Writer/director Martin McDonagh‘s The Banshees Of Inisherin (2022) captures the fragile state of being a human in one grand swoop of wit and weltschmerz — the film’s contours elegantly morose, its humour dark and bitter-sweet, its inhabitants erratic and gloriously eloquent, its landscape a mystery onto itself.
This potent blend of laughter and misery takes place on a fictional west coast Ireland isle (while shot in Inishmore and Achill Island), in the year 1923, at the end of the Irish Civil War. The backdrop of a domestic conflict blown into macro proportions, although a distant thunder, informs the story by sporadic reference more profoundly than it outwardly seems. At the centre of the tale is a decent, soulful fellow, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell), living with his radically brainier bookish sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), who’s friendship is suddenly and permanently rejected by his moody fiddler buddy Colm (Brendan Gleeson), the latter blatantly stating that he views Pádraic as irredeemably dull. There is just so much time left on Earth, Colm decides, so he takes this action of un-friending to the extreme, ready to maim himself if he is not respected in this decision, and determined to dedicate the rest of his days composing folk tunes.
He starts working on the tune of the film’s title.
What could have been a minor incident following a passing whimsy and a bout of melancholy, turns into a bloody battle of wills, and begins to upset the entire community, magnifying its perpetual inner turmoil. Which, at its finest, produces one of the most moving characters I’ve seen on film, the young village fool, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), a Joycean joy of a character if there ever was one.
At the pace of a ticking clock (attached to a bomb), the complexities of the situation begin to bubble onto the surface. Perhaps Colm is not as sick of Pádraic as he is severely depressed by what he perceives as a wasted life? Maybe, in maiming himself, he finds a roundabout way to annihilate his dashed ambitions? Perhaps Pádraic is an immensely needy fellow, a bit too emotionally attached to anyone he is fond of? Unable to think of himself as separate to another being? This includes the true star of the show, his charming tiny donkey Jenny.
Maybe Siobhán, so clever and eager to leave the isle, but staying put for far too long, is terrified of change, preferring books to life? Using her responsibility to the vulnerable Pádraic as an excuse.
And lastly, underneath his crass, silly behaviour — is the abused young Dominic actually a very humane and astute observer of life? Suffering deeply under the rage of his domineering policeman father, and harbouring an unrequited love?
In juxtaposing a friendship with ambition and talent, the tale asks of us to ponder quite deeply on what is more important in life — to be kind, or to be eternal?
Banshees, in Celtic folklore, are faery women which foretell death. They are in service of predictive mourning, if you will. Creatures of the sorrow of the world. And the stand-in non-faery banshee that is the delightfully macabre Mrs. McCormack (Sheila Flitton) is right on the money in carrying this mythical creature into the realms of the mundane.
The true magic spell is in the music, though.
If I would have magical powers, on the other hand, I’d wish the trio of Martin, Colin & Brendan (who also gave us In Bruge, 2008) be given endless funding, to collaborate periodically, and produce storytelling such as this as collective therapy.
As close to perfect as film can be, and a folk tales can get.
Author: ©Milana Vujkov
2 responses to “The Banshees Of Inisherin”
The most cogent review I’ve read yet about this movie; many thanks. Will need to bump it up my “to see” list.