Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Saw VI (2009)

"What am I supposed to learn from this?"

It's a little odd, perhaps, to see a Saw film with a left wing message. Like the Punisher and Dirty Harry, these films have always carried a transparently reactionary attitude to crime and punishment in which brutal revenge matters and to hell with due process, rehabilitation or the unjustly convicted. Yet here the left wing, communitarian message is combined with these reactionary views on crime and punishment. This reminds us of two things: firstly, the social democratic left has never been particularly liberal; and secondly, people in real life are more complicated in their politics than to adopt the standard left wing or right wing package of views as a whole.

This film concerns how the recently late and unlamented John Kramer was unfortunate to live in a first world country with a third world health system, one in which, instead of the government buying in everything wholesale with huge discounts and passing the price on to the taxpayer, there is mostly a reliance on the private sector, the profit motive and dodgy insurers.

We know that William Easton,the health insurance bloke who turns down John, is inevitably facing a grisly fate. He may, strictly speaking, simply be a cog in a larger machine, but the plot takes care to emphasise both his personal culpability for, in effect, sentencing John to death, and shows him to be the sort of cad who cheats on his wife on her birthday for good measure. He's doomed.

Meanwhile, in the present day, our old friend Hoffman finds himself investigating his own crimes, and the scapegoating of the late Strahm seems to be going perfectly. And, of course, Jill has been left a box by her serial killer husband, no doubt intended as some sort of "lesson". Sensibly, she has some red wine before opening it. Oh, and Perez (remember her?) is awkwardly still alive. We know full well that Hoffman is going to get rumbled. He deserves it; flashbacks reveal his involvement from a very early stage.

Hoffman and Jill are working together. There are envelopes. There are frightening views expressed about drug addiction (and wrong- look at Amanda). The plot, meanwhile, is as delightful a puzzle as always, and as usual the saving grace of the film.

William's test is, I suppose, grimly appropriate; he is pitted against a Man who neglects his health, and forced to restrict his breathing. William is the one who lives and, of course, learns nothing from this pointless ordeal. I'm beginning to suspect that, for this film at least, the authorial voice agrees with me.

We are not done with William; he has to choose, arbitrarily, which of his staff lives or dies, and he gets a philosophical chat with John. His penultimate test is to suffer physical pain to help an underling, or she dies. It is he, as the boss, who has the agency here, the power of life and death. Naturally, he refuses, what with her being an expendable pawn, and there is a fight, the unfettered free market red in tooth and claw. The left wing subtext here is extraordinary; it is interesting that this film was released shortly before Obama's still rather right wing health reforms became a thing.

William's final test is a massacre of his entire staff, except that he can save a maximum of two by painfully giving up his hands. Lovely. This is a nice little microcosm of what he does for a living, of course, and naturally they all die. In the final twist, his death comes atcthechands of a woman who holds a grudge against him and is not, as we assume, his wife.

We end with the usual stream of revelations, and Hoffman's fatal comeuppance at the end of Jill. I like this film a lot; Jigsaw remains a psychopathic, sanctimonious shit, but at least this time the film was about something.

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