The Philosophy Of Saw: Looking At A Horror Franchise From A Philosophical Stance.
More than blood and guts?
The Philosophical side of Saw.
If I told you I did not search for some deep philosophical meaning in nearly every film I watch I would be without a shadow of any doubt guilty of lying to you. I live for films that give me something else behind the story or the cutting edge film making that has made modern films the talk of the town. Fight Club, Donnie Darko, and Nightmare on Elm Street have all been major bleeps on my philosophical radar screen.
Even films that don't initially have any intent of making a contribution to the philosophical mindset have me looking for deeper meaning. Recently I agreed rather reluctantly at first to re-visit a horror film I had not really been all that into when it first hit the big screen. A horror film franchise if you will that I just never found all that appealing in my younger days. I guess I was to involved with numerous Hellraiser films dropping at an alarming rate and what have you to see the real inner workings of this series.
The series was Saw. After sitting down to view the first of the film's current 6 installments I started to change my way of thinking in regards to what I once considered a gore hound film with little to offer the viewers by way of deep thought.
I started to see the under workings of the plot and the fact the main bad guy was a murderer who in fact did not murder. At one point a series I found mundane and trivial suddenly took on a different life to me. It almost started to make perfect sense.
The Choice Has To Be Made
The Razor Wire Scene
Will Over Impulse
I will address several issues in regard to philosophy that seem to pop up on a regular basis within the confines of the saw films. The first is a concept familiar to most of us even though we may not look at it in terms and definitions quite the way philosophy describes it. That concept is the one of will vs impulse.
Let me simplify this to a degree. A person with an eating disorder may have the desire to seek help or slow down the rate they consume food, but do they have the will to do so? Impulse may tell them they must eat when they are sad or happy or even just when they feel a bit lonely. They must have the will to overcome that impulse.
If impulse wins the battle the person will continue the harmful cycle of over eating with no real regard for where it is taking them or how it is effecting their well being. If will on the other hand wins the fray than the person may control their eating habits and in turn see a turn for the better. It sounds a bit complex right now but I assure you I will make it much clearer as we continue with this discussion.
The eccentric, almost mysterious, character of Jigsaw places his "victims" in precarious situations that forces them to make a decision. Usually it means mutilating their body or another person in order to survive or simply dying. He makes them risk their own life to save their own life which in many ways is an article topic in itself.
He makes them ask of them selves "how far will I go to live?" While we will venture into the realm of that question and just how important it is a bit later right now let's shift our focus to the person placed in the situation and just what they have to contend with.
Let's first look at will in terms of human beings. To define it as simply as I can will is the desire to do something. The philosopher Frankfurt placed will into three orders. The first two are what we want to really get into here. The first order he called animistic instinct or as we have put it impulse. The second order is more thought oriented and derives from our thinking prior to acting. JIgsaw relies rather heavily on this factor in his work.
In placing his victims in these situations with deliberate and unorthodox outcomes he is demanding of them to make a choice. They must first choose life over death or death over life but more sadistic they must decide whether impulse (order 1) or deliberation (order 2) will be the guiding force behind that decision. Let's look at an example from the films.
In one grizzly scene a man is asked if he cut himself for suicide or for attention and how far would he go to live. He is placed within a cage of razor wire and told he had a time limit to get himself out of the hazard. Typically this would be a moment where any of us would panic and our desire to beat the clock might cloud our rational understanding of just how sharp razor wire is and just how much damage it can and will do to the human body.
The first order of will will strike a fight or flight sensation and one would try to run through the wire as fast as possible to beat the clock and free them self from the terrible situation at hand. This is the exact option our husky friend takes in the film. The end result is his untimely death due to multiple deep lacerations. Had his original plan been to step back and observe and focus he may have been able to get through the wire with minimal cuts by simply focusing on the task at hand and not the morbid possibility regarding the outcomes.
One can not question the man's will to live, but his outlook on how to make that will work for him rather than against him.
It is this choice, the one to live or die or die trying to live that fuels the Saw films and gives Jigsaw what may very well be the most menacing of motives yet to grace a screen. In many of Jigsaw's obscene scenarios the escape is much easier than the victim makes it but it is again a battle of impulse vs will and in most cases we rely way to deeply on instinct.
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Does Life Have A Value
In no way can we possibly attach a monetary value to life. Some may try but the reality is life in it's very essence is priceless. The real emphasis of the Saw movies is not gore and blood soaked deaths, sure those aspects do add to the appeal, but it is in turn about human life and just how important it is. If we look at the deeper meaning of the film we see it is about living not dying.
Being near death and dying from cancer Jigsaw has developed a passion for life. He is losing his slowly and wants to hold on to it. Through the tragedy of cancer he has come to understand that life is in fact valuable, but through this understanding he starts to see the world around him in a much different perspective than he had before. People in general are not concerned with the value of life, but more or less take it for granted. They are unappreciative of the gift they have. Jigsaw can not understand this concept anymore and in his own way seeks to remedy it.
This becomes the true focal point of the Saw series. Drug abusers, murders, and suicides all set off Jigsaw's contempt toward those who do not view life as something to be appreciated and admired. In his mind they must attone for these tresspasses. They must decide if life is worth enough to risk losing it to save it.
I can relate. I used to live a rather hectic life. I was a professional wrestler and as such I made my living treating my well being as a worthless commodity. The scars on my body are a roadmap of the disregard I had for my life. One day I suffered a very unplanned accident that left me hospitalized clinging to that life I had so willingly treated trivial. I died twice on an operating table and woke up to find the career I had worked so hard for was gone. But through the incident I came to see that life is not trivial, it is important and we must cherish what little of it we have.By coming into the understanding that life is precious I have since become a commissioner in my city and a firefighter.
My life was changed by the close walk I took next to death. Jigsaw forces individuals who have neglected their lives and the lives of others to come face to face with death. His games are a means to change and mold those individuals back into decent people. His goal is not to kill but to redeem.
In turn the people he chooses must face a realization. By seeing and realizing how much they want to live they must also realize how much they have not lived in the past. In a sense Jigsaw is not doing a great evil to these people, at least not in his terms. He is granting a second chance at real life. Those who survive will spend every day with a new outlook on life.
It does not by any means justify Jigsaw's actions. While those who survive become better for it, it is still an evil act and a crime. But that sparks another grim question doesn't it. Who dictates good and evil?
Are Jigsaw's Actions Justified?
Do The Ends Justify The Means
We have all heard old cliches "What does not kill us makes us stronger" and of course "the ends justify the means." With Jigsaw these two quotes take on a total new meaning. Let's break down how this quote may very well be the basis for the Saw films.
Let's look at Billy. Billy grew up in a bad part of town and had a very troubled life. He started stealing at 14 and at age 16 he was forced to shoot a cashier to get away from a small convenient store robbery. As a human Billy has lost all respect for human life.
Jigsaw, having seen Billy's path decides to put him in a game of sorts. He kidnaps Billy and places him in one of his treacherous contraptions. Billy suffers pain and loss but he survives the game. Suddenly Billy sees the true meaning of life and how much he desires it. As a survivor he is changed and has been made better for it.
If Jigsaw's act only affected Billy and brought in no other human being and through that act Billy was made better, or whole than can we really assume what Jigsaw has done to Billy is evil, or even bad for that matter. Is it even wrong to say by his actions toward a better outcome for Billy Jigsaw was justified?
We have to ask our self as the viewer does Jigsaw want to maim and kill or is his intentions to help and reform. I will leave you with that thought and a challenge. I want you to re-visit the Saw films and watch them with the idea that maybe Jigsaw is not the bad guy. Enjoy and until next time, think deep!