Elements of Fairytales in ‘Seven Psychopaths’

Seven Psychopaths is a film unlike any others we have watched in class: none of the main characters seem to follow Campbell’s monomyth cycle of a hero, and Billy, the character that gets the most attention throughout, seems to even portray a sort of anti-hero. With that being said, though it is not the film we were meant to link with the fairytale readings we have done thus far, I believe there are still some connections that can be drawn between the film and traditional lore.

One link would be the concept of violence – not just aggressiveness or gore, but more the over-dramatizations of these things. We have talked briefly about the ways in which fairytales often portray gruesome acts of violence, such as the huntsman being told to kill the sometimes as young as 7-year-old girl in the woods and cut out her heart, lungs, or liver to bring back to the queen; or the wicked stepsisters hacking at their feet and literally removing their own body parts in order to put on a blood-soaked slipper; or those same stepsisters having their eyes fiercely pecked out by birds. There are many examples to be found in fairytales, but the parallel to this level of violence that I noticed most in Seven Psychopaths was when it came to the story of Zach and Maggie – the serial killer-killers. Though the flashbacks were shown with twisted romantic undertones, the images put on the screen were gruesome enough for many people to look away, such as when Maggie was quite literally sawing off someone’s head, or when they staked the Zodiac’s hands to the table before lighting him on fire. In my mind, there is the violence we are most used to, such as the frequent shooting of guns throughout the film, and then there is violence on a whole other level that seems to simply be violence for the sake of violence, such as those examples of the serial killer-killers. While these acts were not necessarily drawn from a fairytale, the violence was indicative of such tales, and the casual way in which Zachariah relayed them to Marty reminded me as well of how we mentioned authors of these variations of fairytales tend to just say something outrageous to us before moving on, as if their audience can just accept it without question.

Also worth noting, though perhaps to a lesser degree, was the marginalization of any female characters portrayed. Firstly, there were few enough that I could count them on one hand: the Australian girlfriend who was constantly called names; Myra, who was killed off; Angela, who was killed off; the imagined hooker; and very briefly the background of Maggie, unless I am forgetting another. Regardless, women had a far smaller and more insignificant presence in the film than the men had, which calls up the idea we learned from the fairytales about the life of action being unfeminine. Of course, Maggie’s life was certainly full of action – but a corrupt, psychopathic side of it rather than the type of action a hero typically gets to experience.


Megan Normann

8 thoughts on “Elements of Fairytales in ‘Seven Psychopaths’

  1. Megan,
    I agree with the connections you made to the movie and fairy tales as we’ve learned about them. In a different aspect, I think the idea of Marty the writer and Billy helping him also relates to fairy tales.
    Fairy tales are told by many different people and experience different changes with different speakers. In a way, Martin’s screenplay is similar. Billy, with his vision of the shoot out, rewrites the ending, adding his own aspects to it. Even Hans gets his say with the recorded tape he makes shortly before he’s shot. Many different characters contribute to the storytelling within the movie, relating to the authors of fairy tales.

    1. Thanks Jeanna! I think that’s a good point and especially interesting since Marty is the only one who seems to really write stories down: Hans and Billy contributed through speaking out narratives and acting out scenes, which goes along with the idea of fairytales originating through the oral tradition.

  2. Megan, I think you make a really good point when addressing how violence is showcased in order to make for a good story, and how often outrageous aspects of the plot occur just because they can. I also thought Jeanna brought up an interesting idea about the collective nature of this film, and how multiple characters shape the story. This also reminded me of a fairy tale due to the fact that the story line ran along kind of the same tracks as a revenge fairy tale, where both Charlie was seeking revenge for the kidnapping of the dog, and then Billy, Hans and Marty were seeking revenge for the killing of Hans’ wife. Both of these revenge tales require the person/people to leave home, and overcome multiple obstacles that required some degree of trickery to the enemy. However, I think in this movie things are complicated because both the protagonist and the antagonist follow a similar story line in this regard, where all characters seem to be wronged and do wrong. Also, with the majority of characters either dead or jailed at the end, it makes it difficult to decide who the hero really was. The film seems to suggest that it might have been Marty, who advocated for peace the whole time, but I think his character seemed too flat to present any real emotional connection to the audience. What do you guys think? Could this be another fairy tale-like aspect, where the hero characters are typically flat?

  3. Megan,

    You accurately capture the tone of annoyance the film directed at women. Personally, I would have much more enjoyed a film about Maggie or Myra. There is something fascinating about a woman tracking down still at-large serial killers and killing them because she herself was a victim. As well as something fascinating about a woman who was just cleared of cancer starring down a psychopath with a gun without any fear. The male characters of this film, with the exception of Hans, were all whinny, spoiled children who had nothing to offer to either the world or the film. Add in misogynistic language about women, their weight, their looks, and their value this film on a wanna-be edgy but falls flat scale. Part of the fairy tale aspect is to elevate women into heroes, just another aspect Seven Psychopaths is lacking.

  4. Megan, I agree with many of your points pertaining to both fairy tales and Seven Psychopaths. I agree that there were SOME underlying romantic tones to Maggie and Zach’s story, however I think that it was very one sided through the person who was narrating the story. Maggie’s attraction to Zach seemed to come from his violent tendencies…when that was gone, she was no longer willing to stay with him. To me, their relationship seemed to be more of a situation of convenience for her rather than the convoluted love story that Zach relays to the audience. That being said, I think that the movie helps reiterate the idea that not all fairy tales have happy endings (such that we are used to with the Disney versions), and instead are much more dark and twisted.

  5. Megan,

    I think that your points regarding fairytales and female characters in “Seven Psychopaths” are very accurate. I definitely felt similarly upon watching the film. Women were hardly present, and if they were they were portrayed as lesser than the men. The entire anti-hero aspect that was portrayed through the film was also very prominent. I personally found myself becoming very frustrated during this film, I thought it was too ridiculous at some points. However, after the film was over and I saw that it was one of Martin McDonagh’s works, it made me actually appreciate the film. I studied McDonagh last semester and fell in love with some of his works. Since he is an absurdist playwright, his works are quite strange, and sometimes do not even make much sense, but this is why (I think) they are fun. When I was able to look at the movie from this absurdist perspective as well as the hero perspective, it all kind of made more sense to me. Absurdists want you to be aware that you are observing a film/play, and they often eliminate any form of realism in the work. This aspect is quite relevant in “Seven Psychopaths” – especially when we saw the flashbacks or movie ideas that were being discussed. I do not think that McDonagh meant anything significant by portraying women as lesser, rather I think it was just a means to make the audience really think about what is going on/see that it is all very unrealistic.

  6. Megan,
    I really liked the connections you made to fairy tales – they didn’t seem forced. I also agree that Billy is definitely more of an anti-hero. Overall, I really liked your analysis, especially the ending where you talked about the role of women in the film. However, I had a different interpretation than you did.
    In my Hum II class we read Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (bear with me, there is a connection). Superficially, it seemed like Mary Shelley was downplaying the role of women because she also killed off women and had them play very minimal roles. However, it became clear that she was making the subtle comment that women couldn’t be a major part of the disastrous story because they had too much reason. The unraveling of the other characters took place because women were not there to stop it from happening. I think that this movie can also be viewed in that way. It’s not that women weren’t important enough; if they had played a bigger part, the absurdity of the movie couldn’t occur.

  7. Thanks for your post. I like your views on how fairytales were portrayed in “Seven Psychopaths”. The connections you drew with violence were easy to agree with from the film we had seen, but also with the classic huntsman example as well. Though violence isn’t something that those would typically correlate with fairytales, the argument was well executed and explained. Along with the others, I do like how you characterize Billy as the anti-hero. He gets a lot of the screen time, but his actions and language shown throughout the movie don’t exemplify one’s of a hero in my opinion either.

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