‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ is witty, deep — and dark2/1/2023
A well-articulated dark comedy that keeps you wanting more, “The Banshees of Inisherin” thrusts audiences into a time when Ireland was full of despair — not long after the War of Independence and a long-suffering period that brought about a struggle for an identity, a repressive church, superstitions, isolation, mass emigration, poverty and, to top it all off, a brutal civil war.
Set on a remote island off the west coast of Ireland, “The Banshees of Inisherin” follows lifelong friends Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), who find themselves at an impasse when Colm unexpectedly puts an end to their friendship. A stunned Pádraic, aided by his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and troubled young islander Dominic (Barry Keoghan), endeavors to repair the relationship, refusing to take no for an answer. But Pádraic’s repeated efforts only strengthen his former friend’s resolve. When Colm delivers a desperate ultimatum, events swiftly escalate, with shocking consequences.
Colm, himself, is in a fight against entropy (and his age). In the beginning, it’s easy to relate and sympathize with Colm’s character. Life is too short to spend on relationships that don’t add value. When pressed to explain, he declares, “I just don’t like ye no more.” When pressed further, he elaborates that Pádraic’s “dull” conversation is holding him back from fulfilling the artistic aspirations to which he wishes to dedicate the rest of his life.
Pádraic does not take rejection well. Lonely and bereft, he complains to the barman, to his bookish sister (Kerry Condon), to his donkey and to the local cop’s son (Barry Keoghan), who’s generally considered even “duller” than he is. Eventually, Pádraic makes such a fuss that Colm resorts to a nuclear option for keeping him away, and the whole village feels the fallout.
Colm’s actions are driven more by wanting to be remembered after he’s gone than by concern for his friend. These are characters dealing with the existentialism inherent in being human and living on the planet, warts and all. It’s easy to see ourselves in all of it, both the good and the bad.
The acting throughout is A-plus work, but the two shining stars were Colin Farrell and Kerry Condon as brother and sister. Each relying on the other to stave off greater depression, while each, ultimately, leave the other more depressed than if they were apart. Siobhan is a rock to Pádraic, but she is herself tied to the antics of the island. She’s an antidote to the male angst pervading this little island. While the men are content to stew and whine and complain about dullness in their lives that they don’t do anything to change, she gets fed up with how boring they all are and decides to grab her own bit of happiness.
The closest the film has to a banshee is old Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton), who’s prone to standing ominously in people’s paths and issuing vague predictions of coming death. While she may not be the wailing spirit of folklore, “The Banshees of Inisherin,” as a whole feels like a traditional tale passed around at the pub — in its simplicity, its resonance and its use of repetition.
The deadpan rhythm of McDonagh’s dialogue keeps the story ticking along. The combination of wit, performances and pacing makes the film so enjoyable that its darkness sneaks up on us like a slowly rising tide.
If you’re a fan of dark comedy, this film is a must see, albeit with a word of warning: If you are going to see this movie, and you are emotionally fragile, it will tap into the dark side of your brain and leave you in deep thought long after it’s finished. ♦