I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that The Banshees of Inisherin stands as one of the more thought-provoking movies of 2022. When it first released during the fall of last year, critics were raving this as Martin McDonagh’s best film. People were also praising this movie for the performances from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon. On top of all that, this movie recently received several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. So what exactly makes this movie thought-provoking, and what is it about its storytelling where we’re able to see such a nuanced examination of the characters’ thoughts and feelings?
SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE if you haven’t seen it.
At the beginning of the movie, we see Padraic (played by Colin Farrell) walking in the island of Inisherin, carrying on with his day and greeting those around him. It seems like a very generic opening scene, but it’s also supposed to reflect the fact that Padraic symbolizes someone who believes in having a simple life, and being able to appreciate these things in high regard, even if your current life is mundane. When we’re introduced to Colm (played by Brendan Gleeson), the way that the movie presents the character effectively communicates the level of loneliness and despair that Colm is feeling. He has no one personal in his life, unlike Padraic, which is why he resorts to closing himself off from Padraic at the beginning, which is also communicated when Colm says “I just don’t like you no more”. Then, we get to Siobhan and Dominic (played by Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan, respectively). The former can be considered a mix of Padraic of Colm, in that she doesn’t like the overly mundane environment, but she also chooses to be an honest and good person towards those around her, and the latter comes across as dim-witted and eccentric but well-meaning at the same time.
By the time we get to the 2nd act, there’s this large element of sadness between the character interactions. Colm starts to threaten Padraic by saying he’ll cut off his own fingers if the latter doesn’t stop talking to him (which he eventually follows through with), and we get the reveal that Dominic has a very rough life with his father, who is heavily implied to have molested and beaten Dominic on a daily basis. The scene in which Colm is lifting Padraic to his horse carriage after Padraic gets punched by the police officer and does not speak for the entire ride emphasizes how selfish and petty Colm really is, as he chooses to not to speak despite caring about him. On top of all that, the conversation at the bar in which Padraic gets drunk and starts yelling at Colm is both hilarious and heartbreaking. From a surface-level standpoint, the interaction seems very goofy. But underneath the surface, you see how Padraic is genuinely hurt by how Colm doesn’t appreciate Padraic for who he is, and how Colm never chooses to be vulnerable about his own psychological despair and self-hatred, wanting to be remembered as opposed to being in the present.
The 3rd act is where the conflict eventually escalates to the worst. Padraic attempts to trick one of Colm’s music students to move out of Inisherin, which reflects the character’s internal state of not wanting to be as nice as he was earlier in the movie. This in turn disgusts Dominic, who eventually labels Padraic as ‘no better than them’. Once Siobhan realizes that there is too much madness, she leaves to the mainland, exemplifying that she cannot handle the depression that Inisherin is bearing (foreshadowed when she is crying in bed in the middle of the 2nd act). The biggest emotional moment would arguably be the death of Padraic’s animal Jenny, since metaphorically, it represents Colm indirectly breaking Padraic’s spirit. And the eventual decision of Padraic descending into rage and burning Colm’s house down is a culmination of the effects of Padraic losing everything that matters to him.
When you think about it, pretty much every character feels genuinely 3-dimensional, and the themes of deciding whether it is better to be kind and live your life or to focus on being remembered feel very authentic for the audience. Padraic isn’t so much a dim person as someone who fails to realize that people change, Colm isn’t so much a perfect wise man as someone who is struggling with fear of not having a legacy and taking it out on others, Dominic isn’t so much an annoyance as someone who just wants to find good companionship, and Siobhan isn’t so much a harsh sister to Padraic as someone who chooses to be realistic and make the most of her environment. Really, all of the main characters are attempting to live in the harsh environment that they’re in, regardless of the good and the bad. In a way, that’s something that many people can identify with.