Martin McDonagh's play The Pillowman opens with the interrogation of a writer who does not yet know why he has been dragged before the authorities of this totalitarian state. His confusion is an appropriately disorienting introduction to the play's blackly comic tone, the same attempt to find footing that one experiences between the predominant menace and the breathing spaces of bleak humor.
As the questioning progresses, Katurian, the writer, learns to his horror that several recent murders follow the manner of deaths that have occurred in his stories. What emerges is a look at the ironic implications of stories having a life on their own.
It shatters Katurian to hear that the dark and twisted imaginings he has poured into his stories have been brought to life. While he feels nothing wrong with writing about death by swallowed razors or surprise amputations, he immediately denies wishing these fates inflicted on real people. He breaks down when he learns with certainty that his stories have indirectly motivated the killings.
And yet, he still wishes nothing more than that his stories, as objects, might have a life beyond him. Facing execution for his part, he pleads that he will accept whatever sentence is meted upon him without protest so long as his works as preserved, that they will have a life separate from and extending past his own. The duality is a reflection of hope and despair contained in one.
McDonagh’s play suffers from a central weakness, however. The stories, as recited by Katurian and others, aren’t particularly good, more cursory than fables and not much of an indication of talent worth the import placed on them. Katurian’s interest in their life, then, comes to seem a little egoistic without the balance of evident artistic merit, and loses some necessary sympathy by it.