Change or Die but I did not Change (so I must have Died) ('Saw III' (2006) dir. Darren Lynn Bousman)

It's an understatement to say that I love the Saw franchise character Amanda Young. Like Amanda (at least pre-reverse-bear-trap), I have felt like my life was resultant of a sequence of negative consequences. She was content with the present hell of a contiued outside of prison heroin addiction. Like many early Jigsaw victims, she's targeted for her apathy at her own unfortunate life, for not being able to see the danger of the teeth (because they were in her own mouth), and for being stuck in a self-desrtuctive cycle. The reverse-bear trap is, for me (despite waking up in unfamiliar bathrooms, the shock-show of a razor-wire maze, and the challenge of finding a safe combination while slimy), the first trap in the franchise. A survivor's testimony on how she was able to finally see something bigger.

It is the first trap that gives a method for the madness, illuminating John's motive as concerned with changing people percieves are inadequately using their lives. Sitting watching Amanda give testimony in the police station, following it up with her, "he helped me,", is listening to one of the first religious sermons. We know from the detectives that the wide viewpoint (probably one shared by the viewers) is that John is playing God, but Amanda's testimony signifies that to some, he probably is a God. (Sidebar: I love that Lawrence sits and watches Amanda's statement, later saying that it was, "quite an amazing story that poor woman told," little knowing that he will later subscribe to the same magazine and basically became THE jigsaw apprentice.)

Amanda has found something new. A new cure- she's had social workers, police officers, prison workers, rehab specialists, and all with no joy, until John. That is finding God, finding faith, finding something to believe in, and letting it wash over you. Living for a higher purpose above petty cyles of self-hatred and preoccupation. It is no suprise that the reverse bear-trap is colloquially referred to as a baptism. Like an old-testament God, all John wants in return is full devotion. He wants a will-enactor, and Amanda wanting to continue feeling as if she has some purpose, embraces it.

She puts on her pig mask, kidnaps a few people, drugs them, attend a church with manenquins and gears, surgical instruments and dried blood on the pews. Amanda, although bereft, crying to even drag Adam into his bathroom shackles, gives 100% because she has healed, and she owes it all to John. It's gratitude, and fear, and a little bit of, 'hey, maybe this could actually work for someone else. Maybe on the other side, when he survives, we'll go hand in hand into hell'.She cries when hitting Adam with the injected sedative for the same reason people cry when they turn off the ventilator, even though you know its for the best.

I'm not an idiot, and I know that Amanda was only intoduced as John's apprentice in Saw II as an addendum, but to me that's great because it gives a lot of lee-way to theorise what she was doing during the events of the first film. Let's say for the sake of argument that she saw the whole of the bathroom trap play out on little monitors at the meat-packing plant. When it happens firsthand, it has already happened, but to see it play out on secondhand is probably to see the forest for the trees. Every agonising phone call, every shouted argument between Adam and Lawrence. A self-amputation. Is any change worth this? Will this work? Was this the only way? Adam's key was in the bath-tub, but (and her eyes widen) Amanda threw the key haphazardly onto Adam's chest without securing it. It drifted down the drain. Perhaps she didn't really expect it to work. Incredulously, she replays the action. I threw it on his chest. Was death better for him than escaping? He could have been free. I threw it on his chest. Would he have been free? Would he have been like me?

Amanda was given the choice to change or die. She believes at this point that she has changed, or she is desperate to believe it- she must eradicate all mirror images that prove the contrary. Or perhaps this was suicide-through-the-other. Amanda knows subconsciously that there is no real change, apart from for the worst, and now she has to contend with expectations she cant uphold. She is in a much bigger trap, one that unceasingly repeats, and knows she would have been better off dead. She thinks she's helping Adam, she says as much. I imagine an alternate timleine where reverse bear-trapped Amanda sits placidly and does nothing while the timer ticks away, as a big fuck you to the powers that be. John wanted her to take her life into her own hands, but he really meant for her to put her life in his. Had she done nothing she would have been fully in control. She took control and relinquished all agency at the same time.

The guilt of killing a fan favourite causes her to see a ghostly Leigh Whannel cameo in her dreams. Meanwhile, she starts to relise that she is a cog in a machine and not, in fact, the one operating the lever. Guilt- "what was any of this even for?" Self-harm, subsequently, as self-punishment for not being who she is meant to be, as a way to feel bodily-autonomy once again, and a way to replicate the pain of her original baptism. She only knows renewal through pain, yet with every self-inflicted injury, she know's it's taking her further away from John's vision for her. John despises those who self-mutilate if they do it outside of his tests.

Amanda put 100% of her trust in God, but ended up heartbroken upon finding out that God did not trust her back? I will die on the hill of 'Amanda was unaware of the role she would play in Saw II's Nerve-Gas house trap'. I believe that sometime before the events of Saw II, John became aware that Amanda was self-harming: he and Hoffman were setting up Nerve-Gas house, with Amanda having some general clue of what was going on (perhaps knowing that Eric Matthews would be involved in some way, perhaps helping Obi, or overseeing the capture of the test-subjects), but not the full picture. For example, I don't think Amanda was in on the traps, or on the knowledge that she would be involved. I think this was an in-joke between Hoffman and John, which Amanda was not in on. John's idea is to re-test Amanda to strengthen her faith. Can you be the person I made you?

It doesn't make sense for her reaction upon waking up to not be genuine! She doesn't want to be back in a trap, didn't know she was going to be, is devastated to find out that John doesn.t trust her. (As another sidebar, I love the minor detail of her grabbing at her head as soon as she wakes up to check that she hasn't been reverse bear-trapped. Again, a little sliver of subconscious action saying 'that wasn't renewal, that was a nightmare, and my first waking moments will be to check that I have dragged myself out of said ordeal'). Of course everyone is in Nerve-Gas House for their own individual reasons, but I feel like the overarching test is for Amanda to anticipate what John wants her to do, and to survive another life-or-death situation.

I agree with the dominant theory that Amanda has already been immunised to the Nerve-Gas prior to being put in the trap, but she's still in a situation where, if people found out who she was, they would kill her. All of the individual traps relate to Amanda in an overarching sense. Xavier's needle-pit trap, the wristcutter box, and even Obi's test pointing out that the residents cant trust each other, and that any one of them could be conspiring with Jigsaw, or have more knowledge than they're letting on.

She undertakes her pilgrimage through acid-washed corridors, finding out that Daniel is Eric Matthew's son, and anticipates that John wants him alive. In delivering Daniel to John, she is triumphant, silently asking: do you trust me now? But she has come to realise, how can John ever trust her if she is still, in essence, the same thing she was pre bear-trap. Did I even change at all? Does anyone? She has seen, again, what John's tests do to people. She nearly died at the hands of Xavier, who also forced her to undergo a test meant for him. Xavier would have been the last man standing, and therefore, by John's logic, a changed man. She know's thats a crock, knows that the Nerve-Gas House residents never even tried to work together. I never changed, but I'm not the outlier. She realises she's running around a maze of John's own creation that has no exit. Why should anyone else change? They wont.

So, she beats Eric Matthews half to death for insinuating something she knows to be half true anyway: she's not Jigsaw, she'll never be Jigsaw, she's nothing. And Eric deserves it- he hasn't changed. Eric calls her a junkie, knowing full well that Amanda's decline into drug use was his fault. He didn't change, so he must die. In the same gospel, she kills Troy and Allison Kerry- they'll never change. They're better off dead. Jeff's test is set up. John is now completely dependent on Amanda due to his decline in health (I can't see Hoffman offering bedcare), but Amanda also still depends on him for that last sliver of hope that she can be more. She questions whether Hoffman will go through the same rigourous trust-testing that she has done, resentful that he has not.

The end of Saw III will alway be so upsetting to me: blackmail leads Amanda's righteous fury to be directed at Lynn Denlon, who has also been helping keep John alive. Has she not proven herself enough? She questions John's methods and the truth comes out. She has not changed, no one does. She kills all that cross her path because she believes that like her, even if they pass their tests, they would be better off dead. For Lynn, she harbours a special hate- why should anyone have control over me anymore? The end of Amanda's character arc is so great because in killing Lynn, whether she knows it or not, she is finally taking control and holding her own life in her hands. Lynn's death leads to her own, and to John's. She has become a catalyst for breaking a cycle (if we pretend the franchise ends at three). She knew the painful truth that John was wrong, his ideology was bullshit. Even though she is in John's grasp right up until the very end, she frees herself, even if to her, the last dying speck of devastation in her eyes is John telling her she failed. She dies unhappy, but if she had succeeded by John's standards, I fear the outcome would be worse.

What I find so great about Amanda is that her whole three film arc (plus additions in further films) proves that John is a villain, and a delusional one. People really subscribe to the idea that he is not a murderer, and that maybe his ethos works in some places. Wrong. Amanda's arc represents misplaced faith, and living your life for someone else. Her life was awful, and it ends awfully, but I like that in spite and in death, you can still prove a point. Even if your life ends, if you give a big 'fuck you' to the person you aimed to escape, isnt it worth it?