Writer/director Martin McDonagh’s new dramedy is so bleak as to break that portmanteau. More than a dram of drama put the “co” from comedy into a coma, leaving the “emedy” in need of a remedy. Oh sure, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is absolutely one of the year’s best films. I hope to never think about it again.
“Everything Everywhere All at Once” was “fun with nihilism,” a warm cup of comfort that suggested life is a silly pile of pointless, outside of the meaning we find in each other. “The Banshees of Inisherin” seemingly took that thesis personally. Using the same philosophical framework, it presents a Sartrean island hellscape. The sheer brutality of its small-scale events, the mundane savagery of its take on the corruptibility of a soul without purpose, is nightmarish in the face of real-world events. It is a wailing warning about how any of us may react when faced with the dull, stupid absurdity of our lives and the increasingly shrinking certainty of a collective future.
In 1923, on the small Irish isle of Inisherin, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) decides to stop being friends with Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell). That is the entirety of the plot for this “In Bruges” reunion. The reason for the platonic breakup isn’t some kind of secret or reveal. Colm simply realizes his life is finite and meaningless, and he’d rather not spend every day with Pádraic, a very nice eejit prone to talking about his livestock’s feces. This breaks Pádraic’s unspecial, destined-to-be-forgotten heart.
Colm’s attempts to distance himself from his former BFF grow more extreme. This leads Pádraic’s sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), to get involved. She can’t admit it, but she agrees with Colm. In fact, the whole situation makes her realize she’s evaporating into the omnipresent mist and seafoam. Even the village dolt, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), gets trapped in the melancholy of it all, sensing a change in the island, in Pádraic, and in himself. As the witchy Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton) laments portents of doom on Inisherin, a civil war rages on the main Irish isle, just in case the metaphors were literal enough.
Featuring one of the most truly upsetting, traumatic consequences of inappropriate snacking, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a fuzzy shepherd sweater wrapped around a landmine. Every affable, low-consequence scene slowly gives way to the big reveal, which is not a plot point but a soul-shaking realization. The line between a good person and a bad one is as simple as having a reason to be good, no matter how small.
Watching McDonagh’s “dark comedy” is more akin to ingesting a whimsical production of “Macbeth,” albeit swapping Scottish and Irish brogues. It is just so soul-crushing in its all-encompassing woe. Gleeson is stoically genius, but Farrell delivers maybe his underrated career’s best work. With his fuzzy caterpillar eyebrows tenting into a perfect peak, he triangulates the most ordinary of sorrows. What a wonderfully awful and perfect, poetic picture. I can’t wait to stop feeling what it left me with.
Grade = A+
Other Critical Voices to Consider
Ann Hornaday at the Washington Post says “McDonagh sets up a central dynamic that’s seductive in its binary simplicity: What’s more important, to be loved or to be great? To be smart or to be kind? Nice or interesting?”
Karen M. Peterson at Citizen Dame says “Funny, heart-breaking, and painfully real, ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ offers an emotional depth that has become all too rare in modern cinema. It is exquisite.”
Siddhant Adlakha at Polygon says “It’s hard to know how to talk about the lingering fear of how we’ll be remembered by the future once we’ve become the past. And until it strays off course, it remains a nuanced expression of this idea in the present, causing its characters to curdle and contort as they begin to believe they’re running out of time.”