The Banshees of Inisherin

A darkly comic fable gets lost in allegory

By Bradley Lane

Martin McDonagh is known for his witty black comedies. McDonagh made a name for himself as a playwright before making the transition to the screen with 2008’s In Bruges, for which he won immediate critical and audience acclaim. Since then he has developed a signature style marked by clever word play, dark subject matter, and strong Irish accents. All of which showed up in force in his newest film, The Banshees of Inisherin.

Colum and Pádraic have been friends for as long as the inhabitants of Inisherin can remember. A sleepy rural island off the coast of Ireland, Inisherin seems to exist outside of the turmoil of the mainland civil war, which is still raging during our story set in 1923. One spring day however, Colum decides he needs to spend his time more intentionally. As a consequence of this he wants to end his friendship with the friendly but dull Pádraic. When Colum’s wishes go ignored by Pádraic, in a desperate act of self-sabotage, Colum threatens to cut off one of his own fingers every time Pádraic chooses to talk to him.

To get the obvious out of the way, yes, the film is very funny and yes, the film is very dark. It functions both as a portrait of two characters working through their worst tendencies and a larger allegory for Irish culture. As a character drama the film works remarkably well. It balances laughs and drama deftly, and its cast of characters are drawn with very thoughtful detail which makes them all feel three-dimensional and realistic.

Helping to realize these characters are an absolutely stacked cast of returning McDonagh regulars, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, and new players, Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan. All of whom turn in excellent work, with my particular standout being the town fool played expertly by Keoghan. In order for his character to work he needs to walk a tightrope, being likable enough to be tragically misunderstood and enough of a scumbag that it makes sense why the island’s residents hate him.

As for the allegorical level of the film, I imagine many audiences will have a harder time connecting to the film. The conclusions that the film draws on Irish infighting and their struggles against the British are readable, but muddy to say the least. It felt as though McDonagh might have sacrificed the larger meaning of the film to indulge in the character drama more and as a result the film does leave me feeling somewhat forgettable, if still a very well-made picture.

Despite being thematically confused, The Banshees of Inisherin is still a crowd pleaser that lends itself to the theater, if for nothing else to find an audience to share in uncomfortable laughter with. The Banshees of Inisherin is currently only in theaters. – 3.5/5 stars