REVIEW: The Banshees of Inisherin [2022]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 109 minutes
    Release Date: October 21st, 2022 (UK)
    Studio: Searchlight Pictures
    Director(s): Martin McDonagh
    Writer(s): Martin McDonagh

To are graves.

Just like every other day at two o’clock for the past how many years, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) strolls across Inisherin, a small island off Ireland’s western shore, to collect his best friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) for a pint at Jonjo Devine’s (Pat Shortt) bar. Unlike those days (up to and including yesterday), however, his knock at the window goes unanswered. Colm is neither in distress nor absent. He’s merely sitting inside his house smoking. Pádraic is at a loss. Why won’t he acknowledge his presence? Have they been arguing? Did he say something unforgiveable while drunk that he doesn’t remember? What could have strained their relationship this far overnight? Despite his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) saying it in jest, maybe Colm simply doesn’t like him anymore.

You can therefore think of Martin McDonagh‘s The Banshees of Inisherin as a rom-com—a “he’s just not that into you” scenario wherein Colm believes that breaking their friendship off completely is the only way to maintain his resolve. Because it’s not that he doesn’t still care about Pádraic or humanity at-large. Even during these tensely humorous circumstances, Colm helps his old chum up from the ground after a beat-down rather than walk over him. The issue is less about feelings than it is time. Colm is older than Pádraic and his sense of mortality has suddenly hit him like a ton of bricks. Does he continue “wasting” his days talking shite with his good-natured dullard of a pal or spend it building a legacy through his music?

It’s the age-old question of whether our lives become meaningful by the things we create or the people we love. Is being remembered by those who were closest to us enough? Is that sense of longevity equal to an artist whose work remains relevant even when they are gone? McDonagh presents the conflict through this unlikely duo in a remote town with little to do but drink and gossip. Pádraic believes his time is best spent doing both with Colm. Colm believes his is with his fiddle and pen composing. Neither is right. Neither is wrong. And yet we can’t help but side with one over the other anyway. It doesn’t matter that the conflict is silly or a blatantly broad parable. We choose our fighter.

Parallels continue via levels both big and small. There are the genre markers like Pádraic, the jilted lover, getting good advice from his sister and bad advice from the town idiot Dominic (Barry Keoghan)—although the more time spent with these characters may reveal Pádraic was the bigger idiot all along. There are over-arching metaphors like the continuing war between the IRA and Free Staters occurring on the mainland with explosions heard and seen on the horizon line. The latter is especially crucial since we’re talking about a civil war between people who had recently been on the same side. Everything was fine when the Irish banded together against the British like Pádraic and Colm did against boredom. Now their priorities have split with neither willing to bend.

I don’t just mean philosophically either. These are men that are so stubborn and so juvenile that they will inflict bodily harm on themselves and others to prove their half-baked points dripping in pride. Pádraic is the outlier in this respect. His geniality keeps him looking the other way to maintain a light and fun atmosphere. His only sense of pride is knowing that people like him, so Colm’s unyielding coldness out-of-the-blue can’t help but hurt. It also opens his eyes to the fact that maybe things were never as hunky dory as his desire for them to be so pretended. The abuse (Dominic falling victim to his police officer father’s violence, as played by Gary Lydon, is the most glaring) becomes clearer. The selfishness and judgement too.

We’re gradually exposed to the belly of the beast along with Pádraic, reveling in the darkness as he falls prey to its allure. And why shouldn’t he? If being a “nice guy” suddenly isn’t enough to maintain a friendship, maybe he should join the vitriolic merry-go-round. It’s what happens when we become so entrenched in a way of life that the tiniest bit of change becomes a personal affront rather than a sign to cut bait and run. Even Siobhan suffers from this brainwashed notion of not wanting to abandon the only life she’s ever known despite how doing so would improve her lot. Where it once seemed Inisherin was immune to the horrors across the water, that animosity has finally arrived. Its corruptibility is swift and complete.

Some will escape. Some will fall. And rather than scream and wail as a warning of the horrible fate about to befall those on the island, its banshee (by way of Sheila Flitton‘s aging Mrs. McCormick) simply watches with a smile, amused by the destruction. Us too. These people don’t seem to be heeding their own warnings (letting Officer Kearney’s violence run unchecked, watching Colm make good on a threat so absurd in its counter-productivity towards his desires that it can’t help but prove its severity without question, etc.) anyway. She witnesses as their masks fall to the ground to reveal their rage and fear. We watch as the result welcomes blood and brimstone, destroying what little innocence and kindness had remained. Actions have consequences. Consequences do too.

And what is it all for? Is whatever song Colm composes with his newfound free time away from Pádraic’s chattering actually going to mean anything to anyone outside of those on the island? Is watching the world around him crumble as a result of his desperation to find out worth it? He’d never admit it wasn’t. Is Pádraic becoming cold and vengeful going to make his friend like him again or set things right? Or will it only make the cracks wider than they already are? Both Gleeson and Farrell play their roles to perfection despite them being drawn as two-dimensional pawns in McDonagh’s game. They’re two sides of the same broken coin, doubling down when the opportunity for growth presents itself because they’re too entitled to listen.

[1] Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.
[2] Colin Farrell and Barry Keoghan in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.
[3] Kerry Condon in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

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