The Banshees of Inisherin is a hilarious, depressive, fascinating look at age, comfort, everyday interaction, and ambition. How long can one be polite until deciding kindness isn’t necessary anymore? Furthermore, what’s the point of living if you have nothing to leave behind? Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) doesn’t have the patience for the mundanity of pleasantries. There comes a point where boredom can lead to erratic behavior. Without explaining why, Colm decides to break ties with his friend Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Ferrell). One day, Pádraic is told to leave him alone indefinitely when visiting Colm. The reason being is that he doesn’t like him anymore. Like that, with no explanation, Colm wants nothing to do with one of his best friends.
Pádraic is a waste of Colm’s time, time that he could spend creating music. By making music, Colm has something he can leave behind for the world after he passes. In Colm’s mind, nobody remembers or cares how nice you were. However, they’ll recall your music. By creating the right song, Colm can leave a memento for the world. There’s only one problem, Inisherin is in the middle of nowhere, so how will anyone remember his work outside the small island?
Colm’s rejection of politeness’s hubris can only take his work so far. If an artist cares about their craft, it is essential to be polite to others, or else you’ll lack peers who can promote your work for others to enjoy. I can understand Colm’s insistence on not wasting time with dull people. How often in our lives are we busy with something important yet have to take time out of our day to talk about the weather, furniture, or whatever other mundanities we use to pass the time with useless conversation? Life is short. When we grow older, the faster time passes us by. Seeing his biological clock ticking, Colm decides to cut the unimportant things from his daily activity, using the precious days he has left to make himself matter within a cesspool of unaccomplished lives.
A simple solution to Colm’s problems would be to move out of Inisherin. But at his age, who outside of the isolated island will care about his work, let alone give him the time of day to listen to his tunes? Colm wants to be a big fish in a little pond to make a splash. As much as people say age doesn’t matter, there’s no secret that, in reality, it does. If a man in his seventies flies over to L.A. hoping to become famous, chances are he won’t even make it through the front door of the producer’s house. At least in Inisherin, the locals at the pub can play Colm’s music for their children to pass it on to their children’s children decades after he’s gone. Colm’s outlook on his remaining years is unfortunately to intellectual for his ex-friend to understand.
The Banshees of Inisherin follows a dumb protagonist with no hope of improving. Pádraic can’t accept being disliked and is too stubborn to respect Colm’s wishes to leave him be. No matter how often Pádraic tries to make Colm like him, he never will. If I were not to know any better, Mr. McDonagh doesn’t have a tolerance for stupidity. I see an ongoing theme of ignorance being far from bliss. Take the small town of Ebbing Missouri, where all the lead characters in McDonagh’s last film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, solved all their problems through rage-fueled bloodshed over civil discourse. The only thing is that McDonagh nails the theme when it’s not attached to judgmental cynicism.
Martin McDonagh is a gifted writer/director who’s best when exercising restraint and The Banshees of Inisherin is no exception. It’s a story about two men who willfully trap themselves in a scenic landscape that offers nothing in return. Like Three Billboards, all of our characters should leave their hometown keeping them trapped in the past.
No matter how often Pádraic’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) begs her brother to leave Inisherin, Pádraic wants to stay, where he will wind up as another forgotten soul. He’s the complacent embodiment of what Colm hates about society. It’s not entirely Pádraic’s fault that he doesn’t get the picture, given that he lives in such a picturesque setting. Inisherin is a beautiful island, highlighted by Carter Burwell’s minimalistic cinematography that lets the locale do the heavy lifting. With limited usage on lights, The Banshees of Inisherin reminds us why someone would be hard-pressed to leave such a place when all it’s doing is choking the life out of its inhabitants’ ambitions. I see an appeal to a simple life that can make one understandably lose drive in place of comfort. There’s no simple answer as to why some choose ease over effort or agony over luxury. In McDonagh’s case, the pain the artist endures is of greater value than peace. Who is the happier man at the end of the day? The craftsman or the commoner? The Banshees of Inisherin is a simple yet complex study of human decisions that can be examined and reexamined until the cows come home.
The Banshees of Inisherin is playing on October 19 at The Chicago International Film Festival and will release in theaters October 21st