by Miguel E. Rodriguez
DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
CAST: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
MY RATING: 9/10
ROTTEN TOMATOMETER: 96% Certified Fresh
PLOT: Two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, bringing unexpected consequences for them both.
Is The Banshees of Inisherin slow? Yes.
Is The Banshees of Inisherin sad? Yes.
Does the movie have a sad ending or a happy one? Yes.
These are not normally the trademarks of a movie I rush out to see. In fact, I didn’t see The Banshees of Inisherin at a movie theater for those very reasons. I had heard that, yes, it is well-written and extraordinarily well-acted, but that it was a bit of a slog. I had hoped Banshees would be another film like In Bruges, one of the finest dark comedies ever made, but that did not seem to be the case. So, I stayed away.
Well, I have just finished watching it at home, and I can confirm the film’s slowness and unavoidable moments of sadness, but they are contrasted with unexpected comic beats. (I was going to say “unintended,” but they were surely intentional, further confirming the ingenuity of the screenplay by director Martin McDonagh.) I can also confirm that this is one of the most unpredictable stories I’ve ever seen, and I mean literally, like ever. At first, I was comparing it to Melville’s short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, but that turned out to be woefully inadequate. The Banshees of Inisherin does have the structure of a fine short story, but there its similarities to Melville ends. I’m not sure if Banshees has a chance of winning the Oscar for Best Picture, but it’s certainly one of the strongest contenders for Best Original Screenplay.
Pádraic (Farrell) lives on the fictional island of Inisherin, off the Irish coast, in the early spring of 1923. He is stunned one day to learn that his best friend, Colm (Gleeson), has abruptly decided to end their lifelong friendship, cold turkey. Colm doesn’t want to talk to Pádraic for any reason whatsoever, nor does he give a reason, at least not initially. When Pádraic persists in speaking to Colm, Colm gives him a warning: Every time he talks to or bothers Colm in any way from here on, Colm will cut off one of his own fingers and give it to Pádraic, until he stops or until Colm has no fingers left.
It was at this point that I sat up and started really paying attention. I’ve lived long enough to know the specific kind of grief and consternation that occurs when a long-term friend abruptly cuts off all contact for reasons that are not at all clear. So I felt Pádraic’s pain, I saw it in his face, when he realized how serious Colm was with his threat. At that moment, I drew mental lines: Pádraic was the protagonist, and Colm was the antagonist.
Of course, Pádraic is the good guy. He’s nice! His adult sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), confirms it! I mean, sure, he’s a little dull, and maybe not all that smart, and maybe he has a pet miniature donkey that he lets in the house when his sister isn’t looking, and he’s never heard of Mozart, but is that a crime? Is that reason enough to end a friendship? Pádraic doesn’t think so. I didn’t think so! Pádraic is so full of righteous anger that he confronts Colm. Colm is dumbstruck. Their conversation ends in a bit of an impasse. And then, the next morning, as Siobhan prepares breakfast, they hear a thunk on the front door…aaand you’ll have to watch the movie for further plot developments.
(While I watched The Banshees of Inisherin, my girlfriend wondered if I was watching some kind of slapstick comedy with the volume of laughter coming from our movie room. My explanation of why I was laughing, and what I was laughing at, didn’t quite translate.)
What is Banshees trying to say? In my opinion, perhaps it’s this: you can’t go through life worrying about what other people think of you. When Colm lays down the law, Pádraic should have just sucked it up and moved on with his life, right? I was originally comparing their situation to something that might happen on social media, when someone expresses a very negative view of your post or opinion or whatever. What do you do? Latch onto it and let it gnaw away at you? Post rebuttal after rebuttal until you change their mind? (Spoiler alert: you won’t.)
As I said, that kind of thinking made Pádraic the good guy and Colm the bad guy. But then Pádraic starts making some very bad, very DUMB decisions. He starts listening to the advice of the closest thing they have to a village idiot, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), who suggests that Pádraic just needs a new approach: tough love. At that point, if he’s dumb enough to take advice from a moron, whatever happens next is on him, right? So now the balance changes. Now Pádraic is the bad guy/dumbass and Colm is the good guy. Just leave him alone, dude.
(For the record, Colm does explain his decision, which may shed some light on his own state of mind. Depression? Despair? The screenplay offers clues, but nothing truly definitive.)
All through the film is Pádraic’s sister, Siobhan, who functions as the audience surrogate. “You’re all f*****g boring! With your piddling grievances over nothin’!” She is as dumbfounded as we are at Colm’s stubbornness. Not to mention at her brother’s foolish attempts to reconnect with someone who clearly doesn’t want to be bothered. There are a couple of moments when it seems as if all is forgiven, but alas, it is not to be. Siobhan’s solution to rid herself of their bickering is as simple as it is final.
When the credits rolled, I found myself wondering what kind of review this was going to be. I liked the movie. But it is slow and sad. But its massive unpredictability sucked me in as inevitably as if I were watching Kill Bill or Interstellar. That’s the key factor to The Banshees of Inisherin. You may think you know what’s about to happen, but just try to guess exactly how the movie ends, and see how wrong you are.