Movie Review: The Banshees of Inisherin

As The Banshees of Inisherin begins, we see Pádraic (Colin Farrell) climbing a hill with an easy, confident gait, going to his best friend, Colm’s (Brendan Gleeson), and lazily scratching the ears of the Border Collie who sits lazily in the front door. . Even before it was confirmed, we can say that Pádraic did that same trek, scratched those same canine ears, and picked up his friend to go to the pub in the exact same way every day for decades. .

But today is different. Although Colm is at home, he doesn’t respond when Pádraic shouts for him, leaving the younger of the two men a little bewildered. Still upbeat, Pádraic quickly assesses that Colm is too deep in thought to be interrupted – and he shouts that he’ll order him a pint and meet him there.

There is no doubt where Pádraic is going. The (invented) Irish island of Inisherin has exactly one pub, one church and one post office. And Colm’s no-show not only disrupted Pádraic’s day, it sent the whole town into a frenzy. Everyone who sees Pádraic looks incredulous. “Where’s Colm?” he is asked, again and again. “Do you both row?

“I don’t think we row?” Padraic said. “Are we rowing? »

(The rhythmic, repetitive Irish dialect gives the film a Beckettian sense of absurdity.)

Pádraic is so pissed off that he decides to go back to Colm to check on him. But now his friend is gone. And when he returns, Colm is at the bar, chatting with the bartender, drinking a pint he bought himself. Also, he tells Pádraic to go away, that he doesn’t want to be his friend anymore.

“I don’t love you anymore,” Colm said evenly.

In our modern digital world, we call it ghosting – when you decide the best way to extract someone from your life is to simply cut them off. But how to “ghost” his lifelong best friend, in a town so small that all its inhabitants can fit into the same small parish on Sundays? That’s the question at the heart of writer-director Martin McDonagh’s pitch-perfect black comedy, which exploits the situation with as much humor and pathos as possible.

The look on Pádraic’s face – a wary smile when he thinks his friend is joking that fades into an expression of pure childlike pain – will break your heart. Indeed, Pádraic is a man who lives an unexamined life, content to tend to his animals, especially his favorite dwarf donkey, Jenny, to spend time in pleasant silence with Colm and to dine with his “unmarried” sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon) until her final days. Of course, he’s not a man who thinks about death either, or anything. He is what you call one of life’s happy warriors.

Colm, however, is going through something of an existential crisis. He suddenly realizes that time is running out for his mortality and that he has contributed nothing of value to the world. A violinist, he believes he has the ability to write the kind of beautiful music that will stand the test of time. Moreover, he sees Pádraic as a living, breathing symbol of a wasted life – all those hours of sitting around drinking and talking tasteless little talk. This thought fills him with fear and disgust.

Yet Pádraic cannot understand what is happening. He refuses to take no for an answer – essentially pestering Colm until the older friend makes a drastic threat. He tells Pádraic that he will cut off a finger from his left hand – his violin fingering hand – whenever Pádraic tries to contact him. And he means it.

It’s an absolutely disconcerting bet: to cut off his fingers is to deprive him of the very reason for which he claims to live. Also, he doesn’t hurt Pádraic by doing this, only himself. Indeed, he relies on the kindness of his old friend to do the right thing. What he doesn’t rely on is Pádraic’s density. The whole town knows Colm isn’t bluffing, but Pádraic isn’t convinced.

McDonagh’s film is about a lot of things: it’s about the dangers of living in a small town, where Sartre’s notion that hell is other people is thrown into sharp relief. There’s a young man in town named Dominic (Barry Keoghan) who’s too loud, too rough, a little simple. Pádraic doesn’t really want to be his friend – he needs to believe he’s smarter, higher up the pecking order in town. It worries him to think that he and Dominic are viewed the same way. (When Dominic casually uses the word “touched”, a touch of anxiety crosses Pádraic’s face. If Dominic is smarter than him, where does that lead him?). So, as cruel as Colm’s behavior may seem, miniature versions of this kind of small-town hierarchy play out every day. (There’s also a creepy old crone, a sort of soothsayer, that everyone is literally hiding from.)

The film also talks about two ways of living life – the examined life and the unexamined life. Or, as Pádraic and Colm might put it, a choice between being kind and leaving an artistic legacy. (For what it’s worth, Colm is a decent violinist — it’s Gleeson himself playing the violin — but certainly doesn’t seem to have transcendent talent.) Pádraic prides himself on being nice. And, forced to sum up his philosophy of life thanks to his friend’s unusual behavior, he declares that he believes that kindness – living here and now, being kind to the people we meet – is far more valuable than seeking some kind of immortality. This is an argument to ponder.

Finally, the film is about men and their repressed feelings and their silly, stupid wars. It is the early 1920s and a real war is raging across the sea. As absurd, sudden, pointless and ultimately tragic as the stalemate between Pádraic and Colm was, the pointless and endless war in Ireland l ‘is also.

The performances are remarkable. In one of the film’s saddest scenes, Dominic’s father, a bullying cop, beats up Pádraic. Colm sees his old friend and gently helps him onto his horse and buggy, briefly sitting next to him as the horse rides back to town. Pádraic bursts into tears, not because of the pain of the beatings, but because he longs for his old friend to show him the slightest tenderness. He hopes this will be a turning point. But that’s not the case – Colm jumps out of the buggy and leaves Pádraic behind. This scene definitely destroyed me. Farrell has the showiest role, but Gleeson, his former McDonagh great scene partner In Brugge, corresponds to it note for note. Gleeson’s gruff, grim determination, the kind of calm, unwavering dignity he projects in the face of Pádraic’s growing histrionics, only adds to Pádraic’s frustration.

The Banshees of Inisherin is basically a two-player game, but the supporting performances are pretty strong, including Keoghan as sweet sad bag Dominic and Condon as Pádraic’s sister, who’s actually the smartest person in town (as opposed to to Colm, who just thinks he is).

Unsurprisingly – as McDonagh is as famous for his plays as he is for his films –The Banshees of Inisherin looks a bit like a filmed game, but it’s carefully and beautifully rendered. The tiny village, with its rudimentary houses, simple way of life, bubbling fog and breathtaking cliff views feels real, and the animals everywhere, from Colm’s trusty Border Collie to Pádraic’s donkeys, goats and horses whom he insists on being brought into the house despite his sister’s objections – strikingly adding to the sense of place. The film oscillates masterfully between comedy and tragedy; realism and fable. It manages to be both of the moment and completely timeless.