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The Banshees of Inisherin: Martin McDonagh’s Successor to In Bruges is Also his Most Accomplished

Colin Farrell in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession.  Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

The Banshees of Inisherin preview screening provided by Disney

“…at its core, The Banshees of Inisherin is about the fleeting nature of life; the realisation that nothing lasts forever even if we want it to”

No matter how close we are, we’re not all destined to walk the same path in life, at least that’s part of the message in Martin McDonagh’s latest, pull-at-your-heartstrings, witty The Banshees of Inisherin (2022). In what is quite clearly a spiritual successor to McDonagh’s equally witty and heartfelt debut feature In Bruges (2008), The Banshees of Inisherin paints a perplexing picture of the human condition against the beautiful backdrop of a fictional Irish town during the Irish civil war. In the process, he observes the lengths to which we’ll go in order to find some peace in the world, be it through raining bombs and gunfire in the distance, or the blunt exchanges and isolation that is at the core of this film.

For the beach-front violinist, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), the answer rests in suddenly cutting ties with his best friend and frequent pub buddy Padraic (Colin Farrell), even if the cutting is as literal as it is figurative. “I just don’t like you no more” exclaims Colm; they’re words that fly right over the head of Padraic who views the matter as a joke, but Colm’s dead serious. He wants to leave behind a legacy akin to that of Mozart and co, and not engage in meaningless chatter with the time he has left: “are you dying?” asks Padraic, as he struggles to grasp his ex-friend’s motive.

For those unfamiliar with McDonagh’s tongue-in-cheek humour and the poignancy with which his humour is often met, a premise like that of Banshees can come across as flabbergasting. Should you laugh? Should you cry? Should you be a little creeped out? Even for more seasoned McDonagh fans, Banshees is perhaps his most striking work for the very fact that even with the knowledge of Colm’s motives, there is still a level of obscurity that is difficult to contend with. It makes for a subtlety that courses through the film courtesy of Gleeson’s performance, which gives what might otherwise be a story reaching for the stars, some wheels to move and drive the plot forward.

McDonagh is brilliant in this way, as he eschews more conventional narrative tendencies of character accessibility and opts to double down on his intentions to subvert them. He mainly does this through Colm’s threat to chop off a finger every time Padraic continues to engage him, which he does, and from an audience perspective it leaves more questions that answers, but in such a way that should seem obvious. Colm wants to be left alone, it’s that simple, but McDonagh’s ability to build intrigue and suspense, speaks to that enticing, almost fantasy like approach where he gradually draws you in —like a siren, or a banshee in this case— as you look for answers, until you’ve been deceived and there’s no way out.

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

The result is, as mentioned, often much more melancholic than anticipated, where you’re either left emotionally stranded or wrecked. It’s in part why Colin Farrell is the perfect scapegoat through which these strange commentaries on the human condition can be inspected. Farrell’s natural likeability, quick wit and ability to portray despair with such an ease (e.g. through that innocence in his gestures and facial expressions that have defined his best performances), speaks to McDonagh’s whole oeuvre up until, and including, Banshees. In Banshees, Farrell’s at his most heart-breaking, and subsequently, his best.

Everyone around him is great too like Kerry Condon who plays the sister of his character, Barry Keoghan as a troubled youngster trying to figure his own life out, and especially Gleeson who matches Farrell’s tenderness with a brooding intensity that is just as impactful. Composer Carter Burwell’s tantalising score, which feels like a melodic continuation of his In Bruges one, speaks to the fracturing of friendship and the longing for something that’s no longer there.

There’s also a case to be made for the numerous biblical references in the film, ranging from the obvious church attendance scenes to the imagery of cross-shaped windows that we often see Padraic through — as though he’s being mentally crucified by Colm (with the town’s shoddy police officer even feeling the need to express his delight at attending an execution soon). All of this fuels the intensity and rift that is growing between Padraic and Colm, until something eventually gives.

But at its core, The Banshees of Inisherin is about the fleeting nature of life; the realisation that nothing lasts forever even if we want it to. Something has to give way, and McDonagh captures this sacrificial aspect through some graphic scenes that at once allude to the distant war being fought on account of a purpose beyond the understanding of the folk of Inisherin, and the local war between former friends. With all of this in mind, the film ends in standard McDonagh fashion: with an open-ended shot with no concrete answer, but enough to keep you guessing long after the credits have rolled by.

The Banshees of Inisherin opens nationally from Boxing Day, 2022.

Contributors

Arnel Duracak

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