Twisted Pictures: morality, nihilism and symbolic suicide in the Saw series

In James Aston & John Walliss (eds.), To See the Saw Movies: Essays on Torture Porn and Post-9/11 Horror. McFarland. pp. 105-122 (2013)
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Given that numerous critics have complained about Saw’s apparently confused sense of ethics, it is surprising that little attention has been paid to how morality operates in narrative itself. Coming from a Nietzschean perspective - specifically questioning whether the lead torturer Jigsaw is a passive or a radical nihilist - I seek to rectify that oversight. This philosophical reading of the series explores Jigsaw’s moral stance, which is complicated by his hypocrisy: I contend that this underpins critical complaints regarding the films’ "muddled" morality. My narrative analysis reveals that Jigsaw’s values are not as confused as they may first appear to be. Despite explicitly proclaiming that his quest is to save others, his actions reveal another story. Following the loss of his unborn son and his failed suicide attempt, Jigsaw seeks to symbolically eradicate himself: the victims he selects reflect and reify his own obsessive personality traits. In keeping with the franchises’ narrative twists – which are designed to reverse initially "obvious" meanings – I argue that Jigsaw’s proclamations have misdirected critics. His nihilism may be manifested as coerced suffering and articulated as distaste with the world, yet the series’ symbolic target is Jigsaw himself.
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