16 November, 2018
The Jigsaw Killer
America’s most iconic fictional slashers and killers such as Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees have terrified audiences due to their brutality and seemingly unstoppable presence, but the one thing they have in common is that they murder others simply because their psychotic nature brings them pleasure. But what about killers, or monsters as we also call them, that actually provide reasons as to why they commit such heinous acts? Well one monster that most of us are familiar with is the character Jigsaw from the SAW franchise, who is known for placing victims in elaborate traps and puzzles that will torture and eventually kill them if they do not commit the task they are given. Despite the reputation for being a twisted psycho who has too much time on his hands, the Jigsaw killer is actually quite a complex character whose actions and mentality fit into thesis two and seven of Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster Culture thesis’, which are that the monster always escapes and that the monster stands at the threshold of becoming. But first in order to understand the Jigsaw killer, we need to know some backstory.
The Jigsaw killer is portrayed by a man named John Kramer, who was a successful civil engineer who was engaged to a woman named Jill Tuck who worked for a clinic, and she later became pregnant with a boy they planned to name Gideon. One day at the clinic a fight broke out between a man named Cecil and another patient, and Kramer intervened by telling Cecil to calm down, which he eventually did and ran away. However near the exit of the clinic Cecil ran into Jill, and accidentally opened the door into the room so hard the door crushed Jill stomach. Cecil took Jill to the hospital but Gideon was pronounced dead. John soon entered a state of deep depression and began to act in a cold manner, which led to his divorce with Jill. Not longer after Kramer’s health was also declining, and decided to visit the hospital to get a diagnosis, and was diagnosed with colon cancer as well as a brain tumor. However one of the doctors was careless with his records and inadvertently swapped his with another patient, which caused his cancer to grow and was untreatable by the time he was diagnosed. He remained hopeful as there was a doctor in Norway that could use Kramer as a test subject for new genetic therapy methods, but his insurance company refused to bear the treatment cost. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore, so Kramer drove off a cliff in a suicide attempt but to his amazement he survived, and from there he realized what to do for the remainder of his life.
Recollecting all of the terrible events of what happened to him by other people, Kramer sought to see if people he saw as being morally flawed were willing to go to extreme lengths to keep the precious gift that is life. From this point on Kramer begins to kidnap those who did him wrong as well as many more flawed individuals and takes them to a warehouse, where he will then place them in mechanisms that will brutally kill them if they do not complete the task he gives them. One of Kramer’s first victims was a woman named Amanda Young, a heroin addict who managed to survive one of his traps, and in doing so thanked him for ending her addiction and eventually appreciated his philosophies, turning her into his apprentice. Kramer’s mental transition falls in line with thesis seven, and as Cohen states regarding monsters, “…they bear self-knowledge, human knowledge…these monsters ask us how we perceive the world…they ask us why we have created them” (Cohen VII).
Kramer’s ultimate test is to see if his victims will reevaluate their terrible life decisions, and by using that against them he is ends up creating essentially more versions of himself, (at least those who survive) because once his victims have suffered just like he did, then their eyes will open wide to reality and see just how rotten others can be, but also find meaning in themselves. As Cohen also states in thesis seven “[monsters] ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions on race, gender, sexuality, our perception of difference, our tolerance towards its expression” (Cohen VII). There is an event that takes place later in the seventh film, in SAW VII, one of Kramer’s successors kidnaps a group of racists whose survival depends on the leader of the group, who is told to rip his back skin off in order to free himself and his friends. The idea of his skin coming off is basically a metaphor for shedding your beliefs, as a video about the SAW series by Wisecrack explains that Kramer and his successors are forcing their victims to embody the suffering of not the device they are in but the actions of their consequences, because “suffering is the results of [their] own sins” (Wisecrack) so in order to wash their sins away and escape the slavery that their sins binds them in, they must pay the ultimate price.
As mentioned earlier Kramer has some successors to his scheme. You see in the fourth movie Kramer is actually killed by one of his victims so from here on out the police department, as well as any people associated with Kramer think that that the kidnappings and torture are over. However as we see in thesis two The Monster Always Escapes we know this isn’t true. Jigsaw, in relation to thesis two, will see “its monstrous progeny return, ready to stalk again in another bigger-than-ever sequel” (Cohen II). After his death, Kramer is succeeded by a detective that ends up working for him, Mark Hoffman, who ends up taking the role as the Jigsaw killer. Just like his “teacher” Hoffman kidnaps people who have done something atrocious or behave in an awful way, and brings them to a torture device as a consequence. However the “monster” that returns as the new Jigsaw killer ends up being worse than Kramer, because while Kramer had some people survive his traps, all of Hoffman’s victims were killed, and arguably in more brutal ways. Even when Kramer himself is finally slain, his influence lurks to haunt the people he would’ve hunted, but even in death someone is willing to continue the task of putting humanity to the ultimate test.
There are some that may see Kramer as a sort of twisted genius who is essentially trying to fix broken people in an “extravagant” fashion, but Kramer himself points out in the second movie, “I’ve never killed anyone,” as he has never killed anyone directly and gives his victims a chance to free themselves. While his methods certainly are extreme, and his actions and behavior match Cohen’s Monster Theory thesis, is John Kramer really a monster? On one hand he is a kidnapper and tortures people with his traps but his victims are not innocent, random people, each and every one of his victims has done something reprehensible. After the loss of his child and having to live with cancer, Kramer has suffered through events that he didn’t deserve to go through, and yet he is grateful to be alive. In his mind that is ultimately what he wants to see in others is the same gratitude for life that he has, but as he also states in the second movie, “those who do not appreciate life do not deserve life.” So, what do you think, is John Kramer a monster, or do you think he has a point to make?
Cohen, Jefflrey. Monster Culture (Seven Thesis). University of Minnesota Press. 1996
The Philosophy of SAW – Wisecrack Edition. Written by Amanda Scherker. Narrated by Jared Bauer. Wisecrack. 21 October, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnXRQ_j_xB4
Sarah, Siti. The Psychopath Analysis of John Kramer’s Characterizations on Saw Series Movie. State Islamic University Syarif Hidayatullah, 2009.