Despite Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges” dwelling on the nerve-wracking uncertainty of purgatory, the film is nothing short of heavenly.
The writer-director is now known as an elite filmmaker in which everything he works on is spun into gold. His most recent feature film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” landed two Oscars and was a 2017 fan favorite. Prior to that, 2012’s “Seven Psychopaths” is renowned for its masterful screenwriting, showcasing the true strength of McDonagh’s 360-degree talent.
Yet it’s his debut feature, 2008’s “In Bruges,” that arguably stands apart from the rest as his finest achievement. In his glowing 4-star review, Roger Ebert writes, “This film debut by the theater writer and director Martin McDonagh is an endlessly surprising, very dark, human comedy, with a plot that cannot be foreseen but only relished.”
When Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) visit Groeningemuseum they are shown viewing a handful of paintings, among them “The Last Judgment” by Hieronymus Bosch (1482). Fittingly, Bosch-like symbolism recurs throughout the movie–the dwarf and the masked figures at the end of the film being among them–suggesting that Ray and Ken are indeed awaiting their own Last Judgment from Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Their waiting period in Bruges is their purgatory.
The connection between “In Bruges” and “The Last Judgement” is even more symbolic given that “The Last Judgement” is a triptych, meaning it is painted using three panels. The left panel represents the Garden of Eden. Ken finds the city of Bruges so blissful he considers it heaven on earth. The right panel represents hell. Ray hates Bruges and considers the city hell on earth. What neither are aware of until late in the film is that Bruges is neither heaven nor hell for them. Instead, it’s the middle panel, purgatory, in which the final judgement is ultimately imposed.