Wednesday, November 01, 2006

ICFAB considers the moral lessons of "Saw III"

I went to see the movie "Saw III" last night. I had viewed the first two as rentals, and considered the invitation to see the third with a mixture of enthusiasm and trepidation. You see, I'm not a big fan of modern horror films, slasher genre pictures, or graphic violence (which the Saw series offers in abundance.) For fans of the first two, this is more of the same: clever torture gadgets, cringe-worthy flesh, bone & gore, and subtle philosophical discussions with madmen.
If you want to view this film completely cold, skip the rest of my entry. I'll try not to offer much in the realm of spoilers, but I may drop hints about plot devices that some would rather not know about in advance. So, if that's you, skip this entry and go see Saw III. Good. Now let's continue.
What separates the Saw movies from much of the rest of their horror flick neighbors is Jigsaw's philosophical messages that underlie his methods. Like the murderer in Se7en, his Rube Goldberg devices are sermons. In the original Saw, the theme was that life is a beautiful gift and worthy of preservation, not destroyed in aimlessness and self-destructive activities. As a terminal cancer patient, he has special insight into this topic.
Saw II seems to revel in its increased special-effects budget, upping the graphic gore level several notches, so that the "message" is nearly lost. However, it seems to me (and you're welcome to disagree and posit your own thesis) that "Reverend" Jigsaw is placing cautionary boundaries on the lesson propounded in the first film. Yes, life is precious and worthy of preservation, but survival ought not to become the primary goal of existence. We are all passengers on Spaceship Earth (or in Purgatory, as the Saw films seem to suggest,) and we must work together and help one another out. Self-preservation must not be had at the price of utter alienation of--and even harm to--your fellow human beings!
Saw III explores the concept of forgiveness. A man who has lost his child in a car accident is confronted with the opportunity to spare the lives of those responsible. Can he find it in his heart to forgive them and rescue them from agonizing deaths? Ironically, the suffering of the central characters is emotional rather than physical. It is the people about whom Paul--the angry bereaved father--holds grudges who must suffer, to teach him the lessons of forgiveness and letting go of the past.

Major Plot Spoilers Ahead!!!

But forgiveness must be sincere. Forgiveness means more than merely saying the words, "I forgive you. True forgiveness means that you truly relinquish your right to get even. In a final showdown, Jigsaw asks that Paul forgive him for what he's put him through. Paul places a hand on Jigsaw's chest and intones quietly, "I forgive you," but immediately follows this statement with actions proving that his forgiveness is only on the surface, at best. It was easy to assert that he forgave those who had hurt him when his own comfort and safety were on the line, but has he really let go and forgiven them?
It is certainly interesting to see him most grieved at another's pain in the presence of a crucifixion-shaped torture device. It is at this cross that he is most convincingly sorrowful for causing someone else to suffer horribly--someone who, as I stated earlier, suffers to bring him to repentance and a new life.
I had to wonder, though, does Jigsaw really desire forgiveness? He plainly does not view his past crimes with any remorse, so perhaps it is merely part of the "game" he has been playing.

Naturally, the question that arises in discussions of forgiveness is the one Peter asked Jesus in Mat 18. How often do I have to forgive my brother? Jesus responds with "Seventy-times-seven times" or "seventy-seven times," the point of which is that there ought not to be a limit on forgiveness, in contrast with the popular Jewish idea of the day, that three times was the limit. While Matthew seems to have a general, all-encompassing forgiveness in mind, Luke highlights one additional detail. Luke 17:4 quotes Jesus saying that "If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, 'I repent,' forgive him." Can we forgive the unrepentant? Are we compelled to? Are Jesus' words from the cross, "Father, forgive them," dependent on the crowd's repentance? When Stephen prays "Lay not this sin to their charge," is there an unspoken "When they come to their senses and repent & ask for your forgiveness"? Can we forgive those who have committed heinous crimes against us and/or our loved ones--when they show no sign of remorse? Are we compelled to by Christ's example and teaching?
By the same token, since the "power of the sword" has been placed in the hands of government by God, we must also ask, how do we not blur the line between godly forgiveness and failure to enforce the law?

Discuss amongst yourselves.

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