The Banshees of Inisherin is Martin McDonagh’s crowning achievement

Time is finite. The older one gets, the more aware one become of time and its preciousness. It’s more precious than money, Gold, or Jewels. Every second is incredibly important and the clock feels as if it’s ticking down to the inevitable once a person enters their mature years. The Banshees of Inisherin is fully aware of all the properties of life, death, and time. These characters, living in a town consisting of mind-numbing simplicity, treat their personal lives with resentment. Time passes in Inisherin, not in any sort of hurry, and completely unaware of its function. The townspeople are of one hive mind, unable to see their lives objectively, and breaking this cycle of emptiness requires a drastic change to happen.

Enter Colm (Brendan Gleeson), a prominent member of this village, who wakes up one day and realizes his life has no meaning. That every passing day he’s wasting the time he has left to express his passion to the world.  Whether that is music or love, he subconsciously recognizes an emptiness. The main reason, he suspects – is Padraic (Collin Farrell) – a well-meaning, brazen, yet sympathetic character having the worst year of his meaningless existence. He’s loved by the community but also treated as a walkover. He has no future outlook. His attention is geared toward the simple and happy, drinking at the pub with his friends and then drunkenly venturing home. We never see the Padraid and Colm relationship before Colm makes the decision to never speak with him again. We never see them as friends, yet you feel such a kinship between these two in the most heated exchanges. Even to the point of mutilation, these two still find common ground in the viscousness. It’s apparent in every move, expression, and word uttered to each other. An unfathomable decision made by the town’s standards, with Colm forgoing common decency and as they’d describe it being “not nice”, but he is completely fed up with this lifestyle and has become apathetic to public opinion.

Brilliantly, Martin McDonagh, a fantastic director, and screenwriter, writes these characters in emotionally complex ways that are incredibly challenging but endearing. As much as we pity and empathize with Padraic, a man that couldn’t recognize the cycle of loneliness happening in front of him, he inspires both love and hate. Ultimately, Padraic is a wonderful protagonist. Yet, there are times when his attitude and behavior make the audience side with Colm. We understand Colm’s position – as he is a reasonable man that made the conscious decision to end a friendship. He recognizes the rip he’s made in the community, but that is the only way to sever his ties and save the few days he has left on his Earth as an aging Musician.

So, while both characters go fucking crazy, it’s a least a tiny bit understandable from a narrative perspective. It’s amazing the range of emotions written in the script. The dichotomy of Padraic’s stupidity and Colm’s intelligence and calming presence makes them polar opposites, but at times those roles switch and adapt. It’s incredible to see a relationship grow stronger as the tension with one another gets more fierce. I’ve never read a screenplay with that device, and each layer of anger piled on only makes the moments between the two that much better. Respect grows out of this antagonistic jostling of egos and hurt feelings. The two dueling performances bring the best out of McDonagh’s vision and the In Bruges (2008) crew strikes hot again. Sensational acting from the entire cast, outside of just the leads. However, Farrell and Gleeson are beyond that, delivering heartfelt, engaging performances that are both career-best. I could watch these two interact forever.

Moreover, Siobhan (Kelly Condon) and Dominic (Barry Keoghan) capture the town from an outsider’s perspective. Sheila Flitton (Mrs. McCormick) is the omnipotent version of death – as this story feels more like a modern Fable than a narrative. Flitton’s “Death” portrayal is reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1975), as an overseeing presence, unable to hide from (as both Padraic and Siobhan do when she walks by). Back to Condon, she is the glue to the entire experience and such a welcomed change of directness contrasted to the two men in conflict. She cuts through the bullshit and delivers an excellent performance that finds a perfect middle ground, able to differentiate between the hazy memory of the Irish coast and the real world.

As for Keoghan, he is the true embodiment of loneliness. If Padraic is lonely without realizing it, Dominic can’t escape it. There’s a true emptiness in these characters while being written full of detail and emotional intelligence. The emptiness presides over all and they’re all desperate to escape it, with or without realizing it. Dom is acutely aware and it shows on Keoghan’s face regardless of his lack of understanding. I can’t stress enough how fascinating each of these characters comes across. They were all contributing to this ghost world, all in idiosyncratic, distinguishable ways that form a powerful message.

Now, there’s a moodiness and atmosphere that isn’t present in any other McDonagh film. A sense of melancholic dread looms over but still allows for a great deal of laughter and cheeriness. It’s one of McDonagh’s usual giddy, fun-loving protagonists stripped of his friendliness and beaten down by life. The dampened, muddy, overcast, and dour setting fuels this conflict. It’s a lingering feeling, slowly creeping into the character’s view. Carter Burwell’s haunting score captures this feeling intensely, using a quieter, brooding mix of piano sounds to conjure up this mood. It’s beautifully done and one of Burwell’s best scores in his illustrious career.

Lastly, it’s a film all weighed down by the same overbearing feeling. The filmmaking is incredible – McDonagh’s best work to date – and he elevates these actors with roles that were made for them.  It’s all moving in unison and every level of the production is building that feeling and atmosphere. It’s sensational work and left me literally speechless when the credits rolled. It’s not a film that is easily digestible and should change in meaning to different people over time. Broadly speaking, it’s one of the best films in modern cinema and one I will continue to return to as my life creeps toward the inevitable. 

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆ (out of 5)


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