently and I’ve been thinking about this scene a lot — presuming I’m correct that this is a joke about how Detective Somerset (played by Morgan Freeman) sets a metronome going so that he might sleep through the night-noise of the city.
The sound it makes, whilst adding to the mood of the film, is ultimately unimportant. The function of the metronome is key.
Why not just sleep with a ticking clock or any other, more implicit, form of rhythmic noise? Why go for something as awkwardly particular as a metronome? Perhaps it’s important because it is Somerset who sets its pace.
Somerset, it is worth noting, is already out of time. The quasi-cybergothic atmosphere of the city is in stark contrast to his own domestic surroundings. His apartment feels like some sort of Edwardian boudoir in contrast to the other interiors in the film. His name, too, brings to mind English country cider. That’s more than an odd choice of signifiers to associate with a black, retiring, inner city homicide veteran.
An uncharacteristically bourgeois taste in interior design is not enough to escape the drab squalor of the murderous metropolis, however. Somerset is set to retire in seven days when we first meet him and he is evidently preparing himself for a change of pace. But more than that, he seems to want to slow down every fibre of his being.
He evidently can’t slow down the city to match the pace of his old-fashioned and diligent ways. He may as well continue working on himself.
In this way, the metronome in the film doesn’t just tick by without significance. It ticks by at an anxiously slow pace, jarring with the energy outside his window. And it is not just slow but decisively out of time, slower than a clock, and definitely slower than a New York minute. It’s off beat.
The tragic irony of Somerset’s character is that he just can’t slow down fast enough. Beyond the metronome, his whole life is temporally dissonant.
It’s funny that sleeping with a metronome makes you a cop. Because Somerset already is a cop. Obviously. But he doesn’t want to be. He’s ill at ease. He’s cynical, bitter, disenfranchised.
He’s a cop whose hatred of being a cop is seemingly what makes him a cop. Or rather, it’s being a cop that makes him long for a life beyond being a cop. The transcendental empiricism of being a cop…
There’s an obvious No Country for Old Men-style dissonance at play here but, at the same time. this very dissonance is what makes Somerset such an astute detective. Everything is wrong from his perspective. All he does is curate the clues in front of him.
He can’t help seeing the clues. “Detective” is not just his profession, it’s a sort of occulted responsibility. “Once a cop, always a cop” is an adage that weighs heavy on him. He knows his fate is sealed.
Somerset soon comes to know, as we do, that time is a flat circle. The pace is unimportant. When Somerset’s metronome ends up smashed on the floor, this realisation is no doubt the reason why.
Out of sync, perhaps, but it keeps time. It can’t help doing its job.