The 2022 film from English playwright and screenwriter Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin, is in competition at the 79th Venice International Film Festival. McDonagh is known for Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, and his debut feature film, In Bruges, which showcased the duo of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as its protagonists. The Banshees of Inisherin brings them back for another somber, yet darkly-humorous story of human souls in conflict with each other and with themselves.
More than any other of McDonagh’s movies, the plot of The Banshees of Inisherin arises from a superficial event, but then demonstrates how that is enough to turn a person’s balance inside out.
Friends or not
of 1922-’23, on a small, rocky island off the coast of Galway, the movie opens with Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) going to Colm Doherty’s (Brendan Gleeson) house. Up to that day, at two o’clock Pádraic would knock on his friend’s door and the two would go to have a drink at the pub, one of the only things there was to do on the island. This time, though, Colm doesn’t answer the door, although Pádraic can well see his shape through the window.
Soon Colm explains the reason he’s ignoring his friend: “I just don’t like you no more”, he says, and that’s that. Fiddler and composer, Colm wants to dedicate his time to music, to create something he will be remembered for, while he argues that nobody is remembered for their niceness. But to Pádraic the matter is unsustainable, and he gets to the point of involving his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), the young Dominic (Barry Keoghan) and more inhabitants of the island into their conflict.
A kind, genuine man who lives with his sister and his donkey, Pádraic can’t resist not talking to Colm, who threatens to cut off his own fingers, one by one, each time the former friend speaks to him. And he does. In front of these gruesome consequences, and with the Civil War roaring in the background as a metaphor of the senselessness of human conflicts, the situation escalates while every character in play finds out something about themselves.
Light and deep
What’s most surprising about The Banshees of Inisherin is the light tone and the smart, sharp irony of every dialogue. But under the brilliant comedy there’s much more. The reasons that push Colm to make extreme decisions, such as cutting off his own fingers, are symptoms of a state of depression. The question remains whether this comes from the feeling of not having accomplished anything to be remembered for, or from the repetitive, apparently meaningless life on the fictional island of Inisherin. What it is known is that Pádraic too suffers from some kind of depression himself, but he openly admits it.
The stakes are therefore higher than it seems: the people of Inisherin only watch the fumes of war from across a string of sea, but they fight their own demons. For someone like Pádraic, who only has his one friend, his drinks, his animals and his sister to live for, losing Colm over something inexplicable is nothing short of a tragedy. Through the lives of simple people, McDonagh makes us think about the meaning of life, about what really matters and how to bear with someone else’s decision. He also displays toxic male relationships, pride and stubbornness, opposed to Siobhan’s lucid reason.
The power of performance
Psychological and profound, The Banshees of Inisherin can make the most drama and meaning from the smallest things. This makes the movie light and accessible, and the black-comedy style allows the actors, Colin Farrell most of all, to deliver incredible performances. Farrell’s effort alone brings life to the emotions behind the script and adds a layer of compassion and tenderness to the fun, satisfying irony of the dialogues. The acting of all the actors is remarkable, especially Barry Keoghan, once more in an exuberant role that allows him to express himself with body, gestures, and voice.
As an intimate study on men’s inner feelings and thoughts, The Banshees of Inisherin can teach something to everyone. By the end, the audience wants to see Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson work together for Martin McDonagh once again.