What would you do if your best friend suddenly didn’t want to spend time with you anymore?
Who one day just stopped talking to you, and said it was because they just didn’t like you anymore, mostly because you were…dull. How would you react?
That’s the premise of THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN (2022), a beautifully shot and mesmerizing new movie by writer/director Martin McDonagh, the man who gave us the similarly complex and engaging THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017).
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN starts off whimsical and comedic, and while it remains quirky throughout, grows darker and more serious as it explores themes of friendship, kindness, human nature, and most of all loneliness.
The story takes place in 1923 on the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of Ireland, where Padraic (Colin Farrell) knocks on his best friend’s window to walk with him to the local pub, something they do every day, but his friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t even look at him, and so Padraic goes to the pub alone, confused and somewhat sad. Everyone asks if they have had a row, and Padraic says he doesn’t think so, and when they finally talk, Colm tells Padraic he just doesn’t like him anymore, that he finds him dull, and that he wants to spend his remaining years writing music and not wasting away his time on Earth talking about nothing every day with Padraic.
This starts Padraic on a journey of self-reflection. Is he dull? His sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) tells him that he’s not dull, that he’s just nice, to which he replies he thought “nice” was a good thing, but now he’s not so sure. Padraic and Siobhan live together in a small unassuming home, and both have lonely existences, which is largely why Colm’s decision hurts Padraic so much: he has no other friends. Indeed, Padraic is closer to his farm animals than to other humans, and he shares a tender relationship with his small donkey, who against his sister’s wishes, he constantly allows inside their house.
Padraic refuses to take no for an answer and continues to reach out to Colm, who finally tells Padraic, that if he doesn’t leave him alone, he will cut off one of his own fingers and continue to do so every time Padraic talks to him, an odd threat, that Padraic isn’t quite sure Colm would actually do. But after yet another conversation, Colm shows up at Padraic’s door and deposits his severed finger on the doorstep, a violent and intense act which hits Padraic hard. And Colm ups the ante and says the next time, he will cut off all the fingers on his hand, which means on this very small island, Padraic can’t even say a word to Colm. It’s at this point where the decision on Colm’s part becomes downright cruel, and weird, an exercise in self-mutilation and almost adolescent domination.
And while the story continues to inject humor throughout these proceedings, there’s a deep feeling of meanness inherent in Colm’s treatment of Padraic, and the sense of menace, dread, and death builds as things grow darker and more complicated.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is a thought-provoking movie that I liked a lot. It covers a wide range of topics and themes, taking shots at religion, human nature, the nature of kindness, mean-spiritedness, and most of all, loneliness. Everyone in this movie tends to be lonely, and the people here, other than Padraic and his sister Siobhan, don’t really share connections, and even Padraic and Siobhan are not inseparable. The closest relationship in the film is between Padraic and his donkey.
Most of the themes are covered with a sharp wit and well-timed snappy dialogue, but the main themes of loneliness and meanness, grow darker and darker until the film takes on a very disturbing edge in its final reel. The masterful script by Martin McDonagh balances light and dark with relative ease.
Colin Farrell, no surprise, turns in a solid performance as Padraic, the man who was enjoying his simple existence of drinking at the pub every day with his best friend, with pretty much no other ambitions in life, until his friend tells him he isn’t interested in spending time with him anymore. And the reason Colm gives, that Padraic is dull, strikes a chord and shakes up Padraic’s whole existence, as he begins to ask questions about himself. Am I dull? I thought nice was good. Being a nice guy isn’t good enough?
It’s a quirky performance that like the rest of the movie grows darker when things grow more serious, and Farrell nails each and every aspect and transition in Padraic’s personality. We just saw Farrell in the also excellent THIRTEEN LIVES (2022), in which he played a heroic underwater cave diver who helps pull off a miraculous underwater rescue. Farrell is an exceptional actor who seems to be getting better the older he gets.
Brendan Gleeson is equally as good as Colm, the man who one day wakes up and realizes he is wasting his life away drinking with a buddy whose idea of a deep conversation is talking about what he finds inside his pet donkey’s poop. Colm is a complicated character, and Gleeson captures the man’s complexities. On the one hand, his desire to leave something in the form of music as a lasting gift to the world is commendable and makes sense, but his methods, and the cold way he treats Padraic are questionable. And Colm never stops caring about Padraic; he just doesn’t like him anymore.
Kerry Condon is also excellent as Padraic’s sister Siobhan, who like her brother is lonely, but unlike him has ambitions to leave the island and make something more of herself. She’s also full of common sense and sees through the madness of stuff that happens around them, and the scene where she confronts Colm and lets him have it, telling him that he just can’t be cruel and cut off a friendship like it never existed, is one of the livelier sequences in the film.
And Barry Keoghan delivers an outstanding supporting performance as Dominic, a young man who lives with his abusive father, who also just happens to be the police constable on the island. Padraic welcomes Dominic into his home when the youth needs to escape his father, and the two have many conversations about both Padraic’s situation with Colm, and about life in general, specifically Dominic’s continued failed attempts at finding love. THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN reunites Colin Farrell with Barry Keoghan for the third time, as they both starred together in THE KILLING OF A SACRED DEER (2017) and THE BATMAN (2022).
Director Martin McDonagh captures the beauty of a rural island off the coast of Ireland, while his screenplay uncovers the quirks and idiosyncrasies of the people there, shedding light on what it means to be a friend, while exploring how people deal with loneliness. It provides a satisfying mix of humor and eventually disturbing drama.
The title refers to a song that Colm is writing, and when Padraic asks him if he believes there are banshees— female spirits of Irish folklore who would warn people of oncoming death— on the island, he says no, and that he came up with the title because he likes the repetition of the “sh” sound. And while there aren’t any banshees in the movie, there is one elderly woman, a friend of Siobhan’s, who stands in for one, as she tends to be the harbinger of doom throughout the movie, often showing up as a silent figure in black before something dreadful happens.
THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is a refreshingly odd little movie that has a lot to say about human relationships, loneliness, and what it means to be a friend. It’s the type of movie that will have you questioning who you are and why you do the things you do.
I loved it,
I give it three and a half stars.
Four stars- Excellent
Three stars- Very Good
Two stars- Fair
One star- Poor
Zero Stars- Awful