Ranging from biblical metaphors to discussing the themes of becoming old and leaving a legacy in the wake of one’s death, Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) sizzles a tasty blend of inspirations and references served in an exquisite form. Here, we tap into the film’s most poignant moments and concepts.
Heading into the Oscar ceremony with nine nominations, The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) captured interest at its premiere during Venice Film Festival and has consequently marched on to become one of the most frequently discussed movies of 2022. Sadly, I only had a chance to watch it this year, but nothing’s lost – McDonagh’s film already has a safe spot among my top 2023 films.
Although the director answers most of the burning questions that pop up during the screening, it is nonetheless fun to wrap one’s head around the meaning of this seemingly simple story. First, let’s recap the plot.
What is The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) about?
It’s the 1920s, on the remote island of Inisherin (by the way, the idyllic island where the film’s been shot is called Inishmore). Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) are introduced to us as lifelong friends, but right off the bat, we learn that their relationship hangs by a thread, inches above the abyss of a complete collapse. Following their quotidian routine of meeting in the local pub at 2 pm, Pádraic swings by Colm’s house to pick him up on the way to the inn. Sitting calmly in a chair inside the four walls of his own rocks-and-thatch peace, Colm remains deaf to his friend’s chattery inquiries.
At first glance, the much older Colm seems to have little in common with Pádraic. While the first one keeps various art pieces at home and composes fiddle tunes, the latter engages in less creative activities and mostly tends to his farm animals.
Pádraic, who remains clueless about the roots of this abrupt separation, pushes Colm to find out the truth about this eerie silence. Once he does squeeze enough, the reason’s a hurtful one, and Colm refuses to waste any more time with someone as dull as Pádraic. The feud progressively becomes more serious – villagers begin to gossip about the apparent falling, and more people slip into the vicious circle perpetuated by the two gentlemen, including the village fool Dominic (Barry Keoghan) and Pádraic’s loving sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon).
The turning point in the story comes around when Colm threatens to cut off all of his fingers unless his ex-friend ceases the attempts at a reunion. Pádraic, however, wades on. The dire consequences arrive swiftly – Colm keeps his word and cuts his own finger off. No matter how insane that may seem, the horrific act pushes both men into their own rabbit holes.
For Pádraic, the loss of a friend becomes more and more heartfelt and painful, and it worsens when his dear sister leaves Inisherin. Left alone to ponder Colm’s betrayal, the villager plots his revenge.
Building up to the film’s finale, Colm cuts four more fingers and, tellingly, throws them at Súilleabháin’s house. Tragically, that act leads to another demise, this time of Pádraic’s beloved donkey, Jenny. Without any remorse, Pádraic decides to burn down the house of Colm in an act of vengeance.
The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) Condones War And Its Consequences
The belligerents of the Irish Civil War were the forces of the Provisional Government of Ireland and the IRA, who clashed over the Anglo-Irish Treaty that separated Ireland from The Commonwealth. At first, the war-torn country’s setting drifts afloat in the background but hardly ever becomes more than an explosion seen from miles away. Martin McDonagh purposefully sustains the wrath of the conflict as somehow distant and not directly interfering with or impacting the local community of Inisherin.
Nonetheless, the fighting’s been going for around a year prior to Colm and Pádraic having their row, and that – presumably – gives grounds as to why the locals seem relatively uninterested in the war situation (after all, Dominic mentions war and soap as the only two things in the world that he’s against = he must have felt its dire consequences).
On top of that, the only person directly involved in the bloody conflict is the film’s most violent and repelling character, police officer Peadar Kearney (Dominic’s father, played by Gary Lydon). He’s also the one who captures the brotherly killings when admitting to Colm that for a handsome payment, he’d kill him too.
It’s no coincidence that the feud between two good friends takes place in the middle of the Irish Civil War. However, McDonagh’s bliss prevents him from making the argument about their political agenda – a rather obvious turn that would make The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) far less metaphorical and layered.
Anyway, the fact that Colm and Pádraic used to be friends, who suddenly tear the bond and end up being hostile toward each other captures the tragic nature of a civil war. Brothers and friends turn against each other over some bone of contention that shouldn’t matter much.
McDonagh distills the principle of a civil war over the minute land of Inisherin, over two men who have solid standpoints and stubbornly enforce their views on their counterparts. At the end of the day, both have lost – no donkey, no friendship, and a song that’s destined to be forgotten.
Mrs. McCormick stems from Shakespearean plays
Sheila Flitton’s memorable turn as the black-wearing elderly Mrs. McCormick indicates McDonagh’s interest in the works of William Shakespeare, but also the Celtic paganism and folklore.
In Macbeth, the three witches are characters who push the protagonist onto the path of chaos and destruction. After sowing the seed of destruction, they see through his prophecy fulfillment, only to leave the man killed as they foretold. Therefore, their role was mostly limited to witnessing the Scottish king’s demise.
Mrs. McCormick, whose status in the village balances between a plague-spreading witch to a recluse that says “things that are not nice,” isn’t necessarily evil. Indeed, her speeches’ prophetic tone and contents sound alarming to the locals, but McDonagh goes beyond placing a weirdo for comedic purposes.
Mrs. McCormick is present in most of the turning moments in the film, and she also partly puts them in motion. By planting the fear of losing his sister, Mrs. McCormick causes Pádraic to become paranoid, making her departure endurable for him. In the last shot of Pádraic waving at his sister, Mrs. McCormick stands in the background, witnessing the prophecy becoming real – just like Macbeth’s witches.
Furthermore, note that they also might have seen the alleged suicide of Dominic Kearney or at least see the ultimate blow that crushed the boy’s spirits.
It is worth noting that Mrs. McCormick often appears when various characters are down and at a crossroads with themselves. She’s the banshee that Colm describes – sitting and watching the events unfolding. Therefore, the film’s last shot finds her watching the two main characters at the beach.
Chekhov’s Gun in The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
Anton Chekhov coined a concept in the literature that every single item introduced in a play must serve a purpose; otherwise, it’s deemed useless and might become a red herring for the sole purpose of being a red herring.
Such a deliberate use of an item is common for Martin McDonagh in The Banshees of Inisherin (2022):
When the director introduced Dominic Kearney, the boy approaches Pádraic and boasts about finding a stick with a hook at its end. The same stick is later on used to pick Dominic’s floating body out of the water.
Pádraic purchases a beer in the pub. When encouraged by the innkeeper to go knock on Colm’s door again, he returns and sees Colm standing at the counter. Since his pint is next to Colm, Pádraic ceases the chance to start talking to his friend once more. Hence, the placement of this one particular pint becomes purposeful.
The biblical character Job inspires Pádraic Súilleabháin
Even though Ireland’s notorious for being a very Catholic country, neither of the characters seems particularly adamant about faith. Notwithstanding the faith factor, Pádraic Súilleabháin’s story draws immensely from Job.
Perhaps one of the most perplexing legends from the Bible, The Book of Job tells the story of a prosperous man whose faith remains unblemished and robust even when he loses everything he owns and everyone he holds dear. Left with nothing else but his unshaken belief, Job captures the undeserved torment of an individual and the questionable love for humankind on God’s side.
Pádraic is clearly a twist on Job. While the Irish villager isn’t prosperous, Colin Farrell channels the character’s optimism and sheer intentions – as was Job’s endless love for God. He becomes a reverse version of the biblical character, though, because after taking the beating up to a certain point, the dark side of Pádraic awakens, and the revenge becomes swift and savage. Hence, while Job remains faithful to his principle, Pádraic breaks and lets sorrow and pain take the reins eventually.
That’s what also makes Pádraic’s fall from grace all more captivating – a friendly, cheerful fellow who spirals into vengeance-driven wrath that ultimately paints him like a monster.
Let’s look at the other side of the feud, Colm Doherty.
Colm’s defined by his fear of time slipping through his fingers and the nagging issue of leaving a legacy after death – a rather universal and quite relatable state of distress of people at a certain age. The great despair of Colm, as referred to by the priest, is, in fact, depression, stemming likely from the inevitability of time passing by.
But it’s Colm’s behavior, both shocking and seemingly perplexing, that deserves more scrutiny. Why did Colm cut off his fingers?
The act of self-mutilation creates just another analogy to the civil war. Instead of giving up and speaking to Pádraic, Colm prefers to hurt himself and make a blood-soaked statement out of it. At first glance, that’s pure insanity, not backed by anything rational.
Yet when visited by Siobhán, the man comes clean about the relief he felt. Although he makes it about the lost friend, the fact is that the missing fingers constitute enough reason to quell the urge to create a musical piece worth remembering. Therefore, the entire feud might have been an obfuscous plot aimed at maiming himself irreversibly and escaping the savage truth about his musical mediocrity.
Depression has many faces in The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)
What if Pádraic was also torn apart by depression, and the whole film is, in fact, a story about people coping with depression in many ways? For Colm, it’s the self-isolation and masochistic drive to deal pain to himself; Pádraic desperately yearns for his drinking buddy and fears being left out alone with no perspective; Dominic, who is beaten and mentally destroyed by his abusive father, reaches for a way out but eventually loses the battle and commits suicide; and the only character who wins the battle with her demons is Siobhán.
Siobhán’s entire arc is about subjecting herself to the life she despises. The argument between her brother and the older man, afraid of death, trigger her own train of thought. Contrary to the men who prefer to play the fool’s game, Siobhán matures to realize that staying in Inisherin means letting her talents go to waste.
Dominic Kearney – the jester
Typically, the jester was often referred to as one of the most intelligent people in the king’s court, whose wit and cunning allowed him to mock people far more powerful than him openly. In The Banshees of Inisherin (2022), Dominic Kearney perfectly fits the jester type of character.
Alas, the local community sees him as the local fool, Dominic’s quick-witted; he’s far more intelligent than the villagers think.
The Banshees of Inisherin (2022) ending
Let’s conclude by looking at the ending of The Banshees of Inisherin (2022). Are Colm and Pádraic stuck in a deadlock situation, or is the feud over?
The answer is left open to interpretation. The men meet at sunrise, which may symbolically mean a new beginning for both. However, they also went beyond the point of fixable damage done to each other. Personally, I prefer to believe that the fable ends on a positive note – what are your thoughts, though?
Share them in the comments.
Also, make sure to visit other articles where I try to unwrap the meaning of other movies from 2022:
- The analysis of Dual by Riley Stearns
- A deep-dive into the cannibalistic frenzy of Bones and All
- Alex Garland’s puzzling body horror Men
- A Finnish horror retelling of the ugly duckling – Hatching
- A look into the ultra-violent world of The Northman
- Analysis of the beautifully phantasmagorical Mad God by Phil Tippet