Is John Kramer, the infamous Jigsaw killer in the Saw franchise, a hero or villain?
That’s a question fans have asked themselves since the first film in the long-running series landed in 2004.
He certainly thinks of himself as noble and righteous—testing those who have lost the will to live or those who actively hurt others in a myriad of ways. To Tobin Bell’s character, he is the hero in the story. While some might die during the process, some survive and, in his eyes, are reborn anew.
But then, on the other hand, he’s forcing people into slaughtering themselves or others, hiding only behind semantics that it’s not him doing the killing.
Is Jigsaw a Hero or Villain?
Warning - this article contains spoilers for Saw X.
In an exclusive interview with The Direct's Russ Milheim, Saw X director Kevin Greutert shared his thoughts on whether or not Tobin Bell's Jigsaw killer is a hero or villain.
The topic arose when the director was asked about the historic trap that the tenth movie reveals in its third act: a contraption that pitted John Kramer against a child in one of his own traps, which blood-boards its victims. What exactly led the team to create that scenario?
The director first brought up the "discussion among Saw fans" focusing on whether John Kramer is fully a villain or actually a hero. Greutert "think[s] some of the magic of this franchise is that no one really knows the answer:"
“Well, you know, there's a lot of discussion among 'Saw' fans about, is John a hero? Is he an anti-hero? Is he nothing to do with hero? Is he just a pure villain? And I think some of the magic of this franchise is that no one really knows the answer. You know what I mean? There's just a lot of [nuances] going on with John Kramer. And it's a lot of happy accidents along the way, starting with 'Saw I' and re-thinking of things while we're editing and, and all that."
When it came to the blood-board trap, the filmmaker "needed the audiences to connect with him in ways that they wouldn't if he was merely repulsive"—which is where Carlos comes in:
"But in this film, because he's the main character, I needed the audience to connect with him in ways that they wouldn't if he was merely repulsive. And I also wanted to show him is more flawed than we've ever seen him before. And so he makes, he makes a big mistake by trusting Cecilia, that's his first big one. But then, in the third act, this unanticipated child [named Carlos] is brought into the situation against his will. Absolutely not something that [John Kramer] anticipated."
According to Greutert, the "physical courage" that John Kramer has to "demonstrate" in order "to save that boy" shines a much more "heroic" light on the iconic killer than normal:
"And to me by having him demonstrate the kind of physical courage that it takes to save that boy, we do actually find him to be heroic. That's what I'm hoping anyways. And so it was risky, I think to take on something like that. But I'm glad we did, I think I think it works. The kid was the nicest person I've ever met. Like, he's just this little gentleman, you know, absolutely fabulous. And he loved every second of working on this movie”
But how exactly did the team film such an intense trap? After all, it seems particularly difficult to pull off—certainly compared to most of Saw's previous contraptions.
The director admitted that "it was very, very hard" to make a reality and how the "stunt performers took the brunt of it:"
“Well, it was hard. It was very, very hard. The stunt performers took the brunt of it. And they had--we made prosthetics to cover their eyes that made it look like eyes were clenched shut. And the reason was that the blood itself was kind of caustic on your eyes, [and] it tasted horrible. So they had earplugs and they had eye covers. They had to wear those eye covers all day. And so it was very uncomfortable for them. And they had to hold their breaths while the blood was pouring down. It was tough."
Greutert even recalled how they needed to bring Tobin Bell's stunt performer in for another round of blood-boarding due to the filmmaker "not being satisfied with some aspects of what [they] shot on the first day:"
"And the guy who who did [Tobin Bell's] character—I wound up not being satisfied with some aspects of what we shot on the first day. So, we had to call him up and say, 'Hey, are you free tomorrow to get blood boarded again?' He was not happy. Super trooper, though. I mean, no complaints from him. But he came back. And he did it. And it came out great.”
Do Jigsaw's Heroic Actions Make Him a Hero?
Seeing John Kramer in the situation that Cecilia put him in was a completely unique moment for the iconic serial killer. Things usually go his way, so when everything started falling apart, fans were thrust into completely new territory.
That horror and regret on Jigsaw’s face when Carlos becomes involved is one of the strongest moments in the entire film. Who would have thought a Saw movie would pit John Kramer against a child in one of his own traps?
There’s a difference between John and other murderous maniacs out there, and Cecilia’s antics helped highlight that.
Now, obviously, the methods Jigsaw employs aren’t commendable or encouraged—but it’s clear the killer has boundaries. And that’s a notable factor that makes him truly unique: those strong moral and ethical convictions, right or wrong.
While it would feel strange to say Jigsaw is a hero, he does have good intentions behind it all—though clearly twisted beyond recognition.
At best, perhaps he could be credited as an anti-hero. Or maybe he’s just a villain with relatively commendable boundaries.
Saw X is now playing in theaters.