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  • Post last modified:February 20, 2023

Banshees of Inisherin: Civil War Among Men


Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell. Photo: Searchlight Pictures

While I was watching this movie, my mind went somewhere unexpected. I remembered an episode of The Golden Girls where Rose was desperately trying to make friends with a man in her workplace. She couldn’t understand why he rejected her attempts, but ultimately she had to learn a lesson: sometimes, you’re just not compatible with a person and there’s no point in trying to be friends. In all its simplicity, the episode made an impression and I learned from it as well.

The best film Martin McDonagh has made so far takes male friendship down a dark and moving path.

Refusing to open the door
In 1923, on the Irish isle of Inisherin, life goes on quietly in spite of the civil war; its noise can be heard from the mainland. One day, Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) goes to his friend Colm Doherty’s (Brendan Gleeson) house to ask him if they’ll have a beer at the pub. It’s what they do, it’s what they’ve done for years, without exception. But when Pádraic arrives at the house, Colm refuses to open the door. When Colm comes to the pub some time later, he won’t sit next to Pádraic. Finally, Pádraic drags it out of Colm. The older folk singer has decided that their talks and friendship means nothing to him. Pádraic is dull, and Colm believes that whatever time he has left he wants to dedicate to his art. Obviously, the younger friend’s feelings are hurt, but he decides to ignore Colm’s wishes. However, he doesn’t realize just how serious Colm is…

First planned as a play
Martin McDonagh is consistently reliable. After winning an Oscar for his 2004 short Six Shooter, he made the highly entertaining crime comedy In Bruges (2008), whose reputation has only grown over the years. McDonagh’s excellent Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) was provocative to some critics, but won several Oscars. And now comes The Banshees of Inisherin, a masterpiece because of its acting, writing and craftsmanship in the portrait of a civil war between two men that takes on mythic proportions.

Before he started making movies, McDonagh was a theater man and that’s how The Banshees of Inisherin came about. McDonagh first planned it as a play, the third part of a trilogy, but couldn’t make it work and turned it into a screenplay. Fans of his won’t feel lost, with characters who are pushed to the limit, reaching a point where they take extreme action. He’s no stranger to controversy; in Three Billboards, it was sexual violence and racism that generated debate. In this film, there’s a bloody scene showing just how far Colm is willing to go to show Pádraic that he wants to be left alone; two ladies in the audience at my screening decided that was too much for them and left.

McDonagh’s mastery lies in how he makes us connect with both men in this conflict.

This Irish tale grows increasingly absurd, but McDonagh’s mastery lies in how he makes us connect with both men in this conflict. There’s a humorously creepy old lady on the isle serving as a kind of oracle who forewarns of death (a titular banshee), but the story remains grounded thanks to Farrell and Gleeson, who reunited after In Bruges. The former is completely convincing as a happily naive and simple man who is eventually transformed; the latter perfectly conveys the arrogance and desperate condition of a folk singer who’s deeply unhappy with his station in life. The film is further enriched by the presence of Kerry Condon as Pádraic’s sister who’s getting fed up with the isle and its stubborn men, and Barry Keoghan as a young lad who has a way of getting to the truth of things.

Ultimately it is a very funny, harshly effective and touching meditation on an evolving friendship, the unstoppable passage of time and the critically important mission to fill one’s life with personal meaning. 

The Banshees of Inisherin 2022-Ireland-U.K.-U.S. 114 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Martin McDonagh. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh. Cinematography: Ben Davis. Music: Carter Burwell. Editing: Mikkel E.G. Nielsen. Cast: Colin Farrell (Pádraic Súilleabháin), Brendan Gleeson (Colm Doherty), Kerry Condon (Siobhán Súilleabháin), Barry Keoghan (Dominic Kearney), Gary Lydon, Pat Shortt.

Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Comedy/Musical), Actor (Farrell), Screenplay. BAFTA: Best British Film, Supporting Actor (Keoghan), Supporting Actress (Condon), Original Screenplay. Venice: Best Actor (Farrell), Screenplay.  

Last word: “It was written for [Farrell and Gleeson]. We always wanted to get back together in the last 14 years and remained friends and we’d see each other every year. And it was a hope but, you know, it was never going to come to fruition until I stopped being lazy and sat down and got on with it. And I tried a version maybe seven years ago which didn’t quite work, but the first five pages was just the break up part. And I went back to it, reread it, kept those five pages, but went to a completely different place for this screenplay. I threw away all the plot, basically, of the previous, and just let the sort of sadness of the breakup be what the film was about.” (McDonagh, The A.V. Club)

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