Written by Elisabeth Fong
In a world full of heartbreak stories, The Banshees of Inisherin is a welcome narrative that captures, explores, and unearths the sadness of platonic heartbreaks. The premise is simple – two friends are no longer friends any more, but McDonagh manages to pull off this tragedy with wit, malice, devastation and beauty.
It’s 1923 on a remote island off Ireland, and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) suddenly decides he no longer wants to be friends with Pádraic (Colin Farrell). Colm is burdened with the desire for immortality through art, and views the donkey-loving Pádraic as dragging him down. Pádraic, on the other hand, cannot understand why being nice isn’t enough, and why Colm must pursue such frivolous things. Both men go on a self-destructing spiral as they discover that maybe Colm will never achieve such artistic merit, and Pádraic isn’t so nice after all.
What makes the whole dynamic so tragically funny is the self-delusion both Colm and Pádraic indulge in, almost like a game of one-ups until Colm literally gives Pádraic the finger. Neither will back down, and eventually they lose sight of what they were fighting over anyway. Pádraic is so fixated on getting a justifiable reason for this sudden breakup, but can there even be one? Colm, on the other hand, is convinced that without Pádraic he will be able to focus on making music, but also becomes hell-bent on proving it to Pádraic that he ends up self-sabotaging. There is no satisfying answer, the senselessness of their actions compounding to the point where there is no turning back. It is an incredibly truthful representation of heartbreak.
As outsiders to their friendship, Pádraic’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and friend Dominic (Barry Keoghan) seem to be the only people who are able to see reason through this petty and childish fight. Siobhan is my personal favourite, particularly when she calls Colm out, saying “But you live on an island off the coast of Ireland, Colm. What the hell are you hoping for, like?”.
She has a point, too. The setting of Inisherin (not an actual place) is expansive yet claustrophobic, beautiful and tragic. There’s nowhere for Colm or Pádraic to drift apart, diffuse the tension, or build new lives away from each other – being nice is an important trait to keep the peace. After all, they’ll have to pass each other every day, and frequent the same pub where everybody is in everybody’s business.
That’s not to say that The Banshees of Inisherin is all sadness and heartbreak, although there is a lot of that. It’s also an incredibly beautiful film, with sprawling landscapes and a soundtrack that highlights the film’s fable-like qualities.
It’s a film to laugh and cry to, and 15 years after McDonagh’s debut feature In Bruges, the bromance (or breakdown of) between Farrell and Gleeson is still a delight on the screen. There are lots of quotable moments but what made it even more special for me was the spectacular animal acting. There’s a scene with a horse that completely took my breath away – it seemed as if it was in on the story too. They were a charming addition to an already perfect ensemble cast and a devastatingly heartbreaking screenplay.
This review is published as an extension of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme organised by The Filmic Eye with support from the Singapore Film Society.
About the Author: When not reading letterboxd’ reviews or watching fan-made videos, Elisabeth talks about movies and TV shows on her podcast Critical Cliches.
About the Movie:
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan
Duration: 1h 54min
Synopsis: Two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, with alarming consequences for both of them.
The Banshees of Inisherin has 9 Oscar 2023 Nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. It also won Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy), Best Screenplay and Best Actor (Musical/Comedy) at the Golden Globes 2023.
The Banshees of Inisherin is now playing in cinemas.