Wednesday, August 20, 2008

THE PERMANENTLY PRESENT FEAR


My hesitance in even discussing SAW is that I'm going to come off looking like a horror fan. Let me be quite clear: I'm a novice, and don't do horror movies in the same way that I don't do country music. There's quite a number of country-ish artists that appeal to me--Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Nickel Creek, Ryan Adams--but as a genre, I go for rock and roll. The same is true with horror: there are a few that I appreciate for any number of reasons--because of their pure camp (Friday the 13th), or their social commentary (the George Romero canon), or, in the case of SAW, for its terrifying moral clarity. But at the end of the day, I just don't like being scared all that much. But I guess there are worse things than being a horror fan. Like being a country music fan.

SAW was originally projected as a five-part saga, chronicling the exploits of Jigsaw, a killer whose state purpose was to make people appreciate life. Their sins, much like Dante, revisit them purgatively, as they must enact their sins in order to reclaim that which their sins were corrupting: their lives. It's a fairly simple equation: if one overcomes one's sin through suffering, one lives; should one fear to overcome one's sin, one dies. All I can speak to is the original, viewed last night with The Hamster, without respect to the gore of the subsequent films; the original leaves 90% of things to your imagination. Any violence done is (gratefully) off-camera, though the evidence (entrails or blood) might spring up from the edges of the screen.
**

Part of my hang-up with the horror genre in general is with the exploitation of fear, or rather, fear's exploitation of us. In Fear: A History of a Political Idea , we find that fear of others, or rather fear of the unknown has driven much of modern political history, causing us to live with a sense of mistrust, and to lean on social collectives with all kinds of suspicion. As such, fear, rather than being a natural gift that guides out of danger, becomes a weapon which is then used against us.

But herein lies the gift of SAW: the fear that Jigsaw generates in his pawns is not an arbitrary fear, but an opportunity for them to excise the very source of their own daily, boring deaths by degrees. In dramatic gestures, voyeuers who poach on other people's lives for a living are made to come to terms with the abuse of their eyes; philanderers are confronted with the manner in which their feet lead them to other beds. And just like Dante, the mode of purgation fits the sin: that which leads them to their death is that very thing that must be undone for their ultimate salvation. In other words, fear is turned against itself. Rather than being an instrument that keeps people afraid to live, a greater fear is unleashed on the people: that they might never live again. And in that, the petty fears which keep people in self-destructive habits and lives are broken.

This greater fear is, in the end, a kind of love: a love of one's life, a love of that which is greater than the slow demons that decay us from the inside out. So, count me in for at least one sequel. Four electrified chains out of five.

9 comments:

Seth said...

Just looked at John's list.

Almost Famous-I don't know you, but I love you John.

Review this one. Someone, quick. If it don't get 5 band-aides out of 5, the reviewer is plum dumb.

the hamster said...

again, i wish we had just played backgammon. however, like you, i really dig this film. more than any of the sequels, this film successfully preaches jigsaw's message - one very similar to kevin spacey's preacher killer in SEVEN.

i'll be doing a little SAW reviewing here soon. so far, i've liked all four of the current SAW movies - but for anyone who has seen them all, there is a connective feel between SAW I and SAW II, as well as between III and IV. i'm not sure how this all works - the connective feel and whatnot - since the films remain tied up in the same small circle of hands. nevertheless, i'd like to look at the films in pairs, focusing in on that connection that keeps the pairs unified and distinct.

i may also be talking out of my ass here. which is probably the case. but, whatever, i do want to see all the SAW films again before SAW V hits theaters this halloween.

great write up here, myles. i love your reviews better than my own. punk.

John Barber said...

Yeah, there's pretty much no doubt that Myles (and Kevin, for that matter) consistently does killer reviews. This one is great, Myles. Seriously great.

Seth, I'd love to review ALMOST FAMOUS, but I'd have a lot of trouble with it. Firstly, it would probably be about 2000 words. Secondly, my wife might divorce me when I start gushing about being in love with Penny Lane (although she's perfectly aware of it already). Third, I'm not sure I can do it justice. But it's certainly something to consider. I need an opus...

myleswerntz said...

John, only you can write about this film. If I can try to write about Cusack, you can take a stab at Almost Famous.

the hamster said...

alright, sat through SAW II again tonight. amazing. phenomenally better than i remember. there are so many stories already looping about just in the first two flicks - john's story, amanda's story, and now eric matthews story's - they had this thing superbly planned out. good stuff.

john - do it. tackle the ALMOST FAMOUS. do a ten part series if you have to. you are the only one who can do it. you are the obi won kanobi to this film review: you are our only hope.

Seth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth said...

Do it, do it, do it. Now you have officially been peer-pressured.

Some inspiration:
"I am a golden god"

"I never said I am a golden god, or did I?"

"Yeah, great art is about conflict and pain and guilt and longing and love disguised as sex, and sex disguised as love... and let's face it, you got a big head start"

"Sweet? Where do you get off? Where do you get sweet? I am dark and mysterious, and I am PISSED OFF! I could be very dangerous to all of you! And you should know that about me... I am THE ENEMY!"

"Hold me closer tiny dancer
Count the headlights on the highway
Lay me down in sheets of linen
you had a busy day today."

Oh, sometimes I forget how good this movie is until I take a lunch break to look at some of the quotes.

the hamster said...

i mean, maybe my review on MIRRORS and alex aja wasn't as good as myles' post on SAW, but, golly, did anyone notice that the rodent posted something above? i mean, golly, guys. geesh, louise. pish and posh spice, guys. just a little love?

Melisa Marzett said...

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