The word ‘nice’ has gone through many meanings over hundreds of years. ‘Exact’ was one (such as Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter). Overindulgence in physical pleasure was another. Unfortunately for Pádraic Súilleabháin, an inhabitant of the fictitious Irish island of Inisherin and a man unburdened by much deep thought, the word also derives from the Latin nescius: ignorance.
What Is The Banshees of Inisherin About?
As the Irish Civil War winds down in 1923, the inhabitants of Inisherin look on with bemused indifference. Life has continued as normal throughout within the small community.
Yet, for Pádraic (Colin Farrell) the prospect of war is far outweighed by the fact that his long-standing (and only) friend Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) has decided that Pádraic is dull and that he wants nothing more to do with him.
Writer director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) uses such low stakes to explore the psyche of those who have little to fill their days.
The inoffensive Pádraic cannot fathom the incorrigible Colm’s epiphany: that there must be more to life than this. “I’m Pádraic Súilleabháin! And I’m nice!” he protests. “And now, d’you know what you are? Not nice!”
McDonagh’s script is a darkly hilarious way of teasing out a pair of existential crises from men who otherwise would have simply ploughed the groove laid out in front of them.
Farrell’s face is a constant blank picture of a man not quite capable of understanding any concept put to him beyond the here and now. “Are you not lonely?” asks sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), only for the animal loving Pádraic to scoff at the concept. He gets up, tends to his donkey, farms a little, and then it’s to the pub in the afternoon. What more is needed?
In contrast, the ruminative Gleeson works his mastery with technically little. The film plays with ambiguity about his feelings – Colm’s attempts to do right by Pádraic don’t prevent him from taking extreme action to keep him away – and Gleeson’s expressions are like a shuttered window behind which lies an ongoing internal stream of thought.
The Banshees of Inisherin Official Trailer
Is The Banshees Of Inisherin Worth Watching?
The stunning Irish countryside is beautifully shot throughout. Explosions beyond distant rolling green hills on the mainland are someone else’s problem.
Inisherin’s isolation from the mainland affords them an indifference to the conflict, to the point where the sole local policeman is happy to get paid to be an executioner for one side or the other.
McDonagh’s world is one in which gossip and chats is all anyone really has going for them.
So as ‘proper chat’ is removed from Pádraic, his downward spiral is as inevitable as it is darkly comic to experience; Siobhán and Colm’s wish for legacy is beyond his understanding.
McDonagh ratchets up the tension by having Colm follow through on an apparently outlandish threat, and from there on in the movie plays out like a fatalistic play where each character is unaware of how their struggles hasten their problems, not solve them.
The Banshees of Inisherin takes the simplicity of human inter-reliance and stirs in a blend of existential angst along with a pinch of bloody fable. The resulting broth is far tastier than its simple ingredients would suggest.
Farrell, Condon, and Gleeson are a perfect portrait of life’s simplest question: what’s it all for? Or, as Siobhán says in admonishment, “You live on an island…Colm, what the hell are you hopin’ for, like?”
Those searching for meaning will find plenty to wail and gnash teeth at in The Banshees of Inisherin, even if poor Pádraic does not.
Words by Mike Record
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