The Banshees of Inisherin: An Irish Morality Tale


Few things, if any, are as painful as the death of a relationship. The idea that anyone, whether they be a friend, brother, or partner, can simply choose to disappear from our lives is silently terrifying. Humans are social creatures, and our lives are built around the bonds we share. And yet, these connections that define our world can end in a heartbeat. Cherished one day, alone and unloved the next. I’ve long since given up trying to understand the nature of social interaction, but I still find myself haunted by the existential uncertainties surrounding any given friendship. Perhaps this is why I resonated so deeply with The Banshees of Inisherin, a wonderfully bleak morality tale from one of Ireland’s greatest storytellers. 

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) The Banshees of Inisherin functions as a cross examination of friendship and all that comes with it. The film follows Pádraic (Colin Farrell), a man of simple pleasures and little aspiration. Pádraic has few joys in life, spending his days tending animals and nights at the pub with little variance, yet he seems fully content with the nature of his existence. However, everything changes for Pádraic when his close friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) decides he no longer wishes to speak to him. Colm’s decision to sever his connection with Pádraic forces them both to come to terms with the meaning of their dynamic, self-worth, and the manner in which they deal with the crushing despair of Inisherin. 

One of the many pleasures of The Banshees of Inisherin is how McDonagh expertly crafts a realistically toxic relationship. When the film begins, it seems like Colm is nothing more than Pádraic’s drinking buddy, and his hyperfixation on the dissolution of their friendship is just a symptom of comedic neurosis. However, each scene adds new layers to their dynamic, and it becomes clear the pair’s friendship is an important tentpole within their lives. McDonagh makes it painfully clear that Pádraic’s self worth is directly tied to his friendship with Colm. If the friendship were to die, it must be Pádraic’s fault, a reflection upon his intellectual simplicity. In a sense, Pádraic feels that his bond with Colm defines him as a person. And as someone who suffers painful social anxiety, I can recognize Pádraic’s pain as something identifiable and human. Many of us view our friends as tenets of our character, even if those friends aren’t worthy of the effort or anxiety. 

McDonagh has never been known to play favorites with his cast, always devoting ample screen time to his rich supporting cast. That remains true with this film, for he explores the other side of this conflict with aplomb and nuance. Colm himself is a fascinating character, a man who has abandoned shame and camaraderie in favor of pensive self-reflection. Upon first glance, he’s the kind of guy most film majors would idolize, someone who sacrifices happiness for legacy. However, McDonagh slowly reveals dark layers of cowardice and arrogance that lie deep beneath Colm, showing how his mindset poisons both himself and those around him. Such nuanced writing results in a viewing experience that is both deeply fascinating and funny. 

If one were to read the logline of Banshees of Inisherin, they would most likely expect a dour film marked by misery and tragedy. And while this is most certainly a cynical picture, it’s also unabashedly hysterical. One of McDonagh’s many gifts as a writer is his ability to find the comedy in the most haunting of tragedy, dissecting the formalities of human conversation to uproarious effect. His dialogue reads like profane poetry, masterfully utilizing repetition and rhythm for some gut-busting laughs. The way in which words bounce from person to person is spellbinding, with conversations often looping around in circles thanks to expert delivery and comedic timing. Compliments are transformed into cutting insults, while brutal barbs backfire as embarrassing blunders. No one writes dialogue like this, and the cast is more than worthy of bringing this intricate wordplay to life. 

The Banshees of Inisherin boasts some of the best performances of the year, for there isn’t a weak link to be found amongst the ensemble. Colin Farrell is a tour de force here, delivering his strongest work since In Bruges. He plays Pádraic with Shakespearean pity, someone equal parts pathetic and endearing. Only Farell, with his keen timing and heartbreaking sensitivity, could make such a tragic character so funny. Brendan Gleeson remains in top form as always, delivering a guarded, shameless performance with just enough soul to keep the role grounded. But Kerry Condon proves to be a stand out, the lone adult in a world full of emotionally stunted man-children. Stead-fast yet vulnerable, Condon is rarely less than riveting whenever she has the screen. 

Martin McDonagh’s work has always had a profound effect on me, often feeling like bona fide events in the media zeitgeist. And on that front, The Banshees of Inisherin doesn’t disappoint. It’s a deeply cynical story with an achingly human message, a meditation on the way we define ourselves through others. One cannot pin their failures on a friend, nor can they use a peer as proof of virtue. We are our own individuals and must recognize ourselves as such. It’s a touching theme, even when buried under cutting wordplay and liberal profanity. So please seek out The Banshees of Inisherin, it’s funny, poignantly performed, and thought provoking.