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SAW II (2004)

PHILOSOPHICAL ISSUES: existentialism, ethics

CHARACTERS: Jigsaw (cancer patient, antagonist), Eric Matthews (lead detective), Amanda (Jigsaw’s disciple), Daniel (detective’s son)

OTHER FILMS BY DIRECTOR DARREN LYNN BOUSMAN: Identity Lost (2001), Butterfly Dreams (2000)

SYNOPSIS: "Saw II" is the sequel to "Saw", a gory horror flick from 2004 that received much attention from critics. Saw II did not receive as much praise from the public as its predecessor, yet still delivered when it came to proposing situations that cause the audience to question how far one would go to save his own life, or the lives of others. Saw II opens up with a scene that shows a snitch who has been kidnapped and put into a room with a bear trap secured to his head. A tape is played that informs him of why he is in this situation. According to the tape, the young man is unworthy of his life and is forced to give up the one thing he depends on most to continue living. A key has been surgically placed behind his eyeball, and unless the key is retrieved within one minute, the bear trap will close on his head, killing him. He tries to do the gruesome task, but cannot bring himself to complete it and this leads to his demise. This is the type of ultimatum that Jigsaw gives all of his victims. Detective Matthews is on the case and is led to the place where Jigsaw is residing. Through the whole movie, Matthews and Jigsaw are caught up in a discussion about why this is being done. We find out in this film that Jigsaw is a cancer patient who has been given a short time to live. He knows that the knowledge of death changes everything. Jigsaw tells Detective Matthews "Most people have the luxury of not knowing when that clock's going to go off. And the irony of it is that that keeps them from really living their life. It keeps them drinking that glass of water but never really tasting it." Jigsaw feels that he is helping those he puts in danger by making them really appreciate their life, because those who do not appreciate their life apparently do not deserve it, according to him. He has trapped seven strangers in an abandoned house with a gas infiltrating it that will kill them all in two hours, unless they find the antidotes. Each character has been in jail, except for Daniel, the son of Matthews. Eventually, it comes to surface that Matthews has framed and planted evidence on each of the victims in the house and wrongfully sent them to jail, all the meanwhile receiving rewards and such for his "good work." We see by this time that Matthews does not have the upper hand on Jigsaw, but that Jigsaw has actually made Matthews another victim. In the end we see that Amanda, who seemed all along to be a victim once again, is actually working with Jigsaw in his efforts to make people realize the worth of their lives. Matthews forces Jigsaw to take him to the house that his son is in, and while searching throughout the house, he comes to a body he believes to be Daniels, but is in fact Amanda, who stabs him with a needle and disables him. She closes the door on him and leaves him in the room to die because he has already failed the simple test of just talking with Jigsaw, which is what was asked of him in the first place.


1. Is there any justification for the causing of suffering and to what extent is that line drawn?

2. Jigsaw's victims always have a negative controlling factor in their life. For example, Amanda was a drug addict, the man in the first scene was a snitch, Xavier was a drug dealer, and one man from the first film had attempted to commit suicide. The tables are always turned on them, sometimes in an ironic way. The snitch was made to cut out his eyeball to continue living, but he would no longer be able to live the life he had before without his eyes. It was Jigsaw's intention that Xavier crawl into a pit of needles, much like the ones his buyers use and destroy themselves with. He does this though to prove (in a most extreme way) that they can live without these negative factors in their lives, and if they survive, they will have to. If what defined you as a person was being stripped from you forever, would you still have a will to live?

3. Jigsaw tells Matthews that he has never murdered anyone, to which Matthews replies "Putting a gun to someone's head and forcing them to pull the trigger is murder." Jigsaw asks Matthews, "Since when has force been a problem for you?" Matthews seems to be the good guy because he is not attempting to take the lives of innocent people, but really, he already had. The same people Jigsaw is putting in situations to kill themselves, Matthews had already taken time from their lives by putting them in jail by framing them. Jigsaw does not want his victims to die. His intention is to help them get out of their rut and to live a fulfilling life. Even though Matthews seems to be a well-rounded guy with his head on straight, does this scenario make Matthews just as bad as Jigsaw?

4. Jigsaw tells Matthews that we are only willing to act when a life is at stake. Does this really seem to be the case?

5. Would you consider Jigsaw an individual relativist, that is, a proponent of the view that morality is a creation of each individual person? Would he consider himself to be one?

6. Obviously Xavier is an egoist, that is, a proponent of the view that moral actions are those that benefit the person performing that action. He was willing to put a nailed bat in the back of another guys head, chase the others around the house to kill them all, even though they were all about to die anyways, and to throw someone indifferent to him into a pit of needles rather than take the responsibility himself. In this scenario, it was unnecessary for him to act this way because killing others was not going to help him achieve the goal of survival. In the first film though, Amanda was made to gut a live man in order to get a key out of him to get a reverse bear trap off of her head. To what extent, if any, is it okay to be an egoist?

7. When faced with death, is it the case that we turn to an animalistic behavior and the survival is the only thing that matters?

8. Jigsaw’s purpose for doing what he does is to make those he chooses for his games to realize truth in life. He succeeds in doing so also. Jonas argues with Xavier that they all need to work together to get out alive because the people who are after him will go for his family if they can’t find him. Matthew’s had had a fight with his son prior to the kidnapping and their last words were angry ones. This fight would seem to be just another argument any other day and would easily be dwelled on for a few days, but now that suffering has surfaced, the argument no longer matters. Jonas’s drug deals and running from his enemies were probably the factors that remained constant in his mind and controlled his life, but now that he is in a position that is life threatening, he realizes the worth of his family and desperately wants to get out to help them. In the face of suffering and death, abstractions become trivial and one realizes the important things in life. Do you agree that truth comes through suffering?

9. Would you agree with Jigsaw and Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living”?

10. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in The House of the Dead, speaking of some of the prisoners he came in contact with, “He delights in the terror he causes, loves the disgust he arouses in others. He affects a kind of desperation, and a ‘desperate’ man like this often longs for punishment, longs to be dealt with, because in the end his affected desperation has become too much for him to bear.” Do you think Jigsaw falls under the description of a “desperate man”?

Author: Debbie Zimmerle

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