The Metaphysics of the Saw pentalogy

November 23, 2008

Saw Saw V. I liked it. Its one of the best in the growing series. I then saw Saw 4 to fill in the gaps on DVD as I missed its theatrical. Here comes Tricky Dicky’s analysis of the saw Pentalogy of films, that shows no signs of stopping as it moves next year onto a hexology!

The Saw films are about torture. But they also claim to about existential authenticity. The Saw films are presented as a caveat about the dangers of not appreciating life in its fullest existential dimensions. I have commented elsewhere that while the Saw films offer us a picture of ‘torturing for your own good’, they have failed to meet up to the challenge of their own thesis on occasion. The problem? The Saw film series premise often has tortures that no one would care to survive alive. So, built into the ‘torture for life’ motif is its own erasure with the ‘you will be tortured until you don’t want to live or sustain injuries to be sure you won’t’ motif.

This negative dialectic is part of the series charm and appeal, I suspect. Its extreme nihilism has resonated with the under 30’s of today. The torture conundrum of its plot they must relate to on some deep level, as it probably best condenses the emptiness of their lives into short torture porn vignettes.

The Saw series is highly original in its theme and gruesome nature all the same. It presents a metaphysics of torture that is both disturbing and prescient, albeit negative.

The new movie Saw V is one of the best of these films. The director of Saw V is David Hackl. The name Hackl recalls to my mind the early proto-fascist biologist and eugenicist Ernst Haeckel who believed and advocated the scientific guidance of all nature coming together to form the perfect organism; i.e. the monism. Interestingly a Haeckel motif is at work in Saw V! That of perfecting the organism. Jigsaw does it through torture. Haeckel did his work and theorising through science. The desired result: Nature perfected!

Hackl, the director, weaves two stories together in Saw V. The first concerns a detective hunting down a renegade psycho cop who is now carrying on Jigsaw’s work. The second is about a group of five people who have to survive the Jigsaw advocate’s games. A third element concerns more Jigsaw back story, which is always fun if you like Tobin Bell, as I do. The torture scenes in the second segment slowly apply Social Darwinistic laws to the five folks under Jigsaw’s world view made flesh. Soon only two are left. The challenges up to now have been believable and challenging but leaving the all important room for survival unscathed. The last torture though is absurd and revolves around ripping your arms to shreds to feed blood into a trap to release you. Again here the return of nihilistic motif of complete and utter hopelessness and defeat.

The metaphysics of the Saw series could be and should be more fertilizing with its clever premise. Still after five films they are still Nihilista par excellence. Maybe this metaphysics of nihilism is the key to the series success? It is now the biggest horror franchise in US history. James Wan and Leigh Whannell can be very proud of that fact. My favourite Saw film is still Number one, where Jigsaw’s games had some semblance of possible escape and a more fertilizing mythology of violence.

But at bottom it seems the films and their makers are aware of the twisted nihilistic logic of the Saw pentalogy and are afraid to fix something that ‘aint broke. Financially, that is of course, due to the films continued dominance at the B.O. every Halloween. With future installments could the franchise be moved in the direction of a more fertilising orgy of positive violence? And less the cul de sac of unending nihilism? I would hope so…

Whatever happens these films need to receive more serious critical attention. They are often dismissed as ‘torture porn’ or just gruesome, going over the heads of most reviewers afraid to confront what the films might actually portend. This dismissal from critics only goes to show the disturbing intellectual and cultural issues at the heart of the Saw series. Issues that I hope would receive more serious attention from film critics world wide.

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