Jigsaw still missing pieces

The ‘Saw’ series continues with the third installment – will the violence ever stop?

by Michael Garberich

In the end, nearly everybody dies.

And in the end, everybody, we learn, is connected.

And in the end, be certain that there is dread and there is anguish, as there has been since the beginning.

And in the end (fool’s word), we see no end. Of all the possible sources of the interminable suffering, who will be surprised when our fortune – that fortune on which we have so long depended to spend our free time – pray tell, who, in the end, will be surprised when it is revealed to be the source of our condemnation?

Psh. Nada.

This is no existential quandary before you, conscious reader. No, this is the all but documented empirical truth of the already overly-exhausted gorror series “Saw.”

Since emerging in 2004, the once exciting torture test that borrowed bits and pieces from French existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre’s seminal play “No Exit” has, with each film, worn the moral justification behind its savagery thinner and thinner. The traps no longer lay claim to any test of self-redefinition; they’re merely excuses to get senselessly gruesome.

The opening of “Saw III” revisits “Saw II’s” doomed protagonist, Eric Mathews (Donnie Wahlberg), in that once original, inescapable washroom where we met our first victims of Jigsaw’s (Tobin Bell) unrelenting game.

It’s the first flashback in a film that depends on them to wrap three films worth of moral dilemma and frustration into an unsatisfying, cohesive whole. With each, that clever catch phrase, “see Saw,” feels more and more like we have “seen” it.

There’s another back story of Jigsaw’s diagnosis with an inoperable frontal lobe tumor, a second explanation of how he recruited Amanda (Shawnee Smith) to continue his “life work” (killing) and a spattering of mini-stories to let us know just what misery she’s been creating since Jigsaw took her under his wing.

But there is a new victim at focus for Jigsaw and Amanda. Two, actually, and it doesn’t take long to figure out they share some connection.

Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) is the revenge-thirsty father who vows to kill the man responsible for his son’s death. He’s also an alcoholic who neglects his daughter. He is set in a series of tests that present him, one by one, before the people responsible for his son’s death and the killer’s light sentence.

Lynn is a respectable emergency room surgeon who also neglects her daughter and whose marriage is suffering. She is also the one kidnapped from a locker room and made responsible for maintaining Jigsaw’s life while Jeff undergoes his tests.

There’s a hint of a greater calling here, and our reluctant heroine is prevented from escaping by one of Jigsaw’s patented contraptions around her neck: A metal collar with shotgun shells encircling it, set to fire if she ventures too far or if Jigsaw should flatline.

All of this is made possible by Amanda. The fortunate, would-be victim who escaped in the original, revealed as an apprentice in the second Saw and now in the third, is given significant screen time, has supposedly become the foreman of these industrial revolution inspired traps.

Supposedly, because – of course – Jigsaw holds a deck full of trump cards and, no matter what happens, he has perfectly calculated every move so that nothing (including the film’s hamminess) is given to chance.

But don’t think that the end of this trilogy marks the end of this series of unfortunate events. There’s more to dread.

“Saw III”
DIRECTED BY: Darren Lynn Bousman
STARRING: Tobin Bell, Shawnee Smith, Angus Macfaden
PLAYING AT: Area theaters

“Saw III” gained over $34 million atop the box office during its opening week, out-grossing the prior two films’ debuts. Only the business illiterate will be surprised by the rumored announcement from the films’ distributor, Lionsgate, that a fourth installment is scheduled for next year.

Back to Sartre’s play from the beginning. In it, three individuals are stuck in a room with one another in hell, each one precisely chosen so that none can escape the others’ scrutiny, and thus forced to confront the self-awareness that only others, like Jigsaw, can provide.

If that fourth film should be made, be certain that it will once again top the box office its opening week.

When will it end?

As one of the characters in “No Exit” said after the three resign themselves to an eternity in hell: “Well, let’s get on with it.”