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‘The Banshees of Inisherin’: An unexpected tragedy

To be honest, I walked out of the theater after watching the dark comedy “The Banshees of Inisherin” with mixed feelings. I didn’t like it. It made me feel uncomfortable and sad. 

However, perhaps that’s what the film does best: It intends to upset viewers to foster a discussion of mental health. “The Banshees of Inisherin” is a commentary on mental health masquerading as a comedy film.

The protagonist, Pádraic, is a young cow herder who lives with his sister, Siobhán, on Inisherin, a remote island off the coast of Ireland. He is devastated and confused upon unexpectedly learning that his best friend, Colm, doesn’t want to speak to him anymore. Why? Colm just doesn’t like him anymore. Colm asserts that Pádraic is dull and takes time away from his music career. Pádraic’s friend, Dominic, and Siobhán both try to rekindle Colm and Pádraic’s friendship in addition to Pádraic’s persistent and unrequited efforts. 

Absurdity is a focal point of the film’s early comic relief. Colm and Pádraic’s falling out seems ridiculous and is played for laughs. The hilarious dialogue between characters is masterfully written, and superb acting brings this to the forefront. Additionally, some characters are caricatures of certain stereotypes to the extent that all their actions are preposterous. For example, shopkeeper Mrs. O’Riordan serves as the local gossip. She refuses to give Pádraic his rations unless he tells her some “news” and goes through Siobhán’s mail to snoop on her life. 

However, the film takes a dark turn after Colm delivers Pádraic a disturbing and bloody ultimatum: He’ll cut off one finger each time Pádraic speaks to him. Although this scene was in the trailer, I glossed over it. I went into this movie expecting it to entirely be comedy; it’s not. It’s sad, creepy (at times) and gory. Sometimes, I found myself covering my eyes to avoid having nightmares. 

The film’s musical choices are fitting for the discomfort it intends to impose on viewers. Most scenes have no background music. The scenes that do typically feature the same eerie, monotonous track, which signifies that something bad is about to happen in the film. The most lively tune is a song Colm writes throughout the movie, “The Banshees of Inisherin.” Different parts of the song are played by Colm and his musical students as he completes different stages of the writing process. Colm gloomily remarks that he would like to play the song at Pádraic’s funeral, which begs the question: Are we expecting Pádraic to die soon? 

Colm’s song is part of the movie’s incredibly well-written symbolism, which primarily involves the film’s commentary on mental health. The alluring setting of the movie — a remote Irish isle during the Irish Civil War — draws viewers into a lonely environment, and the deliberate cinematography and music choices solidify this effect. Each character’s struggle with their “despair,” as Colm calls it, manifests in different ways. For example, Colm withdraws from his hobbies and the people around him, while Pádraic lashes out violently. 

As impactful as the film’s commentary is, I found some of its events unrealistic, especially when it wasn’t intentionally absurd for comic relief. The film’s strangeness detracted from the meaningfulness of its overall message and removed me from the immersive ambiance other elements of the film worked together so masterfully to create. The ending was also unclear. Whether a resolution is reached is left ambiguous. 

Overall, I didn’t like the movie because it was hard to watch and left me feeling terrible, which is exactly what it intends to do. I would not recommend it unless you’re prepared for that. However, it is thought-provoking, incredibly well-written and the acting is top-tier. 

Title: The Banshees of Inisherin

Directors: Martin McDonagh

Starring: Colin Farrell, Kerry Condon, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

Contact Caitlin Brannigan at cbrannig@nd.edu