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.