sense of humor
but his sense
of tragedy and
loss is much
plays ends in
sometimes in a
What it never
are left in
the ruins of
choking on the
smoke and ash,
if they are
to have any
With infrequent exceptions (In
The West Coast
of Ireland is
the setting of
film, The Banshees of Inisherin. The premise of The
simple and odd
in an almost
way: a man
living on the
stand in for
day to stop
talking to his
only for the
War (the movie
is set in
is by all
off at 2 p.m.
to have a pint
with his pal
His only real
passion is for
treats like a
pet dog and
allows in the
house to the
neighbors as a
with a few
beating up his
walls to avoid.
One afternoon Padraic knocks on Colm's door, as always, to invite him to
the pub. The interior of Colm's cottage—containing Colm's fiddle, his
collection of masks, his phonograph and his John McCormack records—is
very different from Padraic's, which has no distinguishing features except
for Siobhan's books, which Padraic never reads.
To Padraic's surprise, Colm ignores his knock and stares straight ahead,
puffing a cigarette. Padraic heads for the pub, expecting Colm to come
along any minute. Eventually Colm does, but he sits ostentatiously away
from Padraic. When Padraic asks him why, Colm's answer is blunt: "I just
don't like you no more."
Padraic, understandably, is nonplussed. "You liked me yesterday!"
he says. "I thought you did." Thinking that Colm is making an April Fool's
joke, Padraic continues to seek him out, only to be rebuffed more strongly
each time until finally Colm makes a dire threat.
Without revealing its nature, Colm's threat and its consequences turn the
story on its ear, to an extent some viewers will find difficult to accept.
Suffice it to say that while The Banshees of Inisherin is less graphic than
either In Bruges or Three Billboards, it feels more brutal than either.
The characters, their community and their time help explain why The
Banshees of Inisherin is more shocking than McDonagh's previous films.
Like Ebbing, Missouri, Inisherin is an isolated place, surrounded by great
natural beauty (Ben Davis' cinematography is glorious), where the
residents know each other all too well. The people of Inisherin are
expected to conform to certain patterns of conduct, and there are several
enforcers, of whom Constable Kearney is only one. The local priest (David
Pearse) gets so enraged at his parishioners that he sometimes chases them
out of the confessional, especially Colm. Mrs. O'Riordan (Brid Ni
Neachtain), the local store owner, judges all her neighbors by the quality
and quantity of the gossip they provide; her favorite by far is Constable
Kearney, and she shares his disdain for both Padraic and Siobhan. The
most alarming of the enforcers is Mrs. McCormick, who loves to present
herself as the island's equivalent of the Grim Reaper. Presenting herself to
Padraic at one point, she predicts there will soon be a death on Inisherin,
perhaps two. When Padraic upbraids her for not being nice ("nice" is a
word repeated often in the script, with increasing emphasis), she replies, "I
wasn't trying to be nice. I was trying to be accurate."
The Irish Civil War, for the people of Inisherin, is nothing more than an
occasional explosion on the mainland. The only resident who expresses an
opinion about it is Constable Kearney, who is delighted to have been asked
to preside over an execution and excited at the prospect of watching people
die. "The Free State lads are killing a couple of IRA lads—or is it the other
way round?" he says.
In this intolerant community, Colm, Siobhan and Dominic are the odd ones
out, as is Padraic if only by association. Colm is outwardly the most
complicated of the four. A fiddler and composer so renowned that he
draws music students from all over Ireland, Colm has decided to spend his
last days on earth in the uninterrupted contemplation of life and music.
He wants to avoid all distractions, of which he regards Padraic as the
worst. The puppylike Padraic cannot accept this, even when Colm tells
him outright that he's dull.
"Yesterday you spent two hours talking about the things you found in your
little donkey's shite!" Colm says.
"It was me pony's shite!" Padraic answers. "That shows how much you
As Colm continues to resist Padraic's entreaties, Padraic becomes
increasingly less dull, and not in good ways. At first he resorts to childish
stratagems to remove obstacles between him and Colm. Later, after a
tragedy occurs, Padraic becomes Colm's implacable enemy, their
relationship mirroring the violence occurring only a few miles across the
This is disillusioning to Dominic, who regarded Padraic as his only friend
on Inisherin. "You used to be nice!" he tells Padraic. "And now you're just
like the rest!" Dominic has an unrequited love for Siobhan, who is the
island's sole voice of reason. She is exasperated equally by her brother's
childishness and Colm's obstinacy.
"All I want is a bit of peace!" Colm tells Siobhan. "You can understand that,
"It's an island, Colm," she answers. "We've already got peace!"
The Banshees of Inisherin is McDonagh's masterpiece to date, a rich,
multilayered creation that demands and rewards extended analysis and
contemplation. Besides the magnificent photography, there is a notable
music score by Carter Burwell, a musical question mark underscoring
Padraic's bewilderment. (The movie's traditional Irish music is also fine,
much of it provided by Gleeson, an expert fiddler in real life.)
Above all, McDonagh chose the right cast. The Banshees of Inisherin reunites Farrell and Gleeson, the stars of In Bruges, and seldom have two
actors been so ideally cast. Gleeson's performance virtually defines the
concept of world-weariness, and Farrell is endlessly fascinating as he takes
Padraic from simple contentment to confusion to rage. Condon and
Keoghan are also notable in performances that should raise their
international profiles considerably.
The Banshees of Inisherin ends on a suitably enigmatic note. Mrs.
McCormick sits in a rocking chair watching Padraic and Colm on the beach,
smiling as Padraic declares his undying enmity to Colm. "Some things
there's no moving on from, and I think that's a good thing!" he says. But
the last two words in the movie leave us wondering: are they meant to be
ironic, or do they offer the faintest spark of hope? This is only one of the
mysteries with which the film leaves us, and this is why The Banshees of
Inisherin is a film that will last.