Oct 23, 2023
Cutting beneath the surface to explore the Saw franchise's inconsistencies in John Kramer’s convoluted morality, his supposed purpose, and the theme of pawn sacrifice.
Welcome back to part two of your blue-collar philosophy lesson led by your good Ole Uncle Zeke. In Part 1 of John Kramer and Saw’s philosophy, I made the proposition that understanding John Kramer’s actions and statements from the Saw franchise only make sense when viewed through the philosophical lens of nihilism. In this post, I’m going to point out places in the Saw franchise where Kramer's morality seems to be confused, and then as we move forward, we are going to look at these things through both passive and radical nihilism (I will define these terms later in the series). But first, we need to investigate these instances and the criticism against Jigsaw in order to truly understand his ethical foundation in light of nihilism.
To begin, much of the hate thrown at Jigsaw is understandable, given his poor word choices. What do I mean? Those of you who have watched the Saw movies will get where I’m coming from, but those of you who haven’t need to stick with me, because when you do go and watch the films, you can keep this in mind when exploring these places of convoluted morality.
In the original Saw (2004), John Kramer/Jigsaw (Tobin Bell, of Let Us In) tells Amanda (Shawnee Smith, of Kill Speed) she needs a key to escape from the reverse bear trap wrapped around her face. He says the key is located in the stomach of her dead cellmate and assures her by stating, “Know that I am not lying.”
He says the key is located in the stomach of her dead cellmate and assures her by stating, “Know that I am not lying.” The only problem? Jigsaw was lying. Amanda’s cellmate is drugged, not dead. Now jump ahead to Saw III. Kramer says he is the only one who knows where Jeff’s abducted daughter is. Not true. Again, he lies; Hoffman also knows where she is.
Granted, these could just be mistakes in the script but whatever they are, they make Kramer come across as completely incoherent, even more so when we move on to Saw IV (2007). In Saw IV, Jigsaw tells Rigg (Lyriq Bent, of She’s Gotta Have It) to force Ivan (Marty Adams, of Hemlock Grove) into a position and let him choose his own fate. The only catch? In 60 seconds, the choice will be made for him. If Kramer’s purpose is truly to teach Rigg that people must save themselves, this added caveat seems to nullify such ends.
Moral critics of the Saw franchise have had a field day with the above-listed examples, saying they are proof positive John Kramer was a hypocrite. But the accusations don’t stop here. The critics further scrutinize his ethical demands by blasting Kramer for making his victims choose immoral actions.
Let’s jump back to the original Saw movie. Kramer instructs Zep (Michael Emerson, of Lost) to kill a mother and her child in order to save his own life. This makes Jigsaw come across as someone who loathes any type of altruism or self-sacrifice for others. To Kramer, it seems like self-sacrifice just gets in the way of people valuing their own lives.
But it doesn’t stop there. Critics go after Kramer for his victim selection as well. Take Saw IV, for example. I’m trying to avoid spoilers when I can, so let’s just say Ivan and Brenda (Sarain Boylan, of Rookie Blue) in this movie are both guilty of criminal acts. These acts, however, are vastly different and in no way deserving of equal punishment. But guess what? Jigsaw punishes them both in the same manner. This all takes place during Rigg’s game. And what was Rigg’s game? To teach him that he cannot save everyone, which means these victims were just pawns and meant to die. In fact, Rigg isn’t even given instructions on how to save Brenda at all!
Then there is Adam (Leigh Whannell, of Insidious franchise) from Saw. Jigsaw never gives him a game of his own to play. He is just a pawn in Lawrence’s (Cary Elwes, of The Princess Bride) game. This theme of “pawn sacrifice” carries on throughout the entire Saw series.
Take Joyce (Gina Holden, of Alien vs. Predator: Requiem) from Saw 3D (Saw VII). She is completely innocent and is burned alive in order to punish her fiancé, Bobby (Sean Patrick Flanery, of The Boondock Saints). Bobby even objects to Kramer by saying Joyce doesn’t deserve to be here. This random victim selection is a big problem in Saw 3D. We are never given any reasoning as to why Dina (Anne Lee Greene, of Femme Fatales) or the racist gang are selected (other than they are racist). There is a great chance for Saw 3D to answer this question when Officer Mike asks himself, “Why them? Why now?” but these questions are never answered. There are more examples, but these are enough to show why critics say what they do about the Saw franchise, and about John Kramer’s convoluted morality and his supposed purpose.
Indeed, these inconsistencies seem to really piss in the Cheerios of Kramer’s mission, which is to teach people how to value their lives. On the surface, his victim choice seems to be totally unjust and as random as natural selection in nature. This would indicate all of Kramer’s preaching on righteousness and justice are totally hypocritical. Mix this in with the fact many of the victims ARE NOT guilty of undervaluing their lives, and it is a glaring problem.
Let’s go back to Rigg and Saw IV again. Rigg certainly seems to value life and seeks to preserve it. And what about the five victims in Saw V (2008)? I’ve watched it countless times and can’t find anywhere in the film where these people don’t value their lives. What is evident, however, is that they do not value the lives of other people. But the one victim in the entire franchise that doesn’t make a lick of sense according to Jigsaw’s mantra of appreciating life is Bobby in Saw 3D. He is not guilty of undervaluing his life or the lives of others—he simply lied about surviving a Jigsaw trap. Sure, it is a slap in the face to the real survivors, but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t value his life.
The critics come out in full force over these apparent inconsistencies, arguing there is a huge disconnect between Kramer’s desire to save people and to murder them. To the critics, John Kramer is a murderer rather than the saviour he claims to be.
Jigsaw then becomes nothing better than the erroneous view of God who plays “Duck, Duck, Damn” with his creations, choosing people at random to condemn to hell. In their eyes, Kramer selects people just to eliminate them.
So, I close with this: Given this information, what is Kramer’s mission? What’s his end goal? Is it to rehabilitate people or to kill them? Are the two outcomes really any different? Is true change only possible through the destruction of one's own flesh? Such questions belong to the paradigm of nihilism, and it is these questions we will seek to answer in the next two articles, which will compare John Kramer to both passive nihilism and radical nihilism.
Ezekiel Kincaid lives for horror and loves to watch it, write about, and talk about it, whether that be in his own horror novels or in reviews. His experience as a pastor and paranormal investigator brings everything he writes to life.