The Pillowman

There is a crunch as a fist suddenly smashes through a plaster ceiling and drops a scrunched-up note onto a young boy’s bed. Written in blood, the paper reads, “Brother they torture me while you sleep.” “Hopefully, it was creepy enough,” said Wolfgang Siewert ’09 about his film, The Pillowman. At this particularly horrifying moment in his movie with the blood-stained note, several audience members were visibly terrified. Siewert needn’t worry, lack of creepiness was certainly not an issue. The Pillowman premiered last Sunday in Kemper Auditorium in front of a large audience of students and faculty members. The film had remarkable special effects and a disturbing plot line. Siewert first discovered Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” when the Berkeley Repertory Theatre performed the Tony Award-winning play in 2007. “The entire play just struck me as really cinematic,” he said. “The [director] seemed to be striving for a greater realism and gravity than plays normally have.” After seeing the play performed live in California, Siewert decided to extract one small piece of the story and adapt it into a film. In Siewert’s 30-minute film, the audience witnesses events from the bizarre childhood of a young boy named Katurian, played by Alex Cope ’09. Plagued by chilling nightmares that include terrifying noises and surreal visions, Katurian turns to the only outlet he has: the typewriter his parents, played by Mark Cutler, Instructor in Spanish, and his wife Claudia Simon, mother of Ian Wollman ’09, bought for him. As Katurian becomes a prolific writer, it gradually becomes clear that his parents are conducting a twisted experiment to help Katurian’s writing career. Loudly torturing their other son in the attic at night, the parents deliberately keep Katurian in a state of “undefinable terror,” nurturing his warped imagination to help Katurian become a great writer. According to his parents, “[Katurian’s] writing is our gift to the world.” When Katurian discovers a record of his parents’ crimes, however, he feels so empowered by this shocking revelation that he smothers his mother and father, abandons his dying brother and sets out on his own to make his way in the world. When Siewert began working on the film two years ago, casting was a challenge, and finding the main character was just the beginning. “Katurian is supposed to be fourteen years old, so I basically asked [Alex Cope ‘09] because he was the youngest of my friends at the time. He also had this kind of bug-eyed look that was cool and creepy for the attic scene. His eyes popped in an almost animalistic way, like he was really obsessed with what he was doing, and I liked that.” Getting adults to portray Katurian’s abusive parents, on the other hand, was another story altogether. “A lot of parents objected to the material and wouldn’t play tortured people,” said Siewert. Siewert said that the camera work can vastly supplement a film. “Pick angles carefully. The angles you choose and the lighting you choose and all the technical stuff is [important]. Don’t forget that the camera is your narrator,” he said. Siewart incorporated this technique in The Pillowman flawlessly. The camera told the story from innovative angles, and there were several moments of stunning lighting, especially in various shots of abandoned buildings, sunlit and covered in graffiti. Not only were his camera angles innovative, but Siewert also used special editing techniques to type text onto buildings, imitating the way a typewriter spells out a line of letters and then returns to the left margin with a clang. More clever directing choices followed, such as a revolving breakfast tray, which made the audience chuckle appreciatively. Other choices made moments terrifying, such as the split second when Katurian peeks under the bed in the attic, and the camera shows a bleeding body staring straight at him. Needless to say, The Pillowman is not a G-rated film. “It seemed so original,” said Tina Su ’11. Nicole Okai ’10 said, “It was so scary! It was better than most of the scary movies that are out these days.” The cast of the film was present at the showing, as were an extraordinary number of faculty members. Siewert’s friends swarmed the director when the film had finished and various teachers shook the director’s hand, congratulating him on a job well done.