“I’ve never murdered anyone in my life. The decisions are up to them.”: Ethical Guidance and Cultural Pessimism in the Saw Series

  • Author(s): John Walliss, James Aston
  • When: 2012-12
  • Where: Journal of Religion and Popular Culture
  • In this article, we examine the ethical vision presented in the Saw series of films, focusing in particular on how it represents a trend within popular culture post-9/11 toward increasing cultural pessimism. We will locate the Saw films within this cultural trajectory, primarily focusing on the “games” and the use of torture and how these rituals disturb a clear moral and ethical vision as the franchise moves unsteadily between conservative and liberal ideologies. Human beings, the films show, are riddled with vice and invariably cannot, even when put in a life or death situation, develop the self-awareness to overcome them. Indeed, humans have become so debased and disconnected from life that those liberal, progressive attempts to help them and legal attempts to sanction them are doomed to failure. In the end, the only way in which they can be “saved,” and social order be protected, is through vigilantism and a never-ending cycle of torture.

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