I knew that this movie is not going to be like In Bruges, one of my favorite black comedies. It took me several years to warm up to Martin McDonagh’s next one, Seven Psychopaths. When I first started watching it, I found it to be too quirky and simply not funny. I was not in the mood for such shenanigans. Eventually, I was able to “get it” and enjoy it properly. So, I went into this one fully knowing it was going to be even more outlandish than that one. The Banshees of Inisherin is a quirky and emotional black comedy about two friends who have a falling out.
There are three main themes in this movie, intertwined and reflected in our two friends: male friendship, existential dread, and ultimately, the inability to process emotions. Add to this a small community, whether it be on an island, in a small town, or in a village, it doesn’t really matter, and you got yourself a story. This is also a visually striking period movie taking place during the 1920s. Set on a beautiful Irish island it will make you rethink visiting Ireland. I immediately remembered Waking Ned Devine which features almost the same scenery. Along with the immortal Father Ted television show.
I know that this landscape seems like heaven on Earth but I wonder what it’s like during autumn or winter. When it gets rainy and muddy and you’re out there with the wind howling every five minutes. I bet it gets depressing, alcoholic, and suicidal rather quickly. In that order. If you want to know more do check out Calvary and The Guard, both starring Brendan Gleeson. Before diving into the main themes of The Banshees of Inisherin, I just want to get the technical stuff out of the way. The cinematography was excellent along with the dialogue but character development felt rather thin. This was perhaps an intentional decision as McDonagh could be trying to create as broad vessels as possible.
Vessels for what you might be asking and I’ll be answering for people you know in your life or yourself perhaps. I know I have been both of these guys at certain points in my life. The Banshees of Inisherin works only if you’re willing to dig deeper than the rather uneventful and bizarre story. This is why so many of the viewers didn’t like the movie and found it to be going nowhere. Moreover, they couldn’t understand Colm’s actions starting with the breakup of the friendship and everything that followed it. And sure, you could lace or infuse everything that happened with symbolism but I think this is a much more straightforward affair.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a movie about the conflict between two worldviews, two very different perspectives. Padraic is a simple man who externally defines his personality and he processes his emotions also externally. There are no unknowns in his life. His lifestyle is slower than ours so you might not recognize this pattern of behavior correctly. Do you know anyone who always has to have something to do, an activity, or anything that might prevent him from being alone with his/hers thoughts? And this has nothing to do with their “value” as that term is not applicable when it comes to us, humans. We’re all the fucking same.
On the other hand, Colm was always a more independent, internally defined man, willing to stand up or go against authority. Definitions of internal, external, and authority are related to the community they live in and the prevailing system of values but I digress. Colm probably accepted Padraic’s friendship because of limited options on the island although I’m sure he too enjoyed it and found it relaxing as introspection and thinking, especially with the ever-encroaching prospect of death, takes a lot from you. As one wise man said once “And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes back into thee”.
Now an older man, Colm hits this crisis you can define as existential or mid-life, it really doesn’t matter. Because he defines himself mostly independently from society, he’s now faced with the prospect of completely vanishing. And this thought terrifies him. It’s related to that cursed search for meaning that people oftentimes find in religion, their children, or something they leave behind. But, alas, religion offers little comfort to the thinking man, something Colm also experiences.
Padraic defines himself through others and his relationships, so as long as he has those, he’s not worried about death or nonexistence. Well, he’s not worried now that is. As he starts losing them, he will start withdrawing more and more into himself. A process we probably see unfold before our very own eyes in the real world. And that’s how you get these withdrawn seniors looking off into the distance, slowly coming to grips with what has happened. And what’s about to happen.
Padraic cannot understand why would Colm abandon him when he would do exactly the opposite. He would bring people around him closer in, much as he does with animals that become his surrogate community through which he defines himself. Additionally, nothing has externally changed in his life. There was no flood, no tragedy, or anything like that. Anything that would explain this change. His sister, Siobhan, perfectly understands what has happened, as Colm accurately notes. What makes this conflict even more complicated is that both approaches ultimately lead to the same outcome.
At this point, you start to see the raw beauty of The Banshees of Inisherin. You can argue that Padraic’s simple and straightforward approach brings you less worry and more enjoyment as you don’t need much and live with more certainty. However, you, as well as Padraic himself, cannot help but feel your full potential that’s within your reach. Fears of not being adequate, smart, or strong enough usually prevent us from going this distance. From going against the grain. Again, all of these things are borne out of emotional reactions.
He’s not dim or stupid as he demonstrates on a couple of occasions. It’s just that he chose a path in life that doesn’t require much thinking and questioning. And after a while, you slowly start to forget how to think critically. Just like if you didn’t move for a long time your muscles would become weak. Padraic’s thinking is the thinking of the official system of values and the official system of values is still the tribal system of values. Something we already talked about in Falling Down: A Man Past The Point Of No Return.
To go even deeper down the rabbit hole when Colm decides he doesn’t want to be friends with Padraic anymore he feels he’s doing something to help soothe the storm of negative feelings in his heart. He basically blames Padraic and their friendship for this problem he now has. Colm could’ve easily said I’m going to spend every other day with you in the pub because I want to focus more on my music. Or found a way to make this relationship work.
However, that would require opening up and bearing the emotions that make up your personality in this worldview. And to that, you have to come to grips with them yourself first and then share them with the world. In the system of values, they grew up in and still uphold showing these emotions is a sign of vulnerability. And vulnerability is a sign of weakness. And no one wants or likes a weak man. Perhaps you can even say that Colm doesn’t want to disclose more than this because he has defined himself as a smarter man than Padraic.
And if he started opening up, he would lose that notion that he built into his personality. However, since he has limited options on this island, basically his music and his best friend, he has to act through them. Again, as Siobhan points out, you live on an island off the coast of Ireland, what the hell are you hoping for? This leads us to the inability of men to properly process emotions. Like when we can’t find keys or something important and then proceed to blame the closest person to us for that. To channel all these negative feelings, assign blame, and then move on is exactly the process that you find in both Padraic’s and Colm’s thinking.
It’s a vicious circle encapsulating men’s mental health issues and the prospect of our mortality. On top of that, we have this weird male friendship dynamic that’s usually explored superficially in movies. The director of The Banshees of Inisherin, Martin McDonagh, clearly knew about these issues and wanted to lay them bare in front of us. Leaving us to draw our own conclusions about them and not spoil them with his interpretations. Whether he did this on purpose, I guess we’ll never know. If you’re wondering how both of them ended up like that, just look at the character of Dominic Kearney.
Met with these extreme feelings of despair, Colm decides to take extreme actions. They are the manifestations of his inner inability to come to terms with his own life and mortality. To quote the great American poet Phillip Anselmo: “I shake my fists at skies above”. Colm feels that he must do anything to do away with these feelings. The process starts rather early with us men, at least speaking from my own, personal experience. First comes the drinking, the rambling, the inexplicable behavior that oftentimes turns into violence. Violence either towards ourselves or to oftentimes others. One can list putting out cigarettes on your arm as a popular choice.
It’s all about taking control of the situation for Colm. It’s a process of simplification that Padraic already went through and he never veered off it. He’s taking out all the unknowns from his life situation rendering his path forward visible and making it his only choice. And again, speaking from personal experience, I do know men who acted in the same way. I’m talking about not only alcohol, drug abuse, and fights but also self-harm and well… One guy did burn his own house when he find out his wife cheated on him. But that’s a story for another time.
The tribal system of values produces men who are never thought how to process emotions in the right way. That’s not its purpose. Our society recognized this to some degree and is now trying to overcompensate leading to this stalemate we’re currently in. I know because I struggled with this for quite some time and I still occasionally do. As I’m not an expert I don’t want to bother too much with this. There are plenty of resources online on how to deal with emotions. You start by identifying them, and gauging their intensity and half-life.
And do not be afraid to seek professional help, even a session or two with a good psychotherapist can yield unbelievable results. And in this online world, they’re available at a click of a button. I could ramble on about this subject on and on but I don’t want to bother you too much. I’m much more interested in your opinion on this subject and the premises I put forward. Feel free to write your impressions in the comments section below and ’till the next fucked up but stunningly beautiful and thought-provoking movie. Rabbit out.