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The Banshees of Inisherin

Released 2022. Director: Martin McDonagh

WHAT IF YOUR BEST FRIEND REFUSED TO TALK TO YOU? Not only that, but he shuts you out completely. Please, just go away, don’t be anywhere near me. Harsh treatment. You think to yourself: was it something I said?

Padraic faces the same dilemma when without warning, his buddy Colm doesn’t want to see him or speak with him anymore. These best mates for years who share a pint at the pub every day, now won’t even share a table. Padraic is hurt and confused. He wants to know why.

Movies about male friendships don’t come along every often. The good ones are even rarer but we’ve had some true classics such as The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Mystic River and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Now we can add The Banshees of Inisherin to the list. Writer-director Martin McDonagh brings back his leading men Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson from his cult hit In Bruges to star in this alternately funny and bleak drama about two stubborn men fighting.

The Banshees of Inisherin takes place on a fictional island off the west coast of Ireland. The emerald isle’s dramatic landscape is an integral part of the story and cinematographer Ben Davis’s expansive sweep across the jagged coastline brings out the isolation and insularity of the small community, adding to the feel of over-familiarity among its residents, which is a vital element when one man suddenly turns his back on his best mate.

The reason, as Padracid finds out, is Colm finds him dull, and doesn’t wish to waste any more time on being “nice” because after you’re dead, nobody’s ever remembered for being “nice”. What’s more important is to leave behind something tangible, like a work of art, a piece of music.

To show he’s deadly serious, Colm threatens to cut off a finger every time Padraic speaks to him. Padraic, still hopeful of patching up, tries to call his bluff, only to be greeted with a severed finger at his doorstep. Yeah, Colm is not kidding and he’s also insane.

It makes you think about the friendships you have. Does it mean the same to one person as it is to another? How different do we perceive our friendships?

McDonagh’s sharp script – equally comic and tragic – not only examines choices, decisions and priorities, it digs deep to raise questions about aging, loneliness and what its means to find personal fulfilment. Ultimately it’s a story about more than the feud between the two men, it’s really about four people struggling with their own solitude and their own ways to latch on to a sense of solace.

Padraic is a simple man, a milk farmer with no hobbies and no dreams for the future. The highlight of his day is to hang out with Colm at the pub, chat idly and down a few pints. Padraic is probably content to live the rest of his life this way until Colm cuts him off, which feels like a death sentence.

For Colm, he feels decisively it’s time to work on his legacy instead of wasting time listening to Padraic spend another hour talking about his donkey. An accomplished fiddler, Colm wants to be remembered for his music when he’s dead.

Dominic, son of the local policeman, is not quite all there when it comes to his noggins. The young man takes beatings from his abusive father but he’s not the type to get violent and he’s always pining for a girlfriend. Dominic may be crass at times and has not much to offer but the village idiot is the same as anyone else in wanting a meaningful connection.

Padraic’s sister Siobhan is frustrated by a provincial life surrounded by gossipy villagers. Finding opportunities on the mainland will mean leaving her brother behind, all alone now that even his best friend has deserted him. She has a choice to make.

These are strong roles that complement one another and Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan and Kerry Condon depict these characters with a masterful delivery of comic pathos. All four deserve to be recognised come award nominations time for the empathy they bring to their lines and the fractured, ambivalent, earnest dynamics between their characters.

From a crack in a friendship, McDonagh tells a heartfelt, though dark and occasionally grisly tale of discontentment. A melancholic and wry observation of unfulfilled lives, rejecting and being rejected. We could also read into a different context when comparing the fight between the two friends with the Irish Civil War happening in the background (this takes place in 1923 and we hear the occasional gunfire across the water).

The Banshees of Inisherin starts off light but ends up leaving the audience with some weighty thoughts. This dark comedy of loneliness, aggression and contemplating one’s mortality is no celebration of friendship but it is one of the best movies of the year.


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