The Banshees of Inisherin

Anchored by a trio of great performances this meditation on depression and the Irish civil war has stayed with me over time despite never rising to greatness in my mind.

The film follows two lifelong friends on the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of Ireland. The two men are affable Padraic played by Colin Farrell, and stoic moody Colm played by Brendan Gleeson. One day Colm decides to break off their friendship without a word. When Padraic pushes back Colm threatens great violence if Padraic doesn’t leave him alone. What follows is a series of unfortunate events that forever change these men’s lives.

My initial impression of the film was “is that all? It’s just a metaphor for the Irish civil war?” The metaphor just seemed so obvious and ham fisted. I was expecting something deeper and more profound than the Irish Civil War played out between two men.

The film was written and directed by Martin McDonagh who wrote and directed the darkly entertaining In Bruges, the self indulgent Seven Psychopaths, and the insufferable Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. He’s never been subtle. He doesn’t handle metaphor well. He mostly states his metaphors outright in spite of them being obvious. Here he’s once again screaming his messages at the top of his voice so they can be understood in the cheap seats.

I like his sharp dialogue and dark sense of humor, but I wish there was more in his work.

The Banshees of Inisherin mostly rises above its creators worst habits. The civil war metaphor is obvious and disappointing, but his character work is probably the best he’s ever done.

Colin Farrell’s Padraic is a nice man who just wants life and everyone in it to be pleasant. He is pleasant to everyone and has an affable quality that makes him seem like a good guy. But the film draws a distinction between good and nice. Padraic might seem pleasant and affable, but he’s also selfish. He thinks only of himself and he refuses to acknowledge the pain of others. He rejects others feelings when they don’t line up with his nice view of the world. Farrell is so good in this role. He accidentally became a really good actor after his superstar heartthrob status wore off. He brings nuance and depth to this flawed but nice man.

Brendan Gleeson is wonderfully gruff as Colm who is ostensibly the villain of the piece. However looking deeper at Colm he’s s man facing the end of life and trying to find honesty and meaning in the face of niceness. He is a man wrestling with depression and nihilism in a world that doesn’t want to believe those things exist.

The real heart of the movie is Padraic’s sister Siobhan, played by Kerry Condon. She is the bridge between the two. She understands both the depression of Colm and Padraic’s need to keep everything nice. She has her own dreams and challenges though and watching her grow and change as a result of the story is the best part of the narrative. Finally Martin McDonagh wrote a realistic and compelling woman.

It has more going on than the obvious. It has a dark sense of humor. It has interesting ideas about how humans interact and the nature of depression. The actors are wonderful. A disappointing initial viewing grew into a fondness that I feel will only grow stronger with age.

It’s a good movie. I recommend. It’s a cup of tea for me.

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