The Banshees of Inisherin

Everyman Bristol
Who was it who said that there should be an Oscar for "least acting" to counter balance the current one for "most acting"?

Every day, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) calls on the cottage of his old friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) to invite him to the pub. When the film opens, Colm doesn't want to see him. He doesn't ever want to go to the pub again; in fact, he doesn't want to be friends with Padraic. "I don't like you any more", he explains.

That's pretty much the entire premise, and the entire plot, of the Banshees of Inisherin.

It's set on an island, off the coast of Ireland, in the 1920s. There is a pub: Colm plays the fiddle there, and is good enough that music students come from the mainland to attend his sessions. There is a church: the priest (David Pearse) asks Colm if he's attracted to men, and kicks him out of the confessional box yelling "you little fuck" when Colm asks if he is. There's a psychotic police officer (Gary Lyden) who abuses his son Dominic (Barry Keoghan), a kind of wise simpleton. There's a postmistress who demands news (even though nothing ever happens on the island) and reads the islanders' mail. There's even a kind of witch (Sheila Flitton) who prophesises doom. Padraic lives with his sister  (Kerry Condon) and a miniature donkey who is allowed into the cottage and treated like a pet dog. There's a civil war on the mainland but no-one is very bothered by it. "It was simpler when we were all killing the English" says the policeman.

There's hardly any incidental music, and long pauses which would gladden the heart of Harold Pinter. Conversations, on trivial and serious subjects are conducted in a calm, slightly detached manner. Padraic and Colm are concerned about the distinction between good chat, pointless chat, and just chat. I suppose before Twitter there wasn't much else to do. Colm has a gramophone, but Padraic's sister Siobhan is thought rather odd because she reads books. 

The chat loops around endlessly. Has you's been rowing? I don't think we've been rowing. You look as if you've been rowing. I'd know if we'd been rowing. Dominic tells Padraic that his Daddy is going to come to his cottage at a particular time and kill him, and Padraic asks if he means kill him, kill him, or just kill him, batter him. (Dominic thinks he means batter him but adds that his Daddy did once kill someone.) The people in the pub are only mildly shocked when Padraic accuses Peadar Kearney "fiddling" with his son. ("I didn't tell him that, daddy" says Dominic.) 

It is tempting to ask if Inisherin is adjacent to Craggy Island -- a place to quarantine all the local eccentrics, lunatics and literary stereotypes. But it's much closer to the world of Samuel Beckett. Colm keeps telling Padraic that he doesn't want to speak to him ever again, and making increasingly grotesque threats, some of which are carried out. (The second half of the movie becomes very dark, and perhaps, a little too absurd.) But after each escalation, Padraic's reaction is to go and talk to Colm about it, escalating the feud further. Waiting for Godot is a play about two people trapped on a stage, unable to leave until the play ends, trying to fill the time, talking about nothing. The Banshees of Insherin is about two people similarly engaged in time filling on an island where nothing ever happens. And they know it; or, at any rate, Colm does.

Is the engineered feud Colm's way of making something, anything happen, a kind of Sartrean act gratuit? Or does he need to do something self-destructive in order to complete a piece of music which he thinks will outlast him? Or is he just genuinely fecked off with his boring friend. I think that Colm's behaviour, and the film, resist interpretation. (That's another way that it's like Godot, actually.) Even the title is consciously meaningless. Colm's fiddle tune is called The Banshees of Inisherin, but there are no banshees on the island. He just likes the double "sh" sound. 

Two perfectly sane people doing crazy things because there isn't anything else to do. Just like life. 

Very possibly the best film I've seen so far this year. 


I'm Andrew.

I am trying very hard to be a semi-professional writer and have taken the leap of faith of down-sizing my day job.

If you enjoy these reviews, please consider leaving a tip on the Ko-Fi platform. 

If you can afford it, please consider becoming a Patreon, by pledging £1 or more each time I publish an essay on the main blog. (I don't charge for these little reviews.) 

Please do not feed the troll. 

Pledge £1 for each essay.

Make a one-off donation on Ko-Fi


Richard Worth said...

In the 1996 film 'Michael Collins', rather a lot happens: I recall that you described it as a 'gangster movie'. However, it has been said that the film could not have been made any earlier without one side or other from the Civil War taking exception. It would be like people our age growing up in a society where our grandparents fought for King or for Parliament, which would shape who our parents were friends with. From the political briefings I have heard on Northern Ireland, one of the key points is the small size of the overall community, which may also be true of the south: strong feelings and bitter hatreds on a very small island

Richard Worth said...

Watched it over two evenings. Still not sure how far it is an allegory for Ireland as a whole: the artist who has to suffer pain to break his depression, the intellectual who has to escape to have any kind of life, the civil war where no one is sure of the wides any more and the policeman doesn't care whose side he is on as long as he gets expenses and a free lunch, the old crone who everyone hides from like the Angel of Death, the priest who is powerless if no one actually wants to repent of their sins, and the likeable central character who isn't likeable even to himself: when he is drunk he says that the three things he hates about the island are policemen, fat-fingered fiddlers, and he can't remember the third one but it was really funny.

Richard Worth said...

As an afterthought, I know that movies of this kind are not literally made to win votes in the European awards for Best Art House Picture. However, if you re-dubbed the dialogue I suspect that audiences from the Baltic to the Adriatic would recognise the small island with donkeys, fiddlers, visiting priests and some sort of fighting on the mainland that no-one really understands any more.