2022 had a solid slate of movies this year. While I unfortunately caught COVID right before I was supposed to attend Cannes Film Festival, I was still fortunate enough to attend Sundance (virtually), TIFF, and NYFF this year. While I loved Turning Red, Women Talking, Glass Onion, and Tár, I'd like to share my thoughts on one film I enjoyed in particular: Martin McDonagh's The Banshees of Inisherin.
McDonagh brings the gang back together in The Banshees of Inisherin, starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who had previously starred in McDonagh’s In Bruges back in 2008. You can feel the 14 years that have gone by, not just from the aged actors, but from the more pensive and tender tone of the story.
In a tiny fictional Irish village in the 1920s, the long-time friendship between Pàdraic (Farrell) and Colm (Gleeson) abruptly ends. Colm simply decides he’d rather be doing something else than sit around with Pàdraic all day. Colm is intelligent, musically talented, and struggling to come to terms with his mortality. He realizes he wants to make a name for himself — he needs to spend his limited days composing music, not hanging out with drunks. Pàdraic, on the other hand, is a more simple, modest man who would be content to spend the rest of his days enjoying his friends’ and sister’s company, more often than not at the bar. The dichotomy of these two men’s worldviews is an elegant characterization of the common inner conflict between ambition and contentment.
The tensions between these two men, exasperated by the fact they live on a tiny island and can’t truly avoid each other, are both sad and humourous. Pàdraic continuously attempts to win back Colm, despite Colm’s increasingly extreme rebuffs to his former friend. As their fights escalate, Pàdraic slowly becomes horrified at the idea that being a “nice guy” isn’t enough — his limited wits hold him back from the esteem of others. Colm, on the other hand, must confront how his stubbornness and his desire to be great have destroyed his ties to his community. The very different mediocrities of these men show the follies of both ends of the ambition-contentment spectrum.
Delightfully, as the film progresses, the topic of kindness starts prevailing over the details of why the two men are fighting at all. Various villagers chastise Colm constantly for how he wasn’t very nice to Pàdraic. Pàdraic senses that his kindness isn’t especially valued by most of the people he knows, and he becomes increasingly cruel as the movie goes on. By the end of the film, the two men have forsaken kindness, cause needless destruction and self-injury, and have to stand in the ashes and face what they have done to themselves. It’s no coincidence that the film has a civil war going on in the background.
The writing felt timeless in a way that’s so rare in a post-social-media world — it felt like it could have been written hundreds of years ago as a play. I’m very impressed that McDonagh has created something with such a mature, sensitive worldview, in contrast to his previous, more cynical works.