The Banshees of Inisherin: Two grown men acting like children

Photo by: Charlie Martin

Rating: 1.5/5

Spoiler warning: contains minor spoilers for The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin is tied for the second-most nominated movie at this year’s Academy Awards with nine nominations, including one for best picture and two for best supporting actor. While it’s undeniably a high quality movie, I could not get into it, and by the end I hated everyone in it.

Banshees takes place on Inisherin, a fictional island off the coast of Ireland. Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) are long-time drinking buddies, until one day Colm decides he no longer wants to talk to Pádraic. He thinks Pádraic is too dull, and he’d rather spend the rest of his time focusing on making music. 

The movie is centred on the drama between Pádraic and Colm, but it’s hard to sympathize with either of them. Colm comes off as unnecessarily cruel towards Pádraic, and it’s never explained why he feels he can’t make music while still talking to him. Not to mention, he’s still comfortable spending time with the other residents of Inisherin, who are arguably as dull as Pádraic. This, combined with the excessive means he uses to get Pádraic to stop talking to him, make him impossible to relate to, weakening his end of the drama.

Meanwhile, Pádraic starts sympathetic but gradually devolves over the course of the film. He thinks his problem is that he’s too nice for Colm, and that he’ll like him again if he starts getting mean. This doesn’t work, and only provokes Colm to escalate things further. However, after Colm causes more damage than he’d intended, Pádraic decides he’s going to remain mean and bitter. He does some truly horrible things because of this, and any goodwill I had towards him was gone by the third act.

Essentially, the movie is about how this feud takes away the most valuable things from both Pádraic and Colm. However, this fails to be engaging because we’re never given a reason to care about the latter, and the former is canonically uninteresting. Dramatic events are only exciting when we have an investment with the characters experiencing them, and I could not get invested in either of these characters for that reason.

Despite the island’s initial rural Irish charm, there’s no one for viewers to really latch onto in Inisherin. Pádraic’s other friend Dominic (Barry Keoghan) is a misogynistic loud-mouth with the worst people skills ever put to screen. Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) is seemingly the one reasonable person on this entire island, but she’s not in the movie enough to balance out how dumb everyone else is. And all the other villagers come across as uncaring, if not actively cruel.

I feel it is important to acknowledge that everything I’ve described thus far seems to be intentional. The movie wants its supporting cast to be dull and unlikeable, it wants Pádraic to get worse as the film goes on, it wants Colm to be this pretentious unreasonable jackass. Characters in the film acknowledge all of these things, and the movie does nothing to dissuade these interpretations. 

Yet despite seemingly making these characters unlikable on purpose, the movie does nothing to draw the audience to their side. You can make an entire cast of assholes work: look at the success of shows like Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. But in those shows, the unlikeable characters had reasons to justify their horrible actions. You may not agree with what they did, but you can understand why they did it. 

In Banshees, Colm is constantly doing things without rhyme or reason, and Pádraic starts actively making the worst choices possible halfway through the film. It’s utterly frustrating seeing these two idiots fight like middle school children, and unfortunately that’s all the movie is about.

Something else I ought to acknowledge is that Banshees is a tragicomedy. Truthfully, I did not recognize that until I looked up the movie afterwards to look at the cast. I’m not sure what’s supposed to be funny about it; there are some moments where Pádraic says something dumb — like when Colm tells him he once talked about pony feces for two hours and Pádraic corrects him and says it was donkey feces, missing Colm’s point — but these were such simple jokes that I thought it was just showing how dull Pádraic is. 

I’ve read other reviews praising Banshees for its comedy and I honestly feel like they watched a completely different movie. In retrospect, the characters do have some banter early on, but it comes across more like normal conversations than an attempt at humour. Maybe Dominic was supposed to be comedic relief; though if that’s the case, his whole abusive father subplot kind of ruins that. I’ve also never found the “young man failing to get laid” character that funny.

I think the technical skill on display in the film is worth recognizing: Farrell and Gleeson were acting superbly in their respective roles, often including small subtleties in their faces and voices to really drive home the specific emotion they were portraying. I can respect the nominations Banshees has gotten for its actors, directing, editing and music. However, it was all in service of an unengaging conflict between two dull men trying to out-dumb each other for nearly two hours.

Again, this movie is objectively a well-made product; there was clearly a lot of effort put into the execution. Yet the strong acting and Irish charm cannot carry the unengaging characters and bare-bones comedy for more than the first few minutes, and by the end of the film, I couldn’t care less for anyone on that island.

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