Warning: This musing will contain spoilers for the entire Saw franchise. Viewer discretion is advised.
I've been providing thoughts about the Saw franchise all throughout my Seven Days of Sawdom retrospective, and it's been quite a ride going through the entire franchise and providing my thoughts on it. My final thoughts are a little mixed; while half of it that's good, the half of it that isn't good isn't really worth remembering, in my opinion. But those that are good are usually pretty good.
But... I've been saving one of my favorite parts of the franchise for this musing. And my favorite part?
Well, it's none of the things I've been mentioning. My favorite part of the franchise is how the traps can serve as a kind of metaphor for their victims.
One thing I've noticed about many of the traps in the franchise is that often the traps will have a fairly metaphorical significance to whoever is participating in them. It tends to get smothered under the extreme levels of gore and the amount of attention paid to the series' overarching mythology, but for those that look, they can find it screaming in their faces.
It's something the series has always had from day one, albeit in a slightly different form: Dr. Gordon in the original movie has to kill Adam because his family is being held hostage; it's a strange way of getting Dr. Gordon to realize what he's been neglecting whenever he goes off to sleep with his secretary. That's the most rudimentary it gets. In Saw II, the entire house trap that the movie is documenting ties into Eric Matthews needing to realize what his son means to him.
Usually, it's often about Jigsaw trying to prove a point to whoever he's testing. It's something that's always been with the franchise; the main games are trying to prove a point to whoever is participating in them. And this was only the start of it: as we ventured later into the franchise and everything got more elaborate, the metaphors began to really kick off, I think.
Let's take the overarching trap of Saw VI, as I think it's one of the best examples of this in the whole franchise given the nature of its traps and the anvillicious nature of it in general. William is the healthcare administrator who denies people necessary health insurance based on a formula of his own devising. Thus, the main traps of Saw VI put that formula to the test. The first game tests William's resolve to live, appropriately pitting him against the janitor of the building who smokes. It's an appropriate start to everything, and sets the mood. The second test is meant to pose to William the question of 'should people be denied their right to live because they've had medical complications in the past' by forcing him to choose between the sick secretary who has a family and the physically well file clerk who has no family. The third trap is meant to show William an example of how far people are willing to go for their right to live, as shown by Debbie's rather violent attempts to attack William with a buzz-saw. The fourth trap is meant to show him how much death his formula can deal by the fact that 2/3rds of all applications are denied thanks to his formula: he must then choose which 1/3rd of his six most reliable staff members will live, and four of them must die. And at the end, he doesn't even get to choose his own fate; the wife and son of someone he denied insurance to based on a previous medical condition get to choose his fate. It's a method of posing the question to their victim about the subject of the previous things.
As I mentioned earlier, it's also present in the rest of the franchise, but the larger traps really start to pick up in Part 3, so I'll run down the metaphorical meanings that I found in each:
Part 3- This I felt is where the theme of forgiveness derived from. All the victims that Jeff has to save are related to the death of his son, and he has to choose whether to forgive them or not. When Jeff gets to Jigsaw, that doesn't end too well.
Part 4- All of the traps of this movie are meant to point out to Detective Rigg that he can't save everyone, and to give him a glimpse into Jigsaw's mind. He tries to do it anyway, but Jigsaw makes it a point that he can only do so much to save people; in the end, Jigsaw feels people must save themselves and Rigg must throw his obsession with saving everyone aside for this reason. And when he fails his ultimate test... it's not pretty.
Part 5- Yes, even the worst installment of the franchise has this metaphorical undertone. All five of the victims of the main trap were involved in a housing fire, and all were involved in it for things that met their own selfish ends. Jigsaw mentions in the opening tape for their games that instinct will tell them to do one thing, but they must do the opposite: this alludes to their selfishness, and that they must do the opposite of self-preservation. Of course, the metaphor is lost on them, so they don't realize that until the very end when they realize that if they had worked together the final trap would be easier.
Part 7- Bobby's lying about being in a Jigsaw trap catches up to him, and in this one Jigsaw puts all of his lessons up to Bobby to test them out. All of them involve his press crew, and at many points the wisdoms given from his book are posed in front of him, usually right before he has to take part in a test. (The only thing this doesn't apply to is the second letter, which serves to point him in the right direction on how to get to the others.) It forces him to take his own medicine, in a way, while also showing how his lies can hurt those around him.
The idea of a death trap serving as a metaphor is honestly one of the strongest things about the Saw franchise in my humble opinion. And there seem to be others that are picking up on it: David Cage implements a similar concept throughout the PS3 game Heavy Rain; wherein main character Ethan Mars has to undergo trials that test his resolve to save his son. Very few of them bring it up to Jigsaw's level of gore, but they're a little more effective for that, I think.
Yes, the traps can often be preposterous, particularly as we go further and further into the depths of the franchise (and especially Part 7; don't get me wrong, those were some pretty good traps, but some of them were absolutely impossible for a rogue detective to pull off). Yes, it can be lost in the gore if it's not heavy handed. But the metaphorical properties of the traps are the most interesting thing to me in the entire Saw franchise.
And I think it's something worth thinking about.
This is Herr Wozzeck Reviews, finally hoping to put Jigsaw to rest. It's been a hell of a ride with the series, and I'll see you guys next time.