By Bharath

The Banshees of Inisherin is writer-director Martin McDonagh’s fourth movie, following his much-acclaimed work in 2017, The Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Akin to his previous work, The Banshees… has received critical praise and is one of the leading contenders in several categories for the upcoming Academy Awards.  

Admirers of McDonagh’s work (the author raises his hand at this point) might draw several parallels with his first work, In Bruges, a sentiment that takes away absolutely nothing from either of them. Both movies are carried primarily by the duo of Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, with solid, captivating supporting performances by others. Similarly to In Bruges and The Billboards… McDonagh relies heavily on the physical setting to relay the emotions in this movie. The backdrop of the Irish civil war, the omnipresent gloom, and the looming melancholy of the village of Inisherin in this only heightens that aspect.

The following is an attempt to examine only a part of what the movie represents – centering on the dying relationship between its central characters. . .

Banshees… through its characters…

Pádraic Súilleabháin and Colm Doherty are two of the most contrasting personalities, yet they are the closest of buddies…until they no longer are, one fine day. But the whys of that turn of events are a mystery not just to us but also to everyone else around them, most of all to Pádraic. Except Colm. He ends it—not dramatically, not reactively. But quietly, passively, and without providing reasons—”unreasonably” in Pádraic’s eyes. He simply chooses to give Pádraic the silent treatment. Pádraic’s unassuming nature refuses to accept this abrupt end to one of the most important relationships he holds, and he goes through all the natural evolution of reactions to it, from hopeful denial to indignation to desperate attempts of “fixing things” to frustration and anger.  

Loneliness and solitude are frequently used interchangeably, despite having very different emotional identities. Solitude is the stuff that poetry and philosophy make great use of. You can claim to “choose” solitude and be looked upon with awe, admiration or even empathy. But loneliness is the ungraceful, unwanted sibling of solitude. That’s where Pádraic and Colm differ from each other – one, firmly choosing solitude at the expense of the other’s loneliness.

The director and his actors (photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons)

Emotions in Banshees

The Banshees of Inisherin inspects a multitude of emotions afflicting the human condition – the most significant of which is, perhaps loneliness. It’s prudent to observe how each character is fighting life’s loneliness, but in their own way, which is alien or even irrelevant to the others. It’s like humming a tune aloud expecting the others to make out the song, just because it’s so vividly alive in your mind.

Loneliness envelops everyone in Inisherin. Each of them reacts to it, or accepts it, in different ways though. Siobhan, Pádraic’s sister and the only family he has (besides his pet donkey Jenny, perhaps), may come off as more self-assured than Pádraic or the others, but deals with her inner turmoil quietly. Dominic, the only other person who comes close to being Pádraic’s friend, leads pretty much an isolated existence. Pádraic, who is almost the only person in the village who spends time with him, is too preoccupied with the unpleasant change in his relationship with Colm to care about what Dominic or others have to offer emotionally.

As the story progresses, we may find ourselves second-guessing a conversation or a confrontation that will give us, and Pádraic the “answers” we sought. Because, in cinema, unlike the reality we live in, people walk away for reasons. Reasons that are complex, unreasonable or rational, but reasons nonetheless. But McDonagh refuses to engage with the audiences using such conventional rules. The exasperation that Pádraic feels for most of the film seeps into us for this very reason. Colm is not a bad person, we think. Colm seems to be an intelligent person, we muse. Yet, as Colm tells you, Pádraic’s mundane, unintellectual presence in his life was robbing him of the potentially fruitful remaining life he had ahead, your heart goes out to Pádraic.  

Yet, deep inside, we do understand that we’re neither Colm nor Pádraic in the absolute sense. We are, or have been, or will be, both of them.

A defining quality of what constitutes good cinema is not just conveying to the audiences what the maker wanted, but creating a space for different, individual perspectives. What people often misunderstand as “missing the point” by a fellow viewer is their idea of the story, characters or emotions through a lens of their deeply personal experiences. As Benyamin poignantly puts it in Aadujeevitham – “The lives we have not experienced are merely myths for us.” Naturally, when you are watching the silent, and sometimes not-so-silent, battle between Colm and Pádraic, whom you relate to more is a reflection of your own self.

As Colm builds his boundaries higher, and Pádraic fluctuates between respecting them to desperately trying to breach through them to clutch on to a beloved friend before he strays too far for a return, the uneasiness imparted to us is a measure of our déjà vu. Of all the times we were pushed away, with or without being offered reasons, the slow, painful death of relationships that we once thought would last forever, the boundaries we built for ourselves and which were thrust upon us.

Life & Beyond

How far would you go to push someone away from your life, because they don’t, or will not, make your life purposeful? How do you give proper goodbyes, and how do you respond to hollow goodbyes? The latter part of the movie, characterised by drastic circumstances and events, is more or less a reflection of the eruption of Pádraic’s and Colm’s respective emotions. One, hurt and confused by the other’s unceremonious indifference. The other is adamant about the boundaries he has established and the exasperated bitterness he feels when they are repeatedly violated.

The Banshees of Inisherin is one of those moves that breaks the different identity barriers within the audiences. Regardless of where on the globe you are or what language you speak, it’s hard not to relate to the movie. Because we are, we have been, or we will be, Pádraic, Colm, or both of them.

Watch the movie here: The Banshees of Inisherin

By Bharath