This review was originally part of our coverage of Venice 2022.
A civil war is often described as brother versus brother. Martin McDonaghThe sequel to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is titled The Banshees of Inisherin, and it’s not about a civil war or battle. Battles are remembered. Songs are written about them. The front page is loaded with informational updates from the front. And they will make the history books. Here brother versus brother is reduced to a macro level of friend versus friend. This is an ode to petty grievances, bizarre stands that won’t be remembered, but might become a tall tale in a pub. The time when two inseparable friends broke up in grotesquely comical fashion.
On the Irish island of Inisherin in 1923, locals see civil war brewing on the mainland, but they can’t keep the sides straight; they also have no interest in their demands or goals, but they certainly appreciate a good fight. More directly, and on their land, a quarrel ensues between two old drinking buddies, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson). Colm has decided to end the friendship like a quickly severed limb: no more contact. Pádraic tries to unravel what he’s done to offend his friend, but it’s not an act — it’s just that Colm thinks their discussions are boring and kept him from completing more meaningful musical compositions on his violin. He considers the time and weighs the time to create something versus the time of a conversation with a nice, but boring person. With Pádraic so hurt by this decision, Colm goes one step further to show that he really wants their friendship to be over. He threatens every time Pádraic tries to persuade him to cut a finger off his hand.
While it may not sound like it, this is a comedy. And while it’s dark, it’s not nearly as gloomy as it sounds. In addition to feuding former friends, McDonagh has littered the community with a curious dolt (Barry Keoghan), a gossiping postmaster, peace-keeping bartenders, a violent police officer and Pádraic’s well-read sister (Kerry Condon), who shares a house with Pádraic. The humor in Inisherin is not crazy or bizarre, nor does he joke about his characters. It’s darkly charming; deftly dealing with a community that feels like it existed long before the credits began and will continue long after they’ve ended. Inisherin feels like a special snapshot. And while the plot is small, it gives McDonagh room to make the interaction of his characters.
Like the macro scale of friends in battle, McDonagh keeps Colm’s artistic desire achievable. Colm mentions that he wants to write compositions because kindness ends, it is never remembered after a generation, but music has the chance to become a ritual. Something tied to a place and time that can go on. And while Colm brings up Mozart, he’s working on a funeral song for the island. Something sad but reverent. Two words I would use to describe The Banshees of Inisherinat.
Marriage is a pact between two people, but in some ways it is easier to separate and be separated through divorce than for two extremely close friends to avoid each other in a small community. Our ritual of lifelong pacts has an escape raft. Paperwork is part of a divorce. Same with leaving a job. But there is no such thing in a friendship. That you have to navigate alone, and it evokes strange feelings of abandonment very differently. Romantic and plutonic relationships both carry an intense bond, but in some ways we expect our friends to be more consistent; to reassure us, to listen, to pick us up and to celebrate. There are grief groups for so many kinds of loss and losing a friend who still lives with you is a kind of loss that others cannot fill a void in the same way. It takes different kinds of emotional labor to be a good friend and the rewards are different too.
Inisherin is unique for centering immense sadness in a faded friendship. It’s something I’ve personally been going through for many months and this movie was watched at just the right time to resonate with me more fully. I won’t write out the details here, but I mention it because it’s rare to see a movie that shows an aspect of the human condition that other movies have rarely touched over the duration of a movie (not just part of it). a third act growing distance that is re-patched). Nor do two friends often stay the same in screen time (one aside, but Girlfriendsand Frances ha both follow a waning friendship with comedic notes, but neither has co-leads; there is also a gender imbalance when it comes to friendship stories where the actual status of the friendship is the plot of the movie).
Inisherin exit without a fixed resolution because a neat and tidy ending won’t work with this story; this is the piece we get to see. McDonagh links this feud between friends as thematically linked to Civil War skirmishes (and it’s fair to read in modern political climates); small agreement with the injured may be beneficial, but it is more likely that the same bad blood will circulate at another time. History repeats itself. Being a community and relying on others through an unspoken, unsigned social pact creates a space for unmet needs to fester without the ability to make a clean break.
It helps that the actors in question all display immense emotional maturity, despite the men dipping into proud immaturity. Farrell shows the highs and lows of mania when so much of one’s well-being is placed in the hands and decisions of another. And Gleeson, though hard-hearted, finds moments of compassion for his former friend, despite his efforts to be steadfast. Dancing between them, Condon and Keoghan deliver beautiful supporting turns. Quick-witted and determined, he is an unhinged fool who eventually rises above Pádraic’s once solid moral foundation.
Like the scanty land of its environs, Inisherin is a film that reveals masses through observation and reflection. While I write mainly for its emotional seriousness, it is also compassionate and humorous. You hold hope for every character. any character except fort the policeman. And McDonagh gets a zinger there too, saying, “If hitting a cop is a sin, we might as well wrap it up.” Something any brother on either side of the Civil War could cheer on in the pub.
The Banshees of Inisherin is now in cinemas.