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‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ review: Life without friends is a beach

By November 9, 2022No Comments4 min read
The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin is the fifth film directed and written by Martin McDonagh, whose previous work Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri earned him an honorary “Oscar villain” mantle for reasons that aren’t interesting or relevant enough to relitigate. Especially because the British-Irish playwright’s latest effort here has an almost inverse quality to what he’s done before. Yes, he’s made another film about how loneliness and depression can be rooted in a (fictional) place, aided by consistently well-placed black humor to break the tension and…actually, maybe The Banshees of Inisherin isn’t too far off from its predecessor after all.

Don’t worry, though, it’s much, much better. The film takes place on a fictional island off the coast of Ireland, sometime in the middle of the Irish Civil War during the early 1920s. While gunfire and explosions can be heard from these remote beaches, the sparse residents of the perpetually foggy Inisherin quietly carry on their humbly dull business tending to their farms and drinking at the local pub.

The inciting incident of the film is perfectly matched to its mundane setting. The town simpleton, Pádraic (played as pleasantly delusional by an upbeat Colin Farrell), simply wants to hang out and have his daily beer with his best friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson). But for reasons Pádraic can’t seem to wrap his head around, Colm has suddenly and rather abruptly decided he wants nothing to do with him.

“Didn’t you and he used to be the best of friends?”

Colm is just fine keeping company with the other residents in town, but when it comes to Pádraic, he wants a complete end to their friendship, if for no other reason than to have the time he says he needs to practice his fiddle and finish a song that will be his only legacy. This divorce of a friendship that only exists offscreen is a fresh emotional pain point for commercial audiences who tend to expect plot-driven romance in their dramas. The Banshees of Inisherin strips all romance and romanticism from its time, place, and characters. It’s pure isolation and the anxiety of platonic loss. Anxieties, by the way, that few films tend to spend so much time addressing.

the banshees of inisherin
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.

McDonagh makes sharp character writing look easy, as usual. The dialogue is deceptively plain and curse, but loaded with emotion and untold backstory. Most of the film is a series of coping and defenses mechanisms on the part of Pádraic as he struggles to accept such a sudden change in his life that he doesn’t have the emotional intelligence or support system to effectively process what’s happening. He only really has his sister, Siobhán (a victorious role for Kerry Condon), and the town delinquent, Dominic (Barry Keoghan, as charmingly un-charming as ever).

But that’s not to say the film is a complete slow burn examination of one man’s growth or lack of it. The story escalates brilliantly when Colm decides to put his own fingers on the line if it means Pádraic will respect his wishes. It’s no coincidence that a more serious war is looming in the background with even steeper losses hanging in the air. McDonagh has an obvious distaste for how impersonal the large-scale conflicts between people of the same communities are a total waste of human life, but it’s not as if the solution to these ills falls on simplistic, effortless terms. War, like the dissolution of a friendship or any kind of relationship, has a tragic inevitability to it, no matter how fiercely we may protest and make small progress when we can.

The bottom line.

If The Banshees of Inisherin has any sort of major downside, it’s the lack of surprise factor in its downbeat thesis. Though the final moments leave some room open to improved interpretation for what’s really going on in Pádraic’s head. Why is it so unbelievably difficult for him to cut ties with the people in his life despite apparently having a stronger connection with this farm animals, anyway? The answer comes down to what the individual viewer wants to believe about how some value life universally, while others only have the debt of future lives to come. The abstract idea that one day, someone somewhere might give meaning and purpose to a life that is dead and gone. There’s no reconciling that outlook between two people, no matter how fictional your setting is.

The Banshees of Inisherin is now playing in theaters. Watch the official trailer here.

Featured image courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Jon Negroni

Jon is one of the co-founders of InBetweenDrafts and our resident film editor. He also hosts the podcasts Cinemaholics, Mad Men Men, and Rookie Pirate Radio. He doesn't sleep, essentially.

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