Two lifelong friends named Pádraic Súilleabháin and Colm Doherty suddenly lose their friendship one day when Doherty decides to stop talking to Pádraic. Instead of a mystery unraveling on the true reason Colm ended the friendship, it is instead a journey into how people cope with the sadness in their lives and the levels of emotional maturity that exist on the barren island of Inisherin.
Wry, somewhat endearing and extremely Irish are the main qualities that make up Martin McDonagh’s recent feature “The Banshees of Inisherin.” It takes its time with the breakup concept between the two leads and fleshes out its slow evolution to complete destruction. The injection of humor through silliness and irony shines every time, which McDonagh always knows how to tap into. His mix of the characters’ real drama — which feels full and complex with the morbid levity and stupidity of these peoples’ everyday lives — is nothing short of masterful.
Shots of the beautiful sunsets and barren lands of Inisherin are unforgettable moments of peace that contrast the minds of these characters. Colm — played by Brendan Gleeson — yearns for peace in pursuit of musical achievement, but defies any sort of peaceful approach to reach it. Colm, like his lead counterpart, is unaware of his worst qualities that lead to his downfall. Colm believes himself to be smarter and in need of a long-lasting purpose, but his self-mutilation off his instrument-playing hand, rooted in pride, shows that he is just as insane as everyone else on the island. Colm thinks what you do is what defines you, but Pádraic — played by Colin Farrell — thinks who you are is that factor, and McDonagh makes both sides difficult to disagree with. The moral center between these two points is the character of Siobhan Súilleabháin — played by Kerry Condon — who cares for her less intelligent brother, Pádraic, and puts everyone in their place. Her morality and levelheadedness are punished, making her an outsider on the island. Inisherin is chock full of crazy individuals, and her place there is the exception, not the rule.
Emotional intelligence is something McDonagh also plays with through his characters. Siobhan Súilleabháin is aware of the sadness and loneliness she feels and decides to take action. Colm is also aware, but far older with much fewer marbles. He fights off his despair through pointless acts of violence that don’t get him anywhere. Pádraic works well as a contrast to these characters by being more of a dependent pet of Siobhan or Colm than an equal to them. His attachment and cohabitation with his animals show the fear of loneliness, even if that fear turns Pádraic into a sour person. Either way, his unawareness, and desperation result in a lack of understanding. These bouts of unawareness in this friendship conflict lead to the downfall of these characters in dire ways.
The fully realized setting of Inisherin features other characters that are not without their complexities. Dominic Kearney — played by Barry Keoghan — plays the village idiot archetype, but has much more going on in his head than the film lets on through Keoghan’s subtly poignant performance and the multi-layered interactions between the characters. McDonagh also has fun with Irish folklore with the character of Mrs. McCormack, who spreads prophecies of death. Her appearances are written expertly, as they can be interpreted as a crazy old woman, or as a “banshee,” who is a female spirit that shrieks signaling an incoming death of a family member. McDonagh uses parallels too. The faraway fighting of the Irish Civil War is background noise to the smaller civil war occurring between Pádraic and Colm.
The breakup concept is stretched out to the most it can get, leading to a 10-minute lull in the second act that feels almost aimless. Its return back on track put the film back into full gear, however, and the film was ingenious once again.
This film’s script is endless fun, including intricacies within each character worth exploring as well as additional nuances in the plot, dialogue and setting. McDonagh is incapable of making a bad script, evident by his triumph of a filmography including “In Bruges” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.” Every actor teeters between the comedy and drama of the situation perfectly in such a way that the ridiculousness of Inisherin’s people is hard not to laugh at, but the tragic after laughter will be what sticks with you in the end.