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Han 1
Fuhong Han
Amy E. Leonard
De Anza College
June 16, 2018
Essay #4
The Philosophical Significance of John’s Perverted Killing Game
Games have become a vital aspect of human life. From quite indoor games such as chess
and board games to outdoor sports such as baseball and football, we have devised many games to
keep us entertained. However, there is one game that probably none of us would like to play and
that is John Kramer’s Killing Game. John is a famous character from the Saw movie series. The
saw is classified as a psychological thriller and is one of the most gruesome movies ever made.
The main character in the film, John Kramer, seems like a normal person leading a good life
until he goes through some misfortunes. He loses his unborn child and finds that he has an
inoperable brain tumor. On top of that, he is refused insurance on his treatments. All these events
lead John to try to commit suicide which he does by driving his car off a cliff, however, he
survives the attempt. Afterward, he feels a new appreciation for his life and is convinced that
other people should feel the same way too. So, he conceives of some games which certain
selected people are forced to play where they have to go through extreme lengths to survive.
Most of those who were unfortunate enough to be selected die in the game. Saw seems like the
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classic thriller movie, however unlike most thrillers where the villain is clearly evil and hated,
the case is a bit different for John. There is a conflict in judging his personality because he does
his insane acts for good reasons. While some people claim that John is antisocial for
punishing normal people, many others see him in a positive light by implying the change he
creates on the survivors, the relevance of his philosophy to religious virtues, and the value
of life that the audience gets from the movie.
The people that John makes his victims are not the criminals of the society who deserve
to be punished but rather normal people who he finds fault with. What John really wants to do is
instill a value towards life in his victims. It would’ve been appropriate to choose the people who
don’t value other people’s lives such as murderers as his victims. However, John only selects
normal people, most of whom who are directly or indirectly related to something that displeased
him. For example, in Saw VI he chose three victims simply because they worked for an insurance
company. John had earlier been denied insurance coverage for the treatment of his cancer so he
thought that involvement in such company is punishable, even if one is working as a janitor. The
victims were innocent who didn’t do anything wrong and their lives were put at risk. “Literally
everyone in the world is worthy of being murdered in John’s eyes based on some of the things
he’s tested them for. And even after all that, the difficulty or “winnability” of his games were
almost completely disproportionate to the crime to the point where the subjects “will to live” or
redemption is irrelevant” (TheSoulCages). People regularly commit simple mundane acts in their
everyday lives that aren’t quite acceptable but cannot be called criminal activities either. John
sees this as a punishable crime when in fact they are just slightly unethical activities, and thus he
makes them go through situations that are way beyond the extent of what they had done. Some of
his victims include drug addicts, prostitutes, drug dealers, thief, alcoholics, etc. Although John
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does punish some real criminals such as rapists, murderers, etc. yet many others he calls
“crimes” are too petty such as saying negative comments about people behind their backs, faking
illness, not letting go of grief, being an informant, etc. Besides, the physical exertions of the
game have very little relevance to the victims’ will power to survive. Some of them had to kill
their loved one to live which definitely cannot be related to survival power. By playing his
games, John severely violates other people’s right to live and thus he has an antisocial
personality disorder. His psychological problem makes him look insane. In fact, two centuries
ago, it would’ve been called that term. “In the 1830s this disorder was called “moral insanity.”
By 1900 it was changed to “psychopathic personality.” More recently it has been termed
“antisocial personality disorder” in the DSM-III and DSM-IV” (Rigaud). So, even though the
term “insane” seems to have been diluted to antisocial personality disorder, yet it still means the
same thing, that John is morally insane. To look upon such a psychologically ill person, who
tries to kill people in the most gruesome way possible, from a positive light can be called insane
in itself but many people still think so and they have their own reasons for doing that.
People claim that John is a good guy because the survivors in his game are positively
impacted by the situation they had to go through. John’s game is very difficult and the players
are forced to go through extreme lengths of the physical ordeal in order to survive. Because of
this reason, very few people end up completing the game. Those who survive are no longer the
person they were when they had begun the game. “If Kramer’s victims do survive, they come out
as a changed individual with the same goals as he” (Oakland). These people also feel a new
respect for life and just like John, they think that everyone should experience it. But how does
one go about instilling such a profound view and so gravely upon someone? People hear about
the value of their life all the time but it doesn’t really register in their mind. Even if someone
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were to come up to them and tell them with a certainty that they had certain years to live, they
still wouldn’t care much. Life seems so long a thus people take it for granted. John needed to do
something much bigger than just go about telling his story to make people understand his
philosophy on life. He thought the only way to do so was to make them experience what he had
experienced, i.e. a near-death situation. When the living moment of a person is brought down
from years to minutes, he/she starts to think differently about life. They do unimaginable things
in order to survive. People must feel the fear of death if they were to ever appreciate life as a
blessing. Thus, the victims ended up playing the killing game. These games are very gruesome to
watch. For example, in Saw VI, there are two victims who are attached to a mechanical device
that aims a screw on their forehead. The first among them who is able to cut off a pound of flesh
from their skin and toss it off on a scale lives and the other one dies. There are few survivors in
John’s games and they react opposite from the expectable way afterward. One of them was
Amanda who went through the reverse bear trap test. She had to kill her soulmate who was still
alive and find a key from his stomach that unlocked the bear trap that she was strapped to. If she
had failed to do it, the trap would’ve ripped open her head from her mouth. “Amanda was
Jigsaw’s first subject who had survived. She claimed that “Jigsaw had saved her life” which then
led her to become his partner” (Bonsall). Amanda found newfound value in her life and ended up
working with John. Some of John’s other survivors also ended up being his partner and they set
up traps for new victims. Even though the games are awful and they should’ve left the survivors
with trauma, yet that is not what’s shown in the movie. Amanda refused to help the police track
down John because she believed what he was doing was right. The positive impact of the
violence imposed upon the people is shown in the movie which although is unrealistic, yet is a
source of appreciating John’s actions for most people.
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John’s philosophy has a high resemblance to the ideals presented by most religions.
There are many religions in the world and they are quite different from one another on the basis
of their meaning of god, the origination of life, events after death, etc. However, one thing that
most religions agree on is their general philosophy of life. Each religion states that life is unique
and it should be valued. Religion states that people should live their life doing good things. This
is the same thing that John believes on. He too seems to think he is doing the society a good
thing by making people play those games. “Kramer believed that his “games were for the good
of all human beings. He wanted people to realize that life is fragile and should not be taken for
granted” (Persaud). He had taken his life for granted and only later learned of its value. He
wanted people to feel the same way as he did now. So, it a certain way, it seems as though John
is actually valuing all human life. In fact, he wants his victims to survive the games. Most people
in their deathbed tend to regret the bad things they did in their life and regret the fact that they
didn’t live their life to its fullest. By making people face near-death situation, John also makes
them regret the bad stuff they did and realize that they have to live their lives so that they won’t
regret when they die. So, his philosophy is identical to the religious philosophies. “It might be
better to say that the religion of Saw is not a new way, but more of a violent rebirth of the old. A
reminder of joyful purpose and meaningful living written in rusted metal and clockwork
executions” (Stiff). So, John has used the same old philosophy of religion and presented them in
a new light through a more violent way. Religions have tried to impose their beliefs violently in
the past, and some have still continued it to the present. There were countless people who had
been burned alive or stoned to death because they did not adhere to religious beliefs. What John
did to his victims seems less violent compared to other religions as he has at least offered a
chance at survival. Religions also value suffering and this is what John gives to his victims.
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Suffering is a part of life and they teach us valuable lessons. However, the suffering we
experience in our everyday life is mundane and quite bearable which is why they can only teach
us simple lessons. Through his games, John is able to teach one of the most valuable lessons in
life and it comes at a high cost too.
It is not only the characters in the movie who are impacted by John’s game, but the
audience also finds the outcome of the game quite impactful. Humans can live up to a hundred
years and the fact that we are most likely to die before that age seems to be lost within us. This
leads to us not appreciating life up to the level that it deserves. Hence, we take drugs, cigarettes,
alcohol, commit crimes, and even try suicide because death seems like some that will never
happen to us. “Once you see death up close, then, you know what the value of life is”
(Bouseman, Lynn, et al.). Today we live in a world where there are very few threats in our life.
People continue to die prematurely from accidents and diseases but the threat they pose is very
little compared to the threat that was posed by wild animals and foreign tribes to our ancestors.
In those situations, our forefathers had to act instantly or else they would be killed. John’s games
also resemble this situation. We all have a survival instinct that has been transferred from those
ancestors but because of the comfort and safety of our modern world, that instinct is never used.
The games in Saw change all that for the victims. They are presented with a grave threat and they
have to use their will to survive by going through extreme physical exertions. Something in that
moment of die or fight situation, the people feel a surge of adrenaline rush and their entire life
flashes before their eyes. No matter how bad the situation they are living with maybe, they still
try to pull themselves through it. So, when people survive John’s game, the fact that they were so
close to death and still lived becomes engraved in their memory. In fact, we humans have a need
to relieve the survival instinct which is why we love zombie movies, play violent video games,
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and predict the apocalypse such as alien invasion. After surviving John’s games, the victims start
to respect their life and because of this reason, people think that John is not such a bad guy after
all. And it’s not just the characters who are changed but the audience is also impacted along with
them. Humans are empathic beings and while watching Saw movies, the audience tends to relate
with the victims of the games. They feel like whatever is happening to the victims is also
happening to them. They too get the adrenaline rush when the victims try to save themselves and
feel fearful of their fate. Some people relate so much to the victims that they find it hard to sit
through Saw movies. So because of the empathy people show, when the victims survive and look
upon the games with a different view, the audience do the same. “The thing about the Saw
movies is that they are very, very open about the fact that they are meant to teach the viewer
about the value of human life. The message may be completely facile, as I think it is, and just a
hook for the story (no pun intended), but it is that strange combination of gore and moralizing
that accounts for the appeal” (Saltykmurks). It seems ironic to learn the value of life from a
movie where the main event is killing people, but people still enjoy it and continue to look
forward to the new sequel. They seem not to be bothered so much by the torture and tend to look
upon the philosophy that drives those killings rather than anything else.
In conclusion, John Kramer does present a very unique personality for a villain. While in
most thriller movies, the antagonist is clearly the bad guy, yet it is hard to say with certainty in
the case for John. People hold conflicting opinions about him. This broken man who survived a
suicide attempt seems to receive sympathy from the audience as well as applause from some for
sharing the value of life. In fact, his philosophy for life coincides with that proposed by most
religions of the world. He could even be looked upon as a philosopher or a theologian who
doesn’t just preach his wisdom but makes sure that people adhere to it. Unlike other religions
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that have killed people who didn’t adhere to religious norms, John has allowed a chance at
survival for his victims. The audience, although being terrified of the situation that John puts his
victims in, yet feel that there is a moral lesson to be drawn from the Saw movies. While most
people agree with John’s philosophy and the fact that he wants to teach others about his
newfound wisdom, many of them would definitely opt for another way to impart that knowledge.
The dangers and physical exertions he puts his victims through is not something that can and
should ever be seen in a positive light. In fact, if anyone seems to enjoy the torture aspect of the
movies like Saw, it may be an indication of something wrong with their personality. None the
less, good sides of things should always be highlighted, even if it is from a thriller such as Saw.
However, while showing those good sides, one should be careful not to disguise the bad side as a
good side. Imagine if somebody were to actually do in reality what John did in the movie. People
would be living in constant fear and survivors would be scared for life. Hence, while the
philosophical side of John Kramer is worthy of acknowledgment and can be embraced, his deeds
must be condemned.
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Works Cited
Bousman, Darren Lynn, et al. Saw II. Saw II, 2007.
Bonsall, Emily. “John Kramer, or Jigsaw?” Professor Ramos @ Chaffey, 16 Nov. 2018,
Oakland, Hannah. “The Psychology behind the SAW Franchise.” The Paw Print, 26 Oct. 2016,
Persaud, Jen. “John Kramer Psychological Analysis.” Prezi, 3 June 2013.
Rigaud, Sylvain. “Https://” Acta
Palaeontologica Polonica, 2013, doi:10.4202/app.2012.0056.
Saltykmurks. “Why Do People Enjoy the Saw Movies?” Why Do People Enjoy the Saw
Movies? – Psychology Horror Films, 21 June 2014,
Stiff, Kyle B. “The Mythology of SAW and the New Religion of John Kramer.” Kylebstiff, 3
Sept. 2016,
TheSoulCages. “r/Sawfranchise – Was John Kramer the Good Guy?” Reddit,

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