Director Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, received a 13-minute standing ovation when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2022. Since then, it went on to be praised as one of the best films of the year, as well as being nominated for 9 Academy Awards.
Although very simple in its premise, the film is anything but, dealing with powerful and emotional themes while also managing to be incredibly funny. Set on the fictional island of Inisherin, just off the coast of Ireland, during the Irish civil war in the 1920s, the film follows the story of the friendship between joyful and peaceful Pádraic (Farrell) and melancholic and tormented Colm (Gleeson). Or, better to say, the story of how that friendship ceases to exist one day, when Colm suddenly decides that he doesn’t want to spend time with Pádraic anymore. The decision throws Pádraic totally off-balance, as he repeatedly asks for explanations and tries to make things right with his former best friend. The impasse soon evolves into a series of grotesque situations and dramatic consequences, sometimes because of Pádraic’s stubbornness, other times because of Colm’s. Both men’s stubbornness, in the end, is the driving force behind the film: one man’s refusal to accept change (even as it is already happening), and another man’s extreme longing for change, even if it means having to resort to self-harm to achieve it. After all, Pádraic’s friendship with Colm was one of the (few) certainties he had in life, and as the film progresses, we witness him slowly lose everything that matters to him. Colm, on the other hand, feels like he’s hopelessly stuck inside a “dull” routine (which Pádraic is a huge part of), and he will go to any extent to reclaim his right to have “a bit of peace”.
On top of the compelling and mesmerizing performances by the two leads, every other element surrounding them contributes to the film’s greatness. The numerous landscape shots of the island almost make it feel like it’s a character in itself, with its silences and muted colours. Meanwhile, the actual secondary characters, such as Barry Keoghan’s Dominic and Kerry Condon’s Siobhán, complete the picture with meaningful and moving storylines of their own.
On the tiny island of Inisherin, where repetition and monotony are key to survival, every single person, animal, and blade of grass seems to be meticulously fitted in its place. And just like that, even the smallest of changes can cause everything to fall apart.
Written by Chiara Franchin.