The Banshees of Inisherin (Belated Review): Better on Reflection

I recently watched The Banshees of Inisherin in preparation for this year’s Oscars. And it impacted me enough that I wished to share my thoughts with you. So read on for those…

The Banshees of Inisherin takes place on the island of Inisherin, Ireland, in 1923. Civil war rages on the mainland. Yet, away from that conflict, a mini-civil war erupts on Inisherin between best friends Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson). It all begins one random day when Colm decides he no longer wants to be friends with Pádraic, and Pádraic persists till he changes Colm’s mind.

Inisherin acts as a character in and of itself. And I always love when fictional environments feel that way! The island at first seems idyllic: with vibrant green environs, friendly enough, a slow pace of life, rainbows on the horizon, and glistening water all around.

But Inisherin’s TRUE culture reveals itself throughout the film: it’s an isolated and dull place which makes the locals desperately crave respite from the nothingness, the islanders drink to drown their boredom, they are petty and bitter, and there’s little hope that things will change for the better. Anyone who’s ever lived in a small town can probably relate, though most towns aren’t so isolated as this.

Of course such an environment would trigger a man like Pádraic towards devoted obsession with those few things which give him joy: in this case Colm (both as his friend, and as his former friend). Pádraic truly has nothing better to do with his time than pester Colm. He’s unmarried, lives with his sister, has no kids, maintains few relationships, appears to have no hobbies, and doesn’t read.

Pádraic is, frankly, a boring person– a “whiney- little dull-arse” as someone later calls him — but that’s part of the film’s point. He’s kind enough to root for at the start, and he really SEEMS to get screwed for no reason. But his persistent insertions into Colm’s business become annoying and painful. We start to understand why Colm cut ties with Pádraic in the first place: he’s too needy, full of self-pity and he has no life.

Colm, for his part, takes the opposite trajectory in our minds: he at first appears cruel and vindictive, but we later see him as a tragic figure who suffers from mental health issues. Though his methods to keep Pádraic away were too extreme. Colm actually hurts himself more than Pádraic with his pettiness. I just don’t know if this was on purpose or by accident– which is one of this film’s great questions. I’ve seen multiple perspectives on the issue, and I’d like to believe that he cut ties with Pádraic for selfless reasons.

Colm tells us WHY he no longer likes Pádraic. But we need not believe him. Because his behaviour is at odds with his words. Colm’s activities practically beg for Pádraic’s attention. And he seems to enjoy their more intense interactions.

Siobhán is my favourite character in Banshees. She’s smart, introverted, minds her own business, and struggles to stay above the island’s conflicts. Kerry Condon is warm and nurturing, but with a sharp edge which occasionally unsheathes itself. And she’s the only one with foresight enough to see where the film’s events will lead. Her decisions are thematically impactful because they represent Inisherin’s potential for greatness underneath its stifling aimlessness.

Then there’s Dominic (Barry Keoghan): Inisherin’s dumbest resident. He’s the perpetually abused son of a police officer, who wishes to mary Siobhán (despite her lack of interest). He may be annoying, strange, and off-putting, but he’s also the most emotionally intelligent guy on the island. And he’s got the strongest sense of morality. His insights illuminate all the other characters’ flaws.

Finally, there’s the old woman: AKA The Banshee (probably). She mostly sulks around the island, watching and waiting for bad things to happen. She’s spectre over Inisherin and her presence heralds misery to come– if only for the people who can’t stand to speak with her.

The Banshees of Inisherin‘s philosophical musings stuck with me long after I left the theatre. I especially recalled the discussion between Pádraic and Colm where they argued over their legacies. Is it better to die happy in obscurity or sadly having left behind something special? Is a mundane life good enough or SHOULD you want more? Banshees seems to argue that one ought to be ambitious, even if said ambitions don’t work. Though there’s some room for debate on the subject.

People need a reason to get out of bed– a cause for which they can live. The Banshees of Iniserhin is about sad people trying to add meaning to their meaningless lives (through love, friendship, music, books, religion etc). And the film effectively shows how aimless living causes problems where once there were none.

The Banshees of Inisherin spirals into these bigger thoughts from its admirably simple premise, based around that all-too common obsession: “Why don’t they like me anymore?” I know I’ve had relationships fall apart for seemingly small reasons, and been left to wonder what happened. And I’ve been on the other side too. But I’ll bet most people can relate to this story– either Colm’s point of view, or Pádraic’s, or both.

Except Banshees leads to a darker and more dramatic resolution than we’d (likely) face in our lives. Pádraic and Colm’s rift escalates to mutually traumatizing levels! Pettiness begets hatred, and turns good men cruel. Said escalation is gradual and believable, yet painful for us to watch. Because we understand that Pádraic and Colm’s relationship exists in shades of grey, and that they’re both right and wrong.

The costumes in Banshees looked so freaking comfortable– heavy, durable, and warm. But they’re obviously more well suited to their climate than to mine most days. Though they especially appealed on the night I watched Banshees, when outdoor temperatures were -15… I’m just saying: I’d rather have their clothes than the cheaply made stuff I wear on the regular.

The Banshees of Inisherin features some stunning Cinematography by Ben Davis! It does its job well without being showy. And the composition helped the colours to really pop. Most dramas in this mold are so drab by comparison. So Banshees gets points for being nice to look at on top of mentally stimulating.

My one big criticism: Martin McDonagh’s dialogue gets somewhat repetitive throughout Banshees. Certain words or phrases were drilled into my mind by the end! But the conversations were excellent otherwise. I already mentioned their philosophical undercurrents, but they were also emotionally investing, hilarious, and realistically awkward.

The Banshees of Inisherin is a Must See, which only gets better the more you reflect on its turbulent mundanity.

What’s the best ever movie about Ireland? What did you think of The Banshees of Inisherin? Please share your thoughts in the comments (no spoilers please). If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!

Till next time,

Joe Morin

By Joseph Morin

Joe's passion for film and entertainment began at 7 years old when his younger brother demanded to watch Duel of the Fates every day for weeks (on DVD). Joe admired the sequence so much, he decided to dedicate his life to film-making and storytelling. He has a degree in Cinema and Media Studies from York University. Joe loves DC superheroes (especially Superman), the first six Star Wars movies, and arguing about media with anyone who will listen.

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