[Marxism] Torture films

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Nov 3 17:25:09 MST 2006

My wife and I are big horror movie fans. Generally speaking the only 
time I use my AMC/Loew's pass is to see some gory flick with her so 
she can get her mind off her dissertation. I imagine that some of you 
might be chuckling to yourselves over our film preferences since she 
was regarded as an even bigger horror than me on mailing lists when 
she had time for them.

About a month ago I went to see the prequel to Texas Chainsaw 
Massacre with her and walked out feeling nothing but disgust. I 
couldn't put my finger on it, but The Cranky Critic (one of my 
favorites) has hit the nail on the head with this kind of flick:


rating: four bombs

Quite obviously, horror films didn't just pop up out of nowhere in 
the last six years, but if there's an axiom about movies that is 
mostly true and interesting, it's that films (and particular types of 
films that get made over and over again within a certain time period) 
are representative of their era. Welcome to George Bush's America and 
the "Saw" series.

With the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib, the Patriot Act, and the 
recent legislation passed by Congress essentially obliterating the 
right of Habeas Corpus, the "Saw" series makes sense in its cultural 
context. Without getting all political about it, simply consider what 
the "Saw" series is about: average people being pulled off the 
street, then tried, sentenced and tortured without the benefit of any 
of the rights accorded American citizens.

There are two ways to look at these films. One can analyze them as 
true horror films meant to scare people and incorporate a shared fear 
into a popular entertainment. The other way to look at them, and I 
fear the much more legitimate way, is as a form of entertainment that 
reflects cultural values. In the case of "Saw III" that leads to the 
arresting realization that torture is now apparently considered 
entertaining. Torture is entertainment. Torture is amusing. In fact, 
it's most amusing when it's somebody else getting tortured. There is 
a definite ironic interpretation to the "Saw" series. People watch 
because it reinforces the notion that torture is something that 
happens to other people and that those people deserve it. I'd be 
willing to bet that if some network aired the highlights of 
interrogation footage from Abu Ghraib on a weekly basis, it would be 
the smash hit of the television season.

I'm sure there's some logic and some link between this film and the 
ones preceding it, but frankly, I couldn't remember much. I do 
remember that Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) was sick, so we find him in this 
third installment on his death bed. His assistant, Amanda (Shawnee 
Smith) has kidnapped a doctor, Lynn (Bahar Soomekh), strapped an 
explosive device around her neck, and demands she operate on Jigsaw. 
This goes on while a grieving father, Jeff (Angus Macfadyen), runs a 
gauntlet of torture that has him trying to decide whether or not to 
let people live or die. All the people played a role in the death of 
his young son. Jeff has raised the ire of Jigsaw for spending the 
time after his son's death demanding and/or seeking vengeance and 
wallowing in grief. You'd think that Jigsaw would have better things 
to do with his time than torture fathers who've lost their children 
in tragic fashion.

"Saw III" really is quite representative of the world in which we 
live: repetitive, gory and unimaginative, with a morality that is 
defined by one man. Live according to his sense of right and wrong or 
suffer the consequences. 

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