The characters of The Banshees of Inisherin are so fascinating for being so bothered by boredom. They exist on a remote Irish island of the 1920s that is open, isolated, and loaded with mundanity. After many years, this simple life takes its toll on the aging community longing for more. Their inability to handle dullness is what makes them messy people struggling to find some meaning in life when everything seems so boring.
Seeking more out of life is Colm (Brendon Gleason), a folk musician who lives closest to the water. He plays his fiddle and spends his nights with his dog. When he becomes compelled to craft his own masterpiece of a song, he tries to shut out his best friend Pádraic (Colin Farrell). Their ritual of pints at the pub around two o’clock are abruptly terminated by Colm who breaks off their friendship coldly. Colm, feeling more astute about art and bound by despair, does not know how to communicate this deeply troubling concern.
Inisherin is a place where not much happens, despite a civil war going on just across the waters. Everyday feels like it’s bound by routines that have grown stale. Pádraic is viewed as the dullest man because he’s not very scholarly and is a creature of habit. It’s a frustrating aspect that Colm finds himself struggling to communicate with his closest friend. He tries to tell Pádraic about the immortality of men like Mozart. Pádraic, having not heard of the composer, thinks this comparison means nothing.
Struggling to live Pádraic prattlings and mannerisms is his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon). She tries to be nice but it’s kinda hard to do that with a roommate who constantly lets his donkey inside that poops on the floor. She tries to hold firm but even she has desires. She also wants to explore new realms and careers which happen to exist off the island. There’s a desire for escape that feels like the healthiest way to expand one’s own connection to this world.
Coming to terms with loneliness and existentialism proves to be a tougher ordeal for Colm. He’s so unable to communicate his complicated feelings that he pursues a route of self-harm. Unable to find the right path to distance, solitude, and passion, his demands turn violent, threatening to cut off his fingers if Pádraic won’t leave him alone. It’s a darkly funny threat, as revealed in the trailers. Well, until it isn’t.
Director Martin McDonagh has this astounding balance of characters that are just as much amusing as they are sad. the friendship of Colm and Pádraic has its high points of comradery and deeply bitter moments of distancing. It’s depressing just how much they cannot understand each other and their troubling outlooks on life. For as much as Pádraic finds his habits to be normal, he’s also deeply fearful that he’ll be left behind by everyone in their aspirations. It leads to him making drastic decisions that are as small as gossip and as large as arson. Colm, unable to handle his friend, merely watches with quiet concern that this might be the closest he’ll come to happiness and never know anything more.
There’s also simplistic motivations present in the youthful Dominic (Barry Keoghan), a boy so bound by horniness and aggression that every adult looks down on him. What’s the poor lad to do? There doesn’t seem to be many girls his own age on the island and his nights are spent being beaten by his father. All he can do is drink and lust, making his conversations with Pádraic incredibly awkward when Dominic asks such creepy question like if he’s ever seen his sister naked.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a bittersweet brew of dark comedy and darker drama that is an intoxicating experience of loneliness amid libations, folk music, farm animals, and self-mutilation. It’s the type of film where you’ll find yourself laughing and then slowly feel the grin leave your face when you realize that level of desparation is real and painfully hard to communicate and endure. Few films about loneliness ever feel this richly developed and powerful, where Colm’s religious confessional begins with an admittance of despair and closes with an absurd argument about sexuality and debating who is “right fucked.”