The Punk Spirit

The punk spirit is still in there somewhere, though at least, I hope so.

~ Martin McDonagh, on his writing in an interview to The Guardian


Elegy for The Pillowman

i know your life is a plastic bag with no breathing holes are everywhere and in every heart yet you didn’t have the time or the soul or the old weeping willow tree was not as savagely torpor as you would like it to be because whoever hears a thousand screaming kids with michal k and katurian k but well if you are jesus you will rise again in three days won’t you yet your mom never told you about jesus because you died very young and killed very young but you never knew if it was because you wanted to or you needed to yet you knew how plato never wanted any poets in his ideal society but who cares we don’t want to be in his cave his cave is worse than our cave but you never realized that you were deceptive but you never could deceive yourself because of mice and men was your favorite book but no you had to save people from themselves and when your goal was to hear a thousand hearty laughs death came too quick and too painful

We are shouting out from Hell

Our lives have been a bombshell

We hate you Pillowman

We thank you Pillowman


If you have never read or seen any of Martin McDonagh’s work, his plays or his films, you are missing out on his witty, Irish, dark-yet-realistic humor. To my embarrassment, I watched In Bruges only few weeks ago, and while I was doing a little reading about it, oddly enough I figured out McDonagh, the writer and the director of the film, was also the writer of one of my favorite plays: The Pillowman. Seeing it as a high school production in Istanbul, which to my surprise was way better than professional ones I have since seen, The Pillowman rooted its critical dark humor and its fake totalitarian effect into my younger brain.

The Pillowman opened on Broadway ten years ago and in a great deal of places after that, and it received flattering critics. Although some questioned its depth, it stands to be one of my favorite plays to date. Not because I am a fan of totalitarian state stories, or because the characters didn’t completely feel real, but because it is repulsive and enraging at times. The play inherits such a quality that it is almost inhuman and nihilistic at the same time. It aims for various plotlines and ideas, yet it cautiously and deliberately misses them. Now, I am aware it doesn’t sound like the most likeable play on the face of the earth; however, it holds significant meaning in its not-easily-reachable depths.

The play is about a writer, Katurian Katurian Katurian, who believes the role of a storyteller should be to tell a story, nothing more: “I say if you’ve got a political axe to grind, go write a fu*king essay…” He and his mentally impaired brother, Michal, are in police custody and being interrogated for the stories Katurian wrote. (Totalitarian state, remember?)

Katurian’s life involves a curious history. His life has been an artistic experiment conducted by his parents. When he was younger, his parents gave him a notebook on his birthday to write stories. Ever since, he hears whizzing and hurling and clacking and drilling, masking a child’s scream every night from a locked door, which his parents strictly warn him to stay away from. One day, he succumbs to his senses and breaks into the room. He finds his parents have been torturing a little kid for years and years to see how Katurian’s stories have evolved under the trauma of haunting and horrific noises. The tortured child, Michal, happens to be his own brother. Dreadful and infuriating, isn’t it? Katurian, following the discovery, kills his parents and buries them. Martin McDonagh explores the boundaries of pain and suffering for the artists with a comically dark indeterminacy. Katurian’s stories don’t actually evolve; they become — become single type themed grim stories in which kids are tortured and murdered in spine-chilling ways. The plotline continuous bizarrely for the rest, no different than any of McDonagh’s work — hence I’ll not get into detail with the rest of the plot.

Nonetheless I would like to share the story of The Pillowman, to whom I wrote an elegy for, the story that gives the play its name, since it is ‘almost’ the most dreadful story among the all that’s been shared: the Pillowman is a creature made up of pillows that stops adults from committing suicide after the heart-breaking and dire lives they led. Instead, with his special powers he travels back in time to those people’s childhoods. He convinces children to commit suicide to prevent them from miserably reaching adulthood. Yet this job desolates him so much so that he goes back to his own childhood and commits suicide by convincing his younger self to self-immolate. Although this relieves his pain, it causes all the children he ‘saved’ to live out their torturous lives — his final breaths are punctured by the painful screams of a thousand kids.

Yet, the Pillowman is not McDonagh’s only character that I wrote an elegy for.

In Bruges captures two unprecedentedly humane hitmen who are stuck in purgatorial Bruges, waiting for orders from their patron after a job gone wrong. The film opens with stunning shots of medieval Bruges. The newbie hitman, Ray (played by Colin Farrell), hates this “sh*thole” so very much, while his companion, the veteran hitman, Ken (played by Brendan Gleeson), who gave Ray this job, enjoys the city and its beautiful sights. The absurdity of these scenes can’t escape one’s mind — two hitmen sightseeing in Bruges. Martin McDonagh’s dialogues never flatline either. His lines precariously juxtapose tragedy and comedy so as to not fall neatly into either category; psychopathic hitmen are human with some sort of feelings. This film doesn’t have a predictable plotline and also leads to an ambiguous ending. It remedies itself with a comically dark story as in The Pillowman. On his first job, Ray had to kill a priest in Dublin, his hometown. But in the heat of the murder he accidentally kills a little boy, a bullet piercing through the priest’s body into the praying child’s head. Bruges, he feels, is his sin’s punishment: spending an eternity in a fascinating medieval city he abhors. Killing the little choirboy haunts Ray, his childish soul and character cannot bear the burden. Later on, it turns out their patron, Harry Waters, sent them to Bruges for Ken to get rid of Ray after the horrible, inadvertent killing.

For those who haven’t watched, I leave the rest to imagination or Netflix. However, it ends with an incredible parallel between the two deaths in the movie. [spoiler]: Harry commits suicide, under the assumption that he killed a little boy like Ray did before. But, ironically, he kills an actor dwarf dressed as a schoolboy.

What a fantastically done and gruesome parallel! ! Is one supposed to laugh or to cry? — a special yet twisted talent of McDonagh’s. However, one character stood out for me: Harry Waters, the patron. McDonagh weaves his character so well, so intricately that one grows to like and respect this oddly honest and humane psychopath. His respect and affection, his frankness and integrity are baffling, a strange paradox. Yet, I found this character so poetic. I wondered if Pillowman would have saved him if he could. One way or the other, like the Pillowman, Harry Waters deserves an elegy, too.


Elegy for Harry Waters

An Irishman doesn’t lie

Your mom used to tell you when you lied

And they don’t swear she used to tell you

Even when you didn’t swear

                                                                                         Yellow boxes in your head in your head

                                                                                         Canals cancel cracks in your head in your head


Poof! You crucified that little kid

In your dreams, and your kids were crucified instead


                                                                                         I know old friends are like the sad moon rising

                                                                                         Yet the night sky is full of them full of them

Frivolity against sharp shooting

– There is a Christmas tree in London

With presents beneath it –


Your present was always late because

Purgatory for you was heaven

Last happy holidays deserve to flourish

When you were seven

And now your kids are seven and your

Metal, black hand spills bullets

You, mercy-hearted principles man

That last quasi-innocent, honored look

When you shot kids through snowflakes


Only to find out you shot yourself

From a mirror


{Illustration by Celeste Matsui.}

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