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Theatre / The Pillowman

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Were you giving him your 'children are gonna come up to me and give me sweets when I'm an old man' speech?

The Pillowman is a 2003 play by writer Martin McDonagh, taking place in a totalitarian state police office in which Ariel, a bad cop with anger management issues, and Tupolski, a detective with a god complex, interrogate "genius writer stroke psycho-killer" Katurian K. Katurian. Initially, he is suspected of murdering several children because each murder emulated some of his smash hit murder mysteries, and from then on the play spirals downward into the minds of each person involved with the case, with the exception of Michael Katurian, the elder brother of the two.

Throughout the three acts, we see the extremely brutal interrogation methods carried out by Ariel and Tupolski, as well as large chats about each characters background. The first and second act then transition to a dream sequence that describes one of the stories written by Katurian, and the real outcome of each when carried out by the perpetrator himself.

The third act is a final discussion between Ariel, Katurian, and Tupolski leading up to the execution of Katurian. Katurian is entirely accepting of the prospect of death, but on the condition that the two cops leave his legacy as a writer alone.

The Pillowman provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: As well as apparently being something of a staple of Katurian's stories, this also applies to Katurian and Michal's parents (towards Michal at least), and Ariel's father.
  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Katurian Katurian Katurian's name.
  • Adults Are Useless: Again, something of a staple of Katurian's stories.
  • Affably Evil: Tupolski is a lot more polite and patient than Ariel but he's still ultimately not someone you'd want to be interrogated by.
  • Anti-Villain: Ariel starts out as the bad cop to Tupolski's (relatively) good cop, and begins to turn more inarguably good when he gives his "Children are gonna come up and give me sweets when I'm an old man" speech. This culminates in him disobeying Tupolski and saving Katurian's stories from the fire.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: A textbook example laid on Ariel by Katurian (with Tupolski's goading and guidance), which completely breaks Ariel.
    Katurian: Who first told you to kneel down, Ariel? Your mum or your dad? I'm guessing your dad, right?
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Very nearly, as Tupolski manages to get Katurian killed and keep his stories from seeing the light of day for a long while. Only Ariel taking them home with him saved them from being burned down.
  • Being Tortured Makes You Evil: Michal, who was tortured by his and Katurian's parents, and ends up killing children because he thinks it's the right thing to do.
  • Big Bad: An interesting case since at first it seems to be Ariel but then by the end, it turns out to be Tupolski.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Both Michael and Katurian are dead, Tupolski is still stuck in his dead-end job, and Ariel is still struggling with his anger problems. He kept his promise, though.
  • Black Comedy: It's by Martin McDonagh, so this is pretty much a given. Though even by his standards, this is still very dark...
  • Break the Cutie: Katurian. So so much.
  • Bury Your Disabled: Michal is killed by Katurian at the end of Act Two. Also invoked in that their parents abused Michal and probably caused his disability to function as a Start of Darkness for Katurian. Subverted in that the deaf girl actually survives being kidnapped and buried alive by Michal.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Michal.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Michal, several times.
  • Crapsack World: We're not told much of what this world is like, only that it's a police state. Still, it's definitely implied to be this.
  • Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery: Michal does this several times, although some of his more horrible behaviour (such as murder) is justified by it.
  • Embarrassing Initials: Katurian's are KKK. Ariel and Tupolski point this out.
  • Foil: Tupolski to Ariel, where Tupolski is constantly getting back at Ariel's disobedience by casually mentioning his father issues or his anger problems.
  • Foreshadowing: Katurian tells Michal that if it was a choice between the two of them being killed and his stories being safe, he would choose to save his stories.
  • Friend to All Children: While this appears to be thoroughly deconstructed by some of the horrific acts described - such as the savage child murders - Ariel wants to be this and is clearly this to the deaf girl who is rescued, as he's completely delighted to see her.
  • Good Cop/Bad Cop: A very interesting case. It appears to be Tupolski who is good, as he avoids torturing Katurian, unlike Ariel who can barely wait to start torturing him. Ariel is extremely violent, unpredictable, and tells Katurian he would kill him for even writing a violent story about children. So he's the bad, right? No. Tupolski kills him for no good reason, even though Ariel wants to save him at the end, having learned that he didn't commit most of the murders and had a good reason for the others. Even worse, Tupolski burns Katurian's stories after promising him he wouldn't, and only Ariel saves them.
  • Gray-and-Grey Morality: From the beginning, Katurian is a vile child murderer, Ariel is a wild dog that can barely be kept on a leash, and Tupolski is a Chess Master that keeps it all on the rails to Katurian's execution. Come the third act, we find out that Katurian only ever committed three of the six murders he was suspected of, and is nearly acquitted of his charges due to "extenuating circumstances" by Ariel, who begins to sympathize with Katurians horrible childhood. Tupolski still pushes for his execution despite the fact that he is nearly innocent and eventually reneges on his promise to keep Katurian's stories from being burned.
  • Hope Spot: Two. In the first, Katurian pieces together the logistics of the police framing him and Michal and therefore how they might get out of being further tortured and executed. Then it turns out the police didn't need to frame them anyway...
    • The second occurs when it turns out that the third child is still alive and Tupolski and Ariel realise that Katurian is innocent of the murders of the first two children. Unfortunately, it's not enough to prevent his execution.
  • I Lied: Tupolski lied about saving Katurian's stories. He tries to burn them in cold blood after killing him. Ariel saves them.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Tupolski is constantly implied to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, as he appears more reasonable and much less violent than Ariel. However, he kills Katurian at the end for no good reason except bureaucracy. Although "gold" may be stretching it, Ariel is clearly the softer and fairer one in the partnership (although that isn't saying much) by the end.
  • Karmic Death: Michal killed the children because he'd come to think that, due to Katurian's stories and their own childhoods, he should "save them" from having to go on to lead miserable lives. Katurian kills him in order to save him from being tortured and potentially horribly executed.
  • Mental Handicap, Moral Deficiency: Michal. Although somewhat defensible in that he was also horrifically physically abused by his and Katurian's parents, and then was also convinced by Katurian's stories that he'd been doing a good thing, his mental disability is still portrayed as one of the main reasons behind his murders.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: The protagonist, Katurian, is a writer (albeit with only one story published). In a bizarre meta example, one of his stories is about a writer as well. So a writer wrote a play about a writer who wrote a story about a writer writing stories.
  • Necessarily Evil: Tupolski and Ariel.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Tupolski lampshades this about Ariel and Katurian, as both killed their extremely abusive parents in the same way (suffocation).
  • Oh, Crap!: Throughout the play, Katurian is basically in a constant state of this.
  • Promotion to Parent: Katurian is basically Michal's parent after he murders their parents.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Ariel believes this, as a result of having been raped by his father.
  • Rape Leads to Insanity: Ariel is extremely unhinged because of being sexually abused by his father.
  • Realistic Diction Is Unrealistic: At the cost of some readability, this trope is averted throughout the entire play, most notably in that a good twenty percent of the lines is repetition of the exact previous line, for clarity or otherwise.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Ariel to Tupolski, Michael to Katurian.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Given at least once by everyone to everyone. Even better, all of them are justified.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Invoked in one of Katurian's stories where a man is imprisoned for an unknown crime alongside a murderer and a rapist, and the various people who see the three of them treat the man guilty of the unknown crime worse than the other two. It's heavily implied (and both Tupolsky and Ariel clearly believe it to be the case) that the unknown crime is something to do with harming children, though as far as Katurian is concerned, the crime remains completely unidentifiable.
    Katurian: The idea is you should wonder what the solution is, but the truth is that there is no solution. Because there is nothing worse, is there? Than the two things it says.
    Tupolsky: There is nothing worse..?
    Katurian: ...Is there?
  • Self-Made Orphan: Katurian kills both of his parents for abusing Michael. Ariel kills both of his parents because his father abused him.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Everyone believes Katurian to be capable of killing children since he writes about it so much. Turns out it's actually Michal.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: Several times. Tupolski and Ariel say they'll only kill Katurian if he can't prove he didn't kill the children. He does, and gets a confession out of Michal, but Tupolski kills him anyway. Katuran also tries to confess to save Michal, but can't. Tupolski breaks his promise about saving Katurian's stories.