The Banshees of Inisherin is a hilarious, morbid, and beautifully shot film with astounding performers bringing mortality’s uncertainties front and center. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and given some context, it’s hard even to use the word beautiful to describe the film. Still, Martin McDonagh’s direction and screenplay bring an award-worthy film to the yearly running.
The film stars Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, and more in a testament to the end of friendships. In a span of one night, Colm Doherty (Gleeson) decides he no longer likes his best friend, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Farrell), and in an attempt to make matters right, things only escalate for the worse. In the end, however, just as the Irish Civil War is about to come to an end, it seems that despite all the threats, the best friends’ quarrel might potentially conclude too. (“Might” is a tremendous keyword here.)
Though an ambiguous, more heartbreaking ending, The Banshees of Inisherin bargains with legacies—who do we choose to be, and how will we be remembered long after we’re gone? At what point does that become the detail to focus on after days of getting by through idle conversations, or as Pádraic believes, good normal chatting. What’s considered bluffing, and how does one man’s choice affect another’s? While the film targets these questions, it simultaneously and subtly examines the ramifications of war.
The film never explicitly shows Colm cutting off his fingers or the exact moment when Pádraic’s donkey Jenny dies. We don’t see the war taking place closely; instead, we get the tail end of the explosions on the other side of the island. A considerable portion of the film’s most critical moments occur behind the scenes while two former best friends go at it with each other in front of us. The loudest arguments are nothing when we consider the acts that occur in stillness. There’s even an effective character death that we get after it’s already happened. This decision thus serves as an analogy for the things that take place outside of our viewpoint, highlighting every person’s individual experiences away from the people they’re closest to. Our choices are always our own. No one makes anyone do anything despite the emotions that arise as a result of another’s actions. Colm’s actions belong to him, and Pádraic’s decisions are entirely his.
Finally, even the film’s most fiery, rage-filled explosion transpires through silent beats, leading to a quiet conversation on the beach with the key players. The Banshees of Inisherin relies on the actors to sell the emotions—the loneliness and the fears coupled with a genuine adoration the men have for one another despite the rising disputes. It’s not a story about broken friendships but an exploration of mental health and the desolation that consumes the best of people while setting them adrift from the things they once enjoyed.
Mortality is a scary, haunting threat, and the thought of no one remembering someone can be a monster that’s far from easy to fight. Therefore, yes, Colm is right to explore his options while he questions his legacy, but Pádraic is also right in appreciating the ordinary even if everyone around him wishes to move forward and outside of Inisherin. Does this genuinely make one of them duller than the other?
The film also features a compelling exploration of what makes a person good or bad—how the world can challenge “the good” and where “the bad” push too far while human complexities and the morally grey areas come centerfold. Farrell and Gleeson are riveting throughout the film as their characters clash through reckless fires and moments of authentic vulnerability. The rest of the cast also does a brilliant job by bringing something equally dark and hilarious to our screens concurrently. The script is carried eloquently by the performances as they set their sights on one day at a time, grounding themselves in the silent beats and pushing beyond their desires.
The Banshees of Inisherin is now playing in select theaters.