The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh’s latest is an impactful deconstruction of conflict
Why are there wars and seemingly unbridgeable conflicts? The breakdown that political analysts and historians could give you can seem endless, and yet at the end of the day it’s down to the psychology of those who wage the conflict. Such is the fascinating inquiry done by filmmaker Martin McDonagh with The Banshees of Inisherin (2022).
The Banshees of Inisherin takes place on the small island of Inisherin, off the coast of Ireland. Inisherin is mostly lush green meadows and seaside cliffs with houses scattered throughout. We follow Padraic (Colin Farrell), a sweet and simple herder who is suddenly shunned and ignored by his best friend and fiddle player, Colm (Brendan Gleeson). If, Padraic doesn’t leave him alone, Colm threatens to cut one of his fingers for each time he’s spoken to.
The Banshees of Inisherin is McDonagh’s first film in five years since Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). McDonagh is also the sole writer for the film, as in all his others, and he brings his playwriting wit and skill yet again. The Banshees of Inisherin is more restrained that McDonagh’s other films, he is not looking to show off his skill at crafting dialogue, rather focusing on the quieter allegory. As such, McDonagh must flexes more of his directing muscle, utilizing actors and visual tools to get his point across. In fact, The Banshees of Inisherin is more about what is not said on screen.
McDonagh is clearly fascinated with how conflict and war take root. The entirety of The Banshees of Inisherin is an allegory of today’s society; how petty differences and opinions based on pride and legacies can snowball into damaging and destructive practices. Through this lens, we begin to see how McDonagh is utilizing characters and stereotypes for his sociological demonstration. It is in the psychological dive into his characters’ motivations for their escalating actions that the film shines and helps bring McDonagh’s impactful conclusion.
Within this ambitious symbolism, however, McDonagh sometimes loses himself. The Banshees of Inisherinlargely rides its initial concept until its finale, with little to no plot along the way. This is made palatable thanks to the brilliant direction and performances, but it can make the second act slow down to a rather draining pace. McDonagh seems to be wanting his characters and their frustrations to simmer until they are ready to burst, but in the wait he also tries the patience of his viewers who begin to see a redundancy and unnecessary lingering. This does pay off with the film’s conclusion, but it also ends up informing viewers that certain scenes and sequences in the second act could have been cut out without impacting the film’s message.
McDonagh brings back his duo from In Bruges (2008) with Farrell and Gleeson. Both men are great in the lead roles, though Gleeson rather constrained in a gruff and grumpy character. Farrell impresses on viewers more, donning his Padraic with a vulnerability and morality that makes him seem like a lost puppy. Farrell brilliantly transforms his character minutely as his frustration to being excluded mounts, so that the cute puppy ends up becoming a fearsome wolf. The supporting cast also delivers, specifically Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, who play Padraic’s sister and the village dimwit respectively. Condon brings a fiery rationality that allows her to balance the goofier characters, yet she’s also able to play with the aspirations and dreams of her own character. Keoghan, meanwhile, takes on a role that could easily have been played as the comic relief, however, he dives into both his character’s humor as well as his dark and tragic context. It’s a brilliant layering that confirms Keoghan as one of the best young actors of today.
The Banshees of Inisherin is another winning film from McDonagh, with a more restrained and meditative approach. The film can sometimes get lost in its symbolism and forget to engage its audience, but paired with his brilliant cast, McDonagh crafts a truly absorbing film.