First of all, he’s not some impossibly strong, hard-to-kill monster. He’s a dying cancer patient. In Saw II, he needs oxygen to carry out a conversation at his kitchen table. In Saw III, he’s completely bedridden, minutes from death. (The filmmakers do a great job making him unsettling precisely because he’s so weak and frail. He looks half-dead already.)
What makes Jigsaw something to be feared are the “traps” he puts his victims in (with the aid of apprentices, hired thugs, and people who are forced to set up other traps in order to escape their own). The original, titular trap is fiendishly simple. You are chained to the wall and given a saw. The saw is not sharp enough to cut the chains. It is, however, sharp enough to chop off a foot. “How much blood will you shed to stay alive?” Jigsaw likes to ask his victims. In later movies, the traps range from sadistically simple (a cop is told to reach into a beaker of acid to retrieve the key that can save her life) to goofy symbolic (a drug dealer is told to dive into a pit of hypodermic needles to retrieve the key can save his life) to needlessly complex (a carousel executes its six riders one at a time, but an observer is permitted to save exactly two by drilling holes in his hands). The series doesn’t have much humor, but at one point there’s a throwaway shot of Jigsaw on the cover of Civil Engineering magazine.
So Jigsaw is a guy who likes to inflict pain, right? Nope. He doesn’t take any pleasure in his traps. In fact, he genuinely doesn’t want to anyone to die. “Technically speaking,” Cary Elwes explains in the first film, “he’s not really a murderer. He never killed anyone.” But he knows from his own terminal cancer and failed suicide attempt that confronting pain and death is the only true way to make someone appreciate life. The people who perish in his traps just didn’t value their life enough to fight for it, and were therefore unworthy of it. “Most people are so ungrateful to be alive,” he tells a survivor. “But not you. Not anymore.”
I would bet serious money that one of the inspirations for Saw was Fight Club (1999). At one point, Tyler Durden points a gun at the night clerk of a convenience store, drags him out back, and declares, “Raymond! You’re going to die.” He interrogates poor Raymond and learns that his dream was to become a veterinarian, but it was too hard. “I know where you live,” Tyler says. “If you’re not working to be a veterinarian in six weeks, you will be dead.” He lets Raymond go, and then muses, “Tomorrow will be the most beautiful day of Raymond K Hessel’s life. His breakfast will taste better than any meal you and I have ever tasted.”
Jigsaw is Tyler Durden, without the abs or the sense of humor. He sees his traps as acts of mercy. He doesn’t want to hurt these people. He wants them to stop being crooked cops, loan sharks, philandering husbands, drug dealers, etc. He may put you in a death trap, but he is rooting for you to escape. Jigsaw believes that those who survive will be cured of their vices and redeemed through their suffering. (There’s something very medieval about these purification rituals, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he’s often seen in a hooded robe, like a monk.)
Jigsaw sometimes refers to the traps as “games,” but he also calls them “tests,” and the people inside them “subjects.” In other words, he’s performing experiments. He’s an engineer by training, and he sees the people he selects as defective machines in need of repair. Once upon a time, he worked with his ex-wife at a health clinic to heal people the old fashioned way. But fighting addiction and changing patterns of negative behavior is a grueling, uphill battle. John Kramer was determined to find a quick fix for a broken soul.
In other words, Jigsaw’s games are Star Trek solutions to Babylon 5 problems. “You and your wife don’t talk anymore? I bet I can design a machine for that.”
What fascinates me is, even after six films, there is little or no evidence that Jigsaw’s traps actually “fix” anyone. First of all, the number of people who survive is vanishingly small. Here are the movies in which the main person being tested loses their “game”: Saw I, Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, and Saw VI. Saw V is the only film in which the some of the characters actually “win” the movie’s central test. And even then, these guys only survive the hard way, through massive bloodshed, as opposed to the easy way, simple teamwork.
The only person we ever see Jigsaw successfully “rehabilitate” is Amanda Young… and it turns out in Saw III that she never really changed at all. “Nobody changes,” she screams in her final moments. “Nobody is reborn. It’s all a lie.” In Saw VI, Detective Hoffman talks to a woman who survived by hacking off her own arm. “We were ruining people’s lives,” she admits, “And he wanted us to learn.” Hoffman, who had secretly set up the trap, can’t resist asking her, “And did you?” She blows up in his face: “Look at my arm! What am I supposed to learn from this?” She may decide to change careers, but she doesn’t seem particularly grateful to have been tested.
So the jury’s still out. Are the movies suggesting that Jigsaw is wrong, and that these traps bring nothing but death and misery? Or do the movies pretty much buy into Jigsaw’s theory of rehibilitation, but the filmmakers find it too much fun to kill off everybody instead of allowing them to go back to night school and become veterinarians? I’m actually inclined to believe the later. Jigsaw is always presented as possessing a nearly superhuman intellect. He somehow knows every detail about his victim’s lives, even secrets he has no way of knowing. He designs intricate, escape-proof traps that always operate flawlessly. He anticipates every possible outcome, leaving an endless supply of little tape recorders one step ahead of the police officers chasing him. This character isn’t supposed to be some deluded fool who doesn’t realize how pointless his actions are. He’s supposed to be the ubermensch.
You would think that by the seventh film, the series would have nowhere to go. But in what’s being billed as “the final chapter,” the filmmakers are actually just getting around to the burning question: is Jigsaw a deluded murderer, or a bold visionary? Check out the IMDB summary of Saw 3D:
As a deadly battle rages over Jigsaw’s brutal legacy, a group of Jigsaw survivors gathers to seek the support of self-help guru and fellow survivor Bobby Dagen, a man whose own dark secrets unleash a new wave of terror.
Finally, we’re going to focus on the people Jigsaw thinks he “saved.” They are the ultimate referendum on his actions: if they have been granted a new appreciation for life, than Jigsaw was right (by his own reckoning, at least). But if these survivors are shattered husks of their former selves, he was wrong.
But that’s not really what Saw 3D will be about.
Jigsaw’s master plan has never been a secret. “What is the cure for cancer?” he asks Detective Matthews in Saw II. At the end of the film, Amanda Young answers for him, “By creating a legacy, by living a life worth remembering, you become immortal.” In Saw IV, he leaves a tape from beyond the grave: “By hearing this tape, some will assume that this is over but I am still among you. You think it’s over just because I am dead. It’s not over. The games have just begun.” What does it add up to? Jigsaw isn’t merely out to test as many people as he can before he dies. He’s out to make sure the tests continue after he dies. The survivors aren’t his legacy; the traps are. As long as they continue, he’s achieved his immortality.
This is what the final chapter needs to be about: how does Jigsaw ensure that his work continues?
I have a couple theories. As Jigsaw was dying, his two apprentices fought for his approval like jealous children. Hoffman blackmailed Young, resulting in her death. But Jigsaw, somehow anticipating this, left posthumous instructions for his ex-wife Jill Tuck to kill Hoffman. She tries this at the end of Saw VI, but he escapes seemingly certain death. So now the two of them are presumably after each other, and Hoffman presumably has some gnarly facial scars. That rivalry will certainly be a subplot, but I’m betting they wipe each other out in the last act. Jigsaw’s legacy is bigger than either of them.
To find the starting point for Saw 3D, just consider the big loose end from Saw VI. When Jill Tuck opens the box Jigsaw left for her, she finds five envelopes for setting up a game involving the evil insurance company. She finds a sixth envelope, which tells her to kill Hoffman. Then there’s the seventh envelope. It’s bulky… videotape bulky. She is seen bringing it to a hospital and slipping it through a mail slot. A lot of speculation on Saw message boards says this is a tape for Dr. Gordon, but I don’t buy it. I’m pretty sure that Dr. Gordon never made it back to civilization. If he had, how come Adam was left to rot in the Bathroom of Doom? Don’t forget, Dr. Gordon actually failed his test, so Jigsaw isn’t going to let him walk away. The man is a stickler for the rules.
So who is the seventh envelope for? I’m going to guess Bobby Dagen, this mysterious Jigsaw survivor who has not been seen before. If he’s a self-help guru like the summary says, he might be a psychiatrist and have an office in a hospital. Perhaps Bobby Dagen was part of some trap towards the beginning of Jigsaw’s career, early enough so that Bobby could have already published a book about the experience by the time Jigsaw dies. Bobby is telling people that although he doesn’t condone Jigsaw’s brutal methods, having to face death and endure pain is a gift, because you never again take your life for granted. Jigsaw approves of this message, and realizes Bobby is the perfect vehicle to spread his legacy. Alternate theory: Bobby’s book is actually written by Jigsaw himself. Bobby was poisoned by Jigsaw, and he gets the antidote mailed to him every four weeks in exchange for being a secret mouthpiece.
Jigsaw’s final posthumous game, put into motion by that seventh envelope Jill Tuck delivers, is a game for Billy Dagen. The game involves broadcasting his message to a mass audience. See the official trailer for a hint of this. Every single trap in Saws I-VI took place in an abandoned building – someplace isolated. But look what’s happened here. The game is taking place in the middle of the city, in front of a huge crowd.
Jigsaw wants everyone to hear his message. And I’m guessing the message boils down to: “Shape up people, because if you’re not living a good life my disciples, who are out there living among you, watching, might bring you to an old abandoned warehouse and make you gouge out your own eyeball with a knitting needle.”
(Additional Saw 3D prediction based on the trailer: When he says, “The final piece of the puzzle… is you,” he’s speaking literally. Remember all those puzzle pieces he carved out of his victims? We’ll see them again.)
Take a look at the official poster for Saw 3D. It’s a giant statue of Jigsaw (shirtless for some reason) going up in an industrial wasteland. Either a) this image is completely meaningless and incredibly stupid, or b) Jigsaw is going to become the subject of a cult, elevated to legendary status in the public’s imagination. What’s the cure for cancer? Scaring everyone into living a better life, out of fear that they’ll wake up locked in one of your traps. That’s how the Saw series is going to end… with John Kramer’s legacy assured, and the door left open for endless sequels down the road. If they can stick the dismount this weekend, the boys at Twisted Pictures will have accomplished something unheard of: telling one big story over seven films in seven years. That, my friends, is twisted.
I’ve seen Saw 3D, and grinned my way through the whole thing. I am now going to create a Google Alert for “Saw 8.” The thought of a Halloween without one of these is already depressing me.
That being said, I was largely wrong about my Saw 3D predictions, and I’m not sure I love how the meta-plot was wrapped up.
First of all, the tape in Saw VI was, in fact, delivered to Dr. Gordon. I discounted this, because:
- If Dr. Gordon was still alive, than Adam would have been found.
- Dr. Gordon technically lost his game, cutting off his foot AFTER the deadline, and failing to kill Adam as he was instructed. Based on everything we know about Jigsaw, he’s not going to get a pass for that.
The movie sidesteps #1 by explaining that Gordon was actually saved by Jigsaw and turned into an apprentice. But #2 is still a problem. In order for me to accept this revelation, I have to believe that Dr. Gordon was tested AGAIN, after he recovered from all the blood loss. If there is another sequel (please please) it will have to feature lots of flashbacks to Dr. Gordon’s relationship with Jigsaw, showing exactly how he was turned.
By the way, I love how the revelation about Dr. Gordon suddenly makes a lot of the old traps more plausible, since they would have required medical expertise. For instance, in Saw II, there was the guy with the key behind his eyeball. Nobody questioned the plausibility of this at the time, since you’ve just got to assume Jigsaw is impossibly clever at choreographing this stuff. But in retrospect, yeah, okay. It’s like how after Detective Hoffman was revealed to be an apprentice, Saw II suddenly makes more sense, since it requires knowing the secrets about how Eric Matthews was framing people for crimes. Jigsaw could never have know this, but Hoffman would have, obviously. Hell, in retrospect, the detectives should have been asking themselves, “Wait, how DOES Jigsaw know what he knows?”
Then there’s Bobby. My girlfriend actually suggested last week that he was a big faker, and that he had never been in a trap. But I discounted this for a simple reason: no sane person would claim to have been tested by a still-active serial killer with a reputation for torturing people who piss him off. You are just BEGGING for him to come after you. It turns out that yes, Bobby is just that stupid.
My big theory above, about the Cult of Jigsaw, didn’t QUITE happen, although there were nods to it. (At the end, Dr. Gordon goes after Hoffman with two accomplices. This is now officially Project Mayhem.) But then I wonder, what’s the deal with the opening trap, which takes place in public? My guess is an earlier draft made more use of this. No other trap, ever, has taken place in public – there’s got to be a reason. And nevermind that – how the hell did Dr. Gordon set that up? Who rested that space? Who rigged it? Why aren’t the police looking into it? And that brings me to…
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? What kind of a Jigsaw is Dr. Gordon going to be? First of all, Carey Elwes absolutely pulls off the creepy – that final scene was just great. But let me point out a couple things he’s doing that Jigsaw wouldn’t:
- Not all his traps are fair. Bobby has no way to save his wife, which means that Gordon is straight-up murdering her. Jigsaw wouldn’t have done this.
- Dr. Gordon wipes out a whole SWAT team. Once again, Jigsaw was very clear about not directly killing people, and certainly people he wasn’t testing. I think Dr. Gordon is going to be a lot more comfortable with collateral damage than his mentor.
- Like I said, the trap unfolding in the public square must mean something. Either it’s Dr. Gordon’s idea, or Jigsaw left instructions to start raising the profile of these games. Either way, it’s something new.
Finally, this movie kind of punts on the Big Question of, “Do Jigsaw’s traps really help people?” In Bobby’s survivor group, one survivor feels empowered, while another seems disgusted with the very idea that anyone could be transformed by this experience. More disturbingly, it’s becoming clear that a large number of people who Jigsaw tests subsequently assist with the testing of others. In other words, being tested by Jigsaw may make you a “better” person, but it also makes you a psychopath.
I’m now of the camp that Jigsaw’s traps don’t improve anyone’s life. We never see any Jigsaw survivor quitting their job to help the homeless, spend more time with their kids, or finish a novel. All that survivors seem to do is inflict pain on others. It’s a contagious disease. Jigsaw once described his work as being about rehabilitation, but I ain’t buying it. This is about punishment. He’s not helping these people; he’s just making them pay a horrible price for their sins.
By the way, I need to point something out. Eric Matthews was in the exact same situation Hoffman is in now, and he escaped. Moreover, we can be pretty sure that Hoffman KNOWS how he escaped. So Hoffman isn’t necessarily dead (but if I were a Saw writer, I’d wait a couple more movies before revealing that).