The Banshees of Inisherin: Snapshot
Set during the Irish Civil War in 1923, in a very small village on an isolated island (Inisherin) off the coast of Ireland, Padraic (Colin Farrell) finds his lifelong friendship is torn when his older best friend, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) suddenly, and without apparent reason, finds him “dull” and no longer wants to be with him. The change alters both men, and the entire village, both emotionally and physically. This tightly edited, beautifully filmed, and wonderfully scored movie is a masterclass in movie-making. Martin McDonagh’s carefully written and directed script is executed by an Irish-born cast with seemingly perfect chemistry. A must-see film for any adult interested in how and why relationships, of any kind, change and, sometimes, end.
Where to Watch:
Right now, in some theaters.
Stream: HBO Max
Rent: Multiple places and wherever you get your discs.
The Banshees of Inisherin: The Oscar Buzz
Director (Martin McDonagh)
Original Screenplay (Martin McDonagh)
Leading Actor (Colin Farrell)
Supporting Actor (Brendan Gleeson)
Supporting Actor (Barry Keoghan)
Supporting Actress (Kerry Condon)
Film Editing (Mikkel E.G. Nielsen)
Original Score (Carter Burwell)
This movie has the second highest Oscar Quality Index (behind only Everything Everywhere All At Once) with nine total nominations and seven in the major categories, including all four of the major actors. Because of the script, directing and acting I am expecting it to win Best Picture.
This is Martin McDonagh’s first directing nomination, but he has been nominated for his scripts twice before (In Bruges (08) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (17)) and he won the Live Action Short Oscar in 2005 for Six Shooter.
Film Editor Mikkel E.G. Nielsen won the Oscar for Editing Sound of Metal (19). And Composer Carter Burwell was previously nominated for his music for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (17) and Carol (15).
This is the first Oscar nomination for all four of the outstanding cast ensemble, Colin Farrell (Leading Actor), Brendan Gleeson (Supporting Actor), Kerry Condon (Supporting Actress), and Barry Keoghan (Supporting Actor).
The Banshees of Inisherin: The Movie’s Family Tree
The Following Movies Share Talent with This One
(and if you like these films, you will probably like this one):
In Bruges (08): Writer/Director – McDonagh; Actors – Colin Farrell/Brendan Gleeson
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (17): Writer/Director – McDonagh; Music – Burwell; Cinematography – Davis
Seven Psychopaths (12): Writer/Director – McDonagh; Actor – Colin Farrell
Sound of Metal (19): Editor – Nielsen
No Time to Die (21)/Two Popes (19)/Phantom Thread (17): Production Design – Tildesley
The Banshees of Inisherin: What Others Think
Viewers have, so far, not been kind to this movie – out of the 25 general interest Oscar films, they put this one in the bottom third. I suspect many viewers were disappointed in the tragic side, maybe expecting more of a comedy – one viewer wrote that it is a “feel-bad movie”. Sometimes the honest exposure of human nature is painful.
Critics, on the other-hand, place it number three on the list. Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert) writes that it is “One of my favorite films of 2022.” And notes that “McDonagh gets just the right balance of salt and sweet, giving his tale of a shattered Irish heart a wicked vein of dark humor and vicious commentary.” James Berardinelli (ReelViews) also noted the combination of light and dark “For all its nihilism, the movie is at times quite funny, albeit with a gallows shading to the humor.” And Leigh Singer (Sight&Sound) commented “What makes McDonagh such a potent writer is his leavening of existential woe with mordant, absurdist humor.”
The Banshees of Inisherin: Special Mention
Some History – A key element that adds layers to this film is the metaphor it supplies in its historical context. There is ocean water between the island and the Irish mainland, but every now and then you can hear the sounds of cannons and rifle-fire as the Irish Civil War rages. More than one writer has written that what is happening to Colm and Padraic on the island is also a mirror to the disturbing, and equally irrational, battle between the two groups – the pro-treaty and anti-treaty forces – on the mainland.
The Irish War of Independence between Ireland and the United Kingdom raged for two years, ending in 1921 with the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Under the terms of that treaty, the separate Irish Free State, was created with an allowance that six counties in the north (Northern Ireland) had an option to opt out of the new state and rejoin the United Kingdom. There were people who liked those results and those that didn’t and they fought for nearly a year in late 1922 and early 1923, the time period of this movie, as the Irish Civil War. About a thousand people died in a fight that many considered senseless. The parallels with the conflict in this movie are obvious and relevant – they are Irish, after all.
The Music – Carter Burwell employs glockenspiel and harp in fanciful ways to provide a score that manages to carefully balance the line between humor and sadness, comedy and tragedy. And when his music isn’t playing there is usually fiddle music going on. Since McDonagh insisted there not be any traditional Irish music in his film, Brendan Gleeson, an accomplished musician as well as an actor, wrote and plays most of the fiddle music; or plays it at least until, well, he can’t.
The Banshees of Inisherin: Michael’s Moments
Although the movie moves quickly into the main events, it is obvious that Padraic and Colm had been friends for a very long time. What becomes clear is that they had settled into a repeated pattern that, pretty much everyday, involved working their herds and fields in the morning and then gathering at the village pub promptly at 2:00 PM for “pints” that might well go on late into the evening. It is also obvious that there is an age difference between the two men (Gleeson is 20 years older than Farrell, so…) Both men enjoyed that lifestyle and were unaware of any problems.
And then one of them stops enjoying it. At about the 24 minute mark, Colm tries to explain to Padraic what has happened in their first of several conversations about the change. Colm, at first, simply asserts that Padraic is “dull”, which causes Padraic great pain. There are at least two more conversations between the two men where Colm begins to define, in clearer terms, what has changed. The movie is about how these two men come to terms, or don’t, with what has happened to their relationship.
Although it may sound a little harsh to look at relationships as transactional, they only work when the participants are deriving enough value from the relationship to justify the opportunity costs of doing something else. Whether it is love, good sex, satisfying conversations, or new and interesting experiences – we expect our partners to help us in living full lives. Not only must there be effort on both sides in order to sustain a relationship, but the effort must also produce rewarding results.
Frequently the rewards continue to satisfy needs and wants on both sides and the relationship continues. Sometimes, though, a person’s needs and wants change which means that even though the partner is continuing to behave exactly as before, the rewards are no longer there and the relationship can easily die. Colm’s needs are changing and Padraic doesn’t understand why. Frankly, it isn’t clear, at the outset, that Colm understands why either. As the movie unfolds, Colm’s new needs become clearer to him, but that makes it no easier for Padraic.
Colm and Padraic are not the only one’s with relationship problems and in the last third of the film a lot of relationships change – quickly and permanently. At around the 1 hour mark Siobhan (Padraic’s sister played by Kerry Condon) also reaches an important understanding of her own needs, as she storms out of an encounter with Colm. A little later, Siobhan and Dominic (a young man who serves as the “village fool” played brilliantly by Barry Keoghan) have a most remarkable conversation on the shore. The conversation firms up how both of those characters are going to deal with the changing recognition of their own needs and desires with very different results for both of them.
At the end of the film, as in most of our lives, we are left without a complete resolution. Things between Colm and Padraic have changed dramatically and their relationship has been completely reinvented. Some might find that unsatisfying, and it might be in some cases. But, as James Berardinelli (ReelViews) said, “(The movie is) less a drama and more a rumination about the failings of humanity.” It is about relationships and how they must change, and sometimes end.
2 thoughts on “The Banshees of Inisherin – When Friendship Ends (4.5*)”
Nice review. The movie was quite different from the expectations I had built up by watching various previews. But in the actual case, it was a much richer movie than I was expecting. The core of the movie spins out from Colm’s seemingly sudden, real, and painful existential awareness.
The only odd thing in the plot is that Colm couldn’t find a better way to make the change he wanted to make and deliver the news to his friend in a less disruptive way. He is a sophisticated man who would know precisely how his shift would affect his friend and the others. I can only make it work by interpreting his rough-edged transition as being yet another sign of his soul sickness.
The final scenes seem to me to be a brilliant coming together, but not a resolution, of all the plot elements.
Thanks for you extended comment.
I agree with you about the movie – it was surprisingly better than I anticipated. I think it has a very good shot at this year’s Best Picture Oscar, although I thought that about the first film I saw last year (The Power of the Dog) so…
I struggled over Colm’s behavior myself until I watched it a second time. Colm was changing in what he wanted in life, but he really wasn’t certain why or where it would go. In his first encounter with Padraic, he is brusque and short – but I think that is simply a reflection of where his head was at at that moment. It was only as the days developed that he came to understand what he wanted to do (maybe music). As he became more and more aware of where he was going, he also was better able to communicate that to Padraic. But he was also increasingly frustrated that Padraic kept threatening to drag him back to his previous, unproductive self. Hence the rather precipitous actions. Was it “soul sickness” or “soul changing”?
Yes, the final scenes were handled brilliantly leading to a, life typical, unresolved ending.