Set upon a fictional island off the coast of Ireland, The Banshees of Inisherin tells the story of Padraic (Colin Farrell), a man who spends his days caring for the sheep and chatting with his pal Colm (Brendan Gleeson) at the local pub. But today is different. Colm won’t answer his calls for their daily pint and Padraic is confused. When he confronts his friend, the only answer that Colm offers back is that he ‘doesn’t like him anymore’. Even so, Padraic refuses to accept Colm’s rash decision and decides to do whatever he can to make up for… well… whatever it is that’s he done to offend his friend. But as Padraic continues to push, the gap between himself and Colm continues to widen, further shattering what was once a great relationship.
Directed by Martin McDonagh, Banshees is a surprisingly funny and heartfelt film to add to his catalog. Unlike his most recent Oscar-winning work, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Banshees is far lighter in tone than its predecessor, allowing the quaint surroundings and quirky conversations to lead the way.
At least, at first.
Best known for unleashing man’s inner darkness, McDonagh lets his film operate on a slow burn. Beginning with one man’s spontaneous decision to end his friendship with his best pal, the film opens with such buoyancy that the viewer cannot help but be drawn into the madness of McDonagh’s world. But darkness looms on the horizon. By highlighting the humour of the film, McDonagh somehow makes the inevitable release of rage even more shocking and disturbing.
It’s been many years since Farrell has appeared to be having as much fun as he is here, bringing a buoyancy to the film. With a smile on his face, Farrell simply cannot understand why his friend refuses his time anymore and he is willing to do whatever it takes to repair the damage. However, as the film progresses, one can see the darkness that gradually grows within Farrell’s heart as his becomes increasingly frustrated with his friend. At the same time, Gleeson plays Colm with such a heaviness that one cannot help but wonder what the true reason is behind his refusal of friendship. Having worked together in In Bruges, both Gleason and Farrell have always done well in roles that required them to reveal the shadows within the human spirit, and that serves them well here. Whether they’re arguing about friendship or pretending to play nice with one another, their chemistry on screen is palpable and amazing to behold.
Although there are no particular ghosts within the film, the titular ‘banshee’ appears in the form of Ms. McCormack, an older woman who bears prophetic threats. Clothed in black and standing ominously on the path, McCormick appears at random with words of warning, even as Padraic remains optimistic about his situation. As such, there’s a certain sense of inevitability of death and destruction that hovers over the film like a black cloud ready to unleash its storm.
Interestingly, McDonagh juxtaposes the simple story of two men in a dispute with a mysterious Civil War that lies across the sea. Although we occasionally hear guns flaring, we are never allowed to know what that battle is truly about. At the same time, the ‘row’ between Gleason and Farrell falls in step with the unknown battle that continues to rage, creating an interesting tension between the two situations. While McDonagh offers no clear answers to their connection, Banshees appears to highlight the pointless realities of war. Beginning over the silliest of misunderstandings or arguments, the tensions between Padraic and Colm are of such a ridiculous nature that one wonders why there’s a conflict at all. However, the tensions continue to escalate and the reason for the dispute becomes irrelevant. As the beginning of this battle falls further and further into the distance, the quest for peace disappears further on the horizon. All of a sudden, what once might’ve been repaired is now irreparable, and what began as a simple ‘row’ evolves into full-blown war.
In this way, McDonagh unleashes the true terror of his Banshees. Although the reasons appear insignificant, the ghosts of the past refuse to allow the present to heal. With humour and a heart of darkness, McDonagh highlights the pain that is caused when people hold on to their hurt and how quickly the damage can escalate.
The Banshees of Inisherin premiered at TIFF ’22. For more information, click here.