Friendship is forever, except when it’s not. The Banshees of Inisherin is a surprisingly relatable depiction of a friendship fading. I’ve had more than a few friendships (and relationships) that I’ve contemplated ending. In some cases, it was as simple as hitting an unfriended button. Now and then, though, the other person didn’t know how to let go. To be fair, I’ve also been in the position of clinging to a relationship that, in retrospect, wasn’t working. Although Martin McDonagh’s film takes place in the 1920s, the central dynamic can easily apply to modern times. Even at its strangest, Banshees of Inisherin understands the twisted side of human nature.
Set on an Irish island amid the civil war, the film reunites Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson. The two made for one of the 21st century’s most memorable duos in McDonagh’s In Bruges, which is thankfully starting to shake its underrated status. Where In Bruges was a buddy picture, Banshees of Inisherin is the complete opposite. Farrell’s Pádraic and Gleeson’s Colm were once best mates. Then one day, unprompted, Colm decides he’s had enough of Pádraic. It’s not because of anything Pádraic did or said. Colm just finds him boring and doesn’t wish to waste any more of his time. Pádraic is convinced that things will soon revert to the status quo, but Colm is ready to go to extreme lengths to alienate his former friend.
Friendship isn’t forever, but music is. Colm would rather dedicate his time to his fiddle. That sounds shallow – and it kind of is. If you’re an artist, though, you’ll identify with Colm’s desire to be alone with his work. In one of Gleeson’s finest scenes, he discusses those who’ve left a lasting impression. Everyone knows who Mozart is, but history won’t remember somebody for merely being a good friend. Sad but true, Banshees of Inisherin articulates what many of us want to say when a relationship is on life support.
That doesn’t mean Pádraic is unsympathetic. While we get where Colm is coming from, our hearts break for Pádraic, who has virtually no other friends. There’s a local pub owner and a village fool played by Barry Keoghan, but nobody can fill the void Colm leaves behind. Pádraic otherwise mopes in his small house with his animals and sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon). As superb as Farrell and Gleeson are, Condon is the breakout star. Where Pádraic desperately needs a friend, Siobhán is more content being a loner. Deep down, though, Siobhán can’t help but feel a little insecure that she has nobody outside of her brother.
McDonagh’s Irish heritage has factored into most of his films. Banshees of Inisherin is perhaps his most Irish film with sweeping shots of green cliffs and a folky score from Carter Burwell. The film even has an almost mystical element with an old woman played by Sheila Flitton lurking about like a literal banshee. While not as laugh-out-loud funny as In Bruges or Seven Psychopaths, Banshees of Inisherin is lush with McDonagh’s signature dark humor. It’s one of his most thoughtful films, exploring how friendships work, how friendships don’t work, and how friend breakups can be every bit as ugly as a romantic one. It amounts to one of the year’s most intense, uncomfortable, yet oddly rewarding, confrontations.