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Saw V and the American Mind

September 29, 2008

The series of horror movies Saw has portrayed violence through film in unprecedented, gruesome ways.

In college, some friends of mine rented the first installment of Saw and invited me to watch.  The film primarily featured one scene:  two men chained up in a bathroom.  One man is told that unless he takes a nearby saw, hacks-off his leg to free himself from his chains, and kills the other man, his family will be murdered.

Subsequent movies have continued this trajectory of torture, and the next movie in the series, set to release just before Halloween, descends to a new low.

The newest trailer begins with a distant image in the middle of a dark screen.  The background music for this image is a solo voice singing three lines of the hymn “Be Thou My Vision”:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
High King of Heaven … Thou art

The trailer flashes phrases compatible with this Christian hymn:  “His message is righteous,” “His love is everlasting,” and “His gift is life.”  The image gradually comes closer and finally reveals a man with his head enveloped in some sort of torture device.

The Apostle Paul tells the Corinthian church that love hopes all things (1 Cor 13:7); thus, my first reaction to this trailer is to hope that the folks at Twisted Pictures have changed the trajectory of the Saw series.

The reputation of the former movies and the somber ending of this trailer, however, suggest that the makers of Saw have wedded their love of violence to an utter disregard of God.

This marriage of violence and idolatry is one clearly articulated in the 10th Psalm.  The Psalmist describes a wicked man who “boasts of the desires of his soul” (v. 3), which are clearly seen in three metaphors.  Like the assassin (v. 8), the lion (v. 9), and the hunter (v. 9), he carefully plans and executes the ruin of his prey.  In his violent ambition, the wicked “renounces” the Lord (vv. 3, 13).

The Psalmist calls upon God to “break the arm” of this violent man (v. 15) and reminds us that God is “king forever and ever” (v. 16). 

Saw V reveals that the American mind is quickly becoming one of the most violent and barbaric in history.  Sure, we may not go to a coliseum to watch men fight to the death or lions devour the helpless.  But who needs a coliseum, when we can have the violence brought to our homes through the television?  Besides, who wants to fight the traffic at the coliseum?

The West’s love affair with violence may be virtual, but the rebellion against God, which this love of violence reveals, is both real and rampant.

If the West does not repent of its sins and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, it will be, indeed, “tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb” (Rev 14:10).

I call upon the makers of Saw V to pull this trailer, a potshot against evangelicals, from the air, and I also call upon those who love both God and neighbor not to give a cent of their money to this film!

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Adam Embry permalink
    September 30, 2008 5:38 pm

    Okay, Be Thou My Vision is one of my favorite hymns as well, but calling for them to pull the trailer is a bit much, don’t you think? I think what Evangelicals have to do is not to censor the movie but point out to Christians first, and non-Christians second, the dangers of enjoying this type of movie genre. I used to enjoy pinning down my coworkers who didn’t believe in war for any reason but yet got excited when Hostel and Saw came to the theaters. For some inconsistent reason they’d pay to see torture but objected to the Iraq war based on US torture.

    I imagine that Saw calls into question some philosophical questions that people have about evil in the world: why does it exist, and since it does, if there is a God, what’s he gonna do about it? Perhaps correcting their thinking rather than censoring it would work better.

  2. September 30, 2008 6:48 pm

    Actually, Adam, I don’t believe calling for the trailer’s disappearance is at all too much. I certainly respect the company’s freedom to run the trailer; that blessed freedom affords me the right to criticize the movie publically. However, I do believe we should be active in the restraint of evil in our culture, as well. We can correct our culture’s misunderstanding of violence and evil without the presence of such filth.

  3. September 30, 2008 6:52 pm

    BTW, I could not care less that “Be Thou My Vision” is maligned.

  4. Adam Embry permalink
    September 30, 2008 9:00 pm

    Hey, great post. So are you making a connection b/w textual critism, violence, and torture? Don’t let the semester get to you too much.

  5. October 1, 2008 2:58 am

    Wow.. that trailer is….

    If you hadn’t told me what to expect ahead of time then I never would have saw it coming.

  6. October 1, 2008 7:36 am

    AE, that’s very funny! Unfortunately for our blog, many people consider textual criticism a form, albeit light form, of torture.

  7. gavmbree permalink
    October 4, 2008 1:31 am

    Great post, Jason. I remember watching Saw 1 in the dorms–Brandon and I barely slept that night and I never watched another one of those! All horror movies have become nothing but gore and torture in recent years, it is disgusting and I believe it does indicate many things about our culture.

    Isn’t it interesting how violent sin and idolatry are tied together and sexual sin and idolatry are also often linked in the Bible. One might even conclude that one’s view of God affects everything else in his or her life (note tongue firmly placed in cheek).

    Also, you mentioned that “Saw V reveals that the American mind is quickly becoming one of the most violent and barbaric in history…” I sometimes wonder if things really are worse today than they were 100 years ago or 1000 years ago. You mentioned the coliseum which is certainly a comparable blending of violence and entertainment. I’m reminded of a scene in “No Country for Old Men” (a violent movie in its own right), in which Tommy Lee Jones’ character discusses his sense of feeling “overmatched” by the evil in the world and his belief that things are getting worse and worse with each passing year. An older man tells a story about a violent crime from years and years earlier and then says to Jones, “What you got ain’t nothing new.” I certainly don’t take my theology from Coen Bros. films, but sometimes when I’m reading the Bible, particularly parts of Genesis, Numbers, Judges, and the Prophets, I notice the amount of both sexual and violent sins and I find myself thinking: “What we got ain’t nothing new.”

    Very thought-provoking post!

  8. October 7, 2008 7:32 am

    Gavin,

    Good comment. I heartily agree “what we got ain’t nothing new.” The doctrine of universal, pervasive depravity entails that love of violence has marred the human conscience since the fall (Cf. Cain and Able).

    However, while pervasive depravity means all parts of the human self (e.g., the mind, will, emotions, etc.) are affected by the fall, it does not mean that humans are always as evil as they can be. God’s common, restraining grace keeps humanity from being as evil as it, indeed, could be. At times, God removes his restraining grace and gives humans over to sin (Rom 1).

    I think industrial and technological advances have allowed humans to increase the scope and magnitude of which they both perpetrate and enjoy violence. Perhaps, we are seeing God gradually removing his hand of restraining grace. (Though, the secret things belong to the Lord our God, Deut 29:29).

    A good objection, on the other hand, is how do we measure and quantify evil? Obviously, I can’t answer that question; so, perhaps, my statement is unwarranted.

    Certainly, in some ways, the West has become less violent, especially in light of abolition (NB: Charles Spurgeon said he would just as soon admit a murderer as a member of his church as he would a “man-stealer”).

    But, I was talking about the mind and its love of violence. We have greater access to means of enjoying violence, and these means are becoming more and more gruesome and more and more employed.

    Thanks for the sharpening!

  9. Hutch permalink
    October 7, 2008 9:19 pm

    Now I also love the hymn but i don’t believe these men who made the trailer are spitting in God’s face, however i do also believe they have no regard for the Lord. In my opinion they wanted a very POWERFUL trailer for the end to this intense series, i feel they are using the hymn for nothing more than POWERFUL advertisement which inadvertently gives a little credit to the Lord they wanted a message they used the good word, but in the wrong way. I love that you feel so strongly about this subject but its almost impossible to truly answer your questions, but eather way your intentions are good because they are abusing the hymn wich as a christian does bother me, but from the view of an every day kid (im 17) it is just intense advertiseing. AMAZING post keep it up.
    God Bless, -JAKE

  10. February 22, 2009 8:45 am

    BTW, I could not care less that “Be Thou My Vision” is maligned.

    Hi Jason,

    I realize that this is a bit of an old subject and I apologize for beating the proverbial dead horse, but I just came across this discussion and read through the comments.

    In my view “Be Thou My Vision” isn’t being maligned at all here – certainly it’s being abused – but Christ Himself is being maligned; blasphemed in fact.

    The use of the phrases “His message is righteous,” “His love is everlasting,” and “His gift is life.” along with the hymn singing (which thing is itself intended to be praise offered up to God who alone is worthy) are clearly meant to invoke mental imagery of the Lord Jesus Christ.

    While to the unbelieving world such a thing may seem trite, or unexceptional, or even mildly amusing, to the born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ in the light of holy scripture it is extreme wickedness.

    I shudder to imagine the hot coals those responsible for producing that blasphemous imagery are heaping upon their own heads as they continue blindly down the broad path that leads unto destruction.

    In Christ,
    CD

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