Film: The Banshees of Inisherin
Matt highly recommends this absurdist, albeit humorous, look at happiness, self-actualization, and one’s legacy.
The Banshees of Inisherin in a nutshell:
Set a century ago on a fictional island in Ireland, it’s a droll tale of lifelong mates who abruptly end their friendship. The film is an absurdist albeit humorous look at happiness, self-actualization, and one’s legacy.
Time is money, why should I go?
Director Martin McDonagh gets the band back together from his cult classic dark comedy In Bruges (2008). Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson’s chemistry, set this time against the coastal Irish countryside, retains its dynamism. Scenes with the townsfolk of this small island provide some of the funniest moments on screen this year. One can only imagine the sweater budget of this period piece. Watching this with a crowd at the Independent Picture House was a night well spent.
Spill the tea: “Are you boys having a bit of a row?”
Someone asks this of Pádraic (Colin Farrell), about his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson). Pádraic demures – the thought of being in a serious argument with his best friend can’t be more than a drunken notion at the local public house, right? However, Colm informs him that not only does he want to end their friendship, he also never wants to talk to him again. When Colm talks to Pádraic’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Congdon), we learn that in his proximity to death, Colm’s grown tired of his mundane chats with Pádraic. Pádraic is a kind hearted fellow, but Colm can’t relate to him anymore.
Look no further than their choice of animal companions to see the contrast: Colm has a Border Collie while Pádraic keeps a miniature donkey named Jenny. One is a fiddler who composes tunes while the other tends cattle with no ambitions to explore life beyond their tiny island. Theirs is more a friendship of convenience over true substance. Set in March of 1923 during the Irish Civil War, the film portrays Inisherin as a town frozen in time. Horse drawn carts and thatched-roof cottages underscore the melancholy setting. What seems a pleasant place to reside begins to feel like a prison.
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“I just don’t like you no more”
Colm’s words begin to haunt Pádraic. We all know friendships ebb and flow, but what about a friendship culling? Could you cut dead weight out of your life just because your compatriot doesn’t bring much to the table? Personally, I started making a mental pro/con list of my friends in my subconscious. Are others holding me back from my true potential? Do cyclical conversations about nothing stop me from writing the next great American novel? Is my life a never-ending Seinfeld episode? What is this feckin’ movie doing to me?
For Colm, the answer is addition by subtraction. He has too many things to accomplish, and he is running out of time. Being nice isn't enough to warrant his patience or company. So he serves Pádraic ultimatums about their future. Colm doesn’t need niceties anymore, he needs to build a musical legacy that will survive him, and the only way it can be done is without Pádraic in the picture. Harsh? Certainly. Insensitive? Definitely!
“Some things there’s no moving on from, and I think that’s a good thing”
I feel Colm has a leg to stand on.
Interactions with the townsfolk start to infect poor Pádraic’s psyche as he wrestles with the split. He’s a nice guy, ask anyone! Siobhan tries to comfort Pádraic, as does the local policeman’s dolt of a son Dominic (Barry Keoghan), to no avail. Pádraic’s feelings eat at him while Colm has a weight lifted off his shoulders. He experiences a musical rebirth, creating new tunes at the local pub without the burden of mindless drunken chats. The conflict finally boils over in a way that will have you reevaluating your peers, reaching for a glass of Jameson, or both in my case.
Star of the show: This film hits on many different emotional levels, and the acting is as entertaining as it is serious. With the utmost respect to Farrell and Gleeson, whose dark comedy chemistry is fast making them our generation’s Lemon and Matthau, writer/director McDonagh stole the show. His scripts feature cutting dialogue and a withering wit that elevates his capable actors. His previous film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), garnered Academy Awards for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell because of his particular power to write uncomfortable confrontations.
This style has also left him open to backlash from critics. Several articles were published addressing his seemingly sympathetic view of racist characters in the rural Missouri community. It seems leaving America’s socio-political landscape behind for the familiar rolling hills of Ireland is more of a natural fit with The Banshees of Inisherin. The tone of this film could have tended toward the eccentric like Adaption (1999) or sinister like The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017, also starring Farrell and Keoghan), but that shift in tone wouldn’t have fit. By the end of the film, McDonagh raises questions that reach beyond the actors into the audience.
Don’t Sleep On: Kerry Condon has been working with McDonagh since 2001 at the Royal Shakespeare Company. You may also know her as Octavia from HBO’s series “Rome”. In Banshees, she plays Pádraic’s booksmart sister who isn’t afraid to speak her mind or put someone in their place. As someone stuck on the island, she serves as an avatar for the audience. While she provides an emotional rock for Pádraic, Colm knows she is destined for more. The thought of going to work at a library on the mainland in the middle of an ongoing civil war is a dream compared to another year frozen in the past on Inisherin. She deserves a Best Supporting Actress nomination for this performance.
Best ten minute stretch: Pádraic is overcome by sadness after several pints, and chats with Dominic. He drunkenly confronts Colm in a packed house at the pub to call out his betrayal. Colm absorbs the onslaught without a word. After Pádraic is taken home, Colm announces, “That’s the most interesting he’s ever been. I think I like him again”.
Stay away if: Cable knit or wool sweaters make you itch inside. You would rather not re-evaluate what your friends actually bring to your life. Thinking about legacy and what you’ve accomplished in life makes you cringe.
Could have used a little more… time spent chatting with other townsfolk who’s humor brought a wonderful lightness to the film.
MatM Score: Highly Recommended - 9.5/10 (dark horse candidate for Best Picture!)