“They don’t need walls and water to keep the prisoners in, not when they’re trapped inside their own heads, incapable of a single cheerful thought. Most go mad within weeks.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
There are two types of prison. The first type is the one we all know. The legal institution where we put the law breakers. The second however isn’t visible to others. It’s the one inside our minds. A prison that we create for ourselves. We hold the key to it. But why would we even make a prison for ourselves in our minds? Maybe it’s because deep down we all hide some things from others. Sometimes they are small things like a fear we wouldn’t feel safe sharing or maybe a petty crime like stealing something small when we were really young.
You have to understand that the prison in our minds is never built intentionally. It usually starts off as a pandora’s box where we store our secrets. But sometimes with our mental health getting worse it may turn into a prison that we forget we built. It’s a tragedy when we forget the way out of our own minds’ prison.
You might ask, but how can it be like a prison? It is, because you can’t get out of your mind anymore. It is because prison changes you and keeping secrets changes you too. That’s why after a while all those secrets start haunting you, torturing you, weighing on you. Today let’s take a look at Maraşlı and prisons, both the physical and the mental ones while we explore the poetry and music that surrounds the concept of confinement and constraint.
“Tomorrow when we die, if someone asks us: 'What did you see in the world?' We probably wouldn’t be able to reply. We don't have time to see because of running…”
Since the opening scene of episode 1 in the grey room, Maraşlı series have used the claustrophobic effect of confined spaces masterfully. Some characters have been sentenced to stay in prison, including our protagonist. The first character that was mentioned to have been in prison was Ömer. In episode 7 when Celal and Mahur visit Savaş’s mom Zehra in the nursing home, the nurse says there’s a song that calms her down. That song is called Aldırma Gönül (Nevermind My Heart) and the lyrics are actually the lines from a famous poem by Sabahattin Ali who is a Turkish novelist. International dizi watchers recognize him mostly by his book “Madonna In A Fur Coat” which gets mentioned a lot in Turkish series. Sabahattin Ali is the first Turkish novelist to be published in Penguin Classics.
Sabahattin Ali died at a very young age and as talented as he was, he had a lot of unfortunate things happen to him through his life. I find the references of authors, poets, musicians used in episodes by Maraşlı writers very interesting. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles about Maraşlı, it seems it’s not enough that the story itself is structured as a Greek tragedy, for their references they seem to be choosing poets, writers and musicians who have had tragic lives.
Sabahattin Ali was born in 1907 in Bulgaria and died in 1948 in Kırklareli. He was killed while he was trying to cross the border to reach Bulgaria. The first time he was arrested it was due to his socialist political views. He was released in 1933. He was arrested again and released in 1944.
Aldırma Gönül is not the original name of the poem. Sabahattin Ali originally names it Prison Song V. It is the fifth of five poems he wrote during his imprisonment, it’s also the most famous one. It is said that Sabahattin Ali wrote the poem in Sinop Prison in 1933. The poem is written in vernacular. The name Aldırma Gönül is given later when it was made into a song. It was composed in 1976 by Kerem Güney in hicaz makam. If you don’t know what a music makam is, you can check this article I wrote on some of the music used on the show. Even though Kerem Güney releases a 45 RPM vinyl record, the song becomes famous later that year when another musician covers it. That musician is Edip Akbayram. Here’s a translation of the poem/lyrics by yours truly.
Edip Akbayram’s rendition of the song really touches the soul and although both Sabahattin Ali and Edip Akbayram are known for their socialist political views the song speaks to each and every part of the population no matter what their political views are. After all, we all go through things that are difficult to bear and we all count the days for them to be over. The song and the poem are as famous today as they were in the 1970s. Sabahattin Ali, as a skilled writer has used a very direct and sincere tone with the poem. In the poem he also does a fantastic job of describing how it feels to be inside the Sinop Fortress Prison.
This historical prison is situated in Sinop which is a city in the Black Sea region. It was opened in 1887 and was closed down in 1997. Due to its history and interesting architecture (it was built inside the ancient city walls) which was like a fortress it was called the Alcatraz of Turkey (only 3 people have been able to escape from it). It was very close to the sea therefore Sabahattin Ali mentioning that he could hear the waves but couldn’t see them is because of that. The agony of smelling and hearing but not being able to see the sea is haunting. It’s worth mentioning that another famous prisoner that Sinop Prison hosted was Nazım Hikmet Ran.
Apparently for the Maraşlı writers, including just one of the 5 prison poems of Sabahattin Ali wasn’t enough. That’s why in episode 19, we hear another one, this time not as a song but as a poem, from Celal/Mehmet’s voice. After saving Fuad Baba’s life, the man who attacked Fuad is found dead in the toilet. The prison warden interrogates Celal to find out who killed the man, but Celal says that he is not a snitch and he doesn’t answer his questions, so the warden puts him in a cell alone for several days. He recites the poem to himself here. This is Prison Song Number III which was later named Günler Geçmiyor (Days Do Not Pass). Again translated by me, I hope I could do justice to this beautiful poem.
Episode 19 isn’t the first time we see Celal in prison. As you might remember, after Mahur is shot by Sami, Celal shoots him and kills many other people along the way to find him. After this the intelligence team led by Hilal kidnaps Celal and he is kept in a prison cell for a week or so. Even though I was mad at Hilal for doing this at first while watching the episode, seeing Celal having hallucinations with Zeliş and Mahur and crying his heart out, later I understood why this was necessary to calm him down and to bring him back to reality.
Celal and Ömer are not the only characters that have been in prison. Aziz and İlhan also stay in prison briefly when they get arrested in episode 14. So, what does being in prison mean in Maraşlı? I think it’s only about serving a sentence mostly as a punishment, but not for the real things you’ve done. As it says in Sabahattin Ali’s poem. Prison is about isolation and about being deprived of the things you miss and need, like your loved ones, or the sight of the waves.
Ömer is angry with Aziz when he gets out of prison after 15 years, because he had to stay in jail for a crime he didn’t commit while the man who set him up stole the woman he loved and started a family. Celal/Mehmet stays in prison for a whole year for a crime he didn’t commit. As an intelligence agent he couldn’t deny his given identity or give away his mission. If it wasn’t for Dilara, the lawyer who is Fuad Baba’s daughter, Celal would have stayed in prison for many years.
Being physically in jail represents having been outcast, sent away and also being wronged. Ömer, Aziz, İlhan and Celal all went to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. We don’t always suffer for our sins, sometimes we suffer for other people’s sins. Life is not always fair, neither is the justice system.
Real Scars Don’t Bleed
Maraşlı’s biggest revelation is probably Celal being Mehmet İnce. I remember how shocked I was when they showed us how meticulously Mehmet planned everything and worked hard to create a believable fake identity for his mission. It’s a remarkable thing how one can fake being someone else. This is a thing only secret agents and actors experience. It’s a make believe world but it’s actually more creepy than fun.
The most significant foreshadowing of Mehmet İnce being alive is given on the 14th episode when Necati tells Mahur that his favorite movie is “The Third Man”. Of course he tells her this because she says Aziz wants to move the whole family to Switzerland. The Third Man is a British film noir made in 1949 and it once was voted as the best British film of all time. It’s about a man who comes to post war Vienna to accept a job offer from his friend only to find out that his friend has been killed in an accident.
As the film progresses he finds out that this friend (who is played by Orson Welles by the way) is faking his death and he happens to be the third man who was seen to be carrying his supposedly dead body. This is because a porter tells the protagonist that his friend was run over by a car and 3 men were carrying his body. But the dead man’s 2 friends insist they were the 2 people carrying it. This is because the dead man was actually an employee of our villain who faked his death and he was the third man carrying the body!
Necati tells Mahur this is his favorite movie and he even recites the most famous scene.
“You know what the fellow said — in Italy, for 30 years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love; they had five hundred years of democracy and peace — and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
With this great foreshadowing Maraşlı writers point us in the right direction. Just because a man is said to be dead or killed, doesn’t mean he’s really dead. Then in episode 19 we find out how Mehmet became Celal. I know that for some, finding out that everything we loved about Celal were actually lies designed to impress Mahur was quite hard. At least it was for me.
If you are wondering why the quote above was included, I feel like the writers are telling us in order to write a great drama, they are going to cause us a lot of tears and they will kill a lot of people. And that’s what they’ve been doing and I must say, I’m enjoying it a lot. I admit that I’m saddened but I can see where each sad event fits the story.
After he gets out of prison and starts contemplating more about being both Mehmet and Celal, we finally start understanding Mehmet better. After having watched episode 23, it’s almost as if Mehmet wants to just be Celal and stop being Mehmet altogether. As the psychologist that Hilal consulted said, when we have a painful trauma in our past, we become more willing to abandon our previous identity.
Mehmet’s identity crisis made me think of method acting because after all, method acting is a tool used to build a character just like Mehmet has to do with Celal. Method acting is based on getting inside the psyche of the character and to be able to do it actors search within for personal experiences. The problem with method acting is that the role the actor takes on can start to bleed into his normal life. Because method acting requires to become the character rather than to play the character.
Although method acting is considered safe when training with great theater practitioners, someone like Mehmet could have easily gone too far with it. Added on the pressure of acting like someone else in stressful situations, since episode 19 we start to find out that Mehmet has many tragedies in his past. He runs away from home at an early age because of his violent father who beats him, his brother and mother. We recently have found out that Hurdacı is his father, although we all suspected it from the beginning because of Hurdacı’s real name. By the way, can I just say Hakan Boyaz is doing a wonderful job with this role. He is a joy to watch on TV and I adore his scenes with Savaş.
Celal has mentioned several times to Mahur that real scars don’t bleed but they are more lethal. I always wondered what he could be thinking of and imagined him losing his friends during combat and so on. But finally with the revelation about him being Mehmet we see how dark his past has been. After watching episode 23 the stag has a new meaning because it was his little brother İsmail’s favorite animal. Mehmet believes to have caused his little brother’s death by running away with him.
I was most struck by one thing little İsmail said about the stag when Mehmet told him, “a stag wouldn’t let you pet it, you couldn’t even get close”. He said that if you love him, he loves you back. What a wise and lovely thing to say. I think this is also a beautiful depiction of the MahCel love. Falling in love wasn’t in Mehmet’s plans but when Mahur fell in love with him, he couldn’t help but fall in love with her.
A Prison You Can’t Escape
It’s fair to say many characters are trapped at the moment. Necati is trapped in his own mind, trying to reach a layer he has fallen off of. That’s why he constantly says, “Hello, there’s no reception.” It’s as if he’s trying to talk to someone who is in a zone that has poor reception. Who is he trying to speak to?
Savaş is trapped in his hatred and anger, finding it hard to let go of the rage he has bottled up through the years and life keeps giving him reasons to hold onto his anger, like Necati betraying him and now also Hurdacı.
Celal is trapped in his own lie, until he comes clean to Mahur about his real identity, he won’t be able to live with himself peacefully. The problem is that he’s very fond of the character he created and Mahur loves that character so Mehmet is scared of losing Mahur and also the fact that when he is Mehmet, he has to live with Mehmet’s past and mistakes.
Mahur is trapped in her love for Celal. She ignores the bad signs. She senses that something is wrong with Celal but she doesn’t want push him. Mahur has lost her mother, then her father and brother and naturally she doesn’t want to lose people she loves anymore.
Hurdacı is trapped in his own greed. As he tells everyone what we see is just the tip of the iceberg considering what he owns. He is rich but leads the life of a poor man. When he eats, he always assumes the other person’s eyes are on his plate. I wonder has Hurdacı ever been to prison? Where does he know Ömer from? Because he mentions Ömer to Savaş as if he was a friend.
As you can see, each character is trapped, therefore in a kind of prison of their own making. Somehow, they are all waiting for something to happen, something that will break the spell and that will force them out of that prison.
The games we play, sometimes end up playing us. The best part of Maraşlı is trying to figure out where the characters and the games they play will take us. Let’s finish on a small literature reference. Mahur’s present to Necati when she visits him at the asylum in episode 19 is a book. It’s called “Oyunlarla Yaşayanlar”(Those Who Live By Games) which is a theater play written by novelist Oğuz Atay. He is not just one of my favorite writers of all time, he is also Ethem Özışık’s (one of the screen writers of Maraşlı) favorite writer. The play is about the depression felt by the Turkish intellectual in modern times.
“Where does the game start, where does life end?”
Dear reader, thank you for reading so far. I hope you enjoyed this. What are your thoughts about Mehmet/Celal’s identity crisis? Will MahCel survive the attack in the mountain house? I hate not knowing if the show is really ending at 26 episodes. Please let me know what you think about this piece. Your comments are very important to me. Also please share this to support my writing if you enjoy it of course. You can find me on Twitter, I’m @edsavaseri there. Hope you have a great day wherever you are in the world right now. Sending you good vibes from a hot day in Dalaman/Muğla.