The Banshees of Inisherin is essentially an elevated schoolyard argument played out in the blustery coastal hills of 1920s Ireland between two grown men. Padraic (Colin Farrell) is a sweet, happy-go-lucky man. He’s not all that bright in the sense that he doesn’t really need to be — he has his sister, Sibohan (Kerry Condon), whom he adores and lives with, his beloved donkey, and his best friend, Colm (Brendan Gleeson). Or that’s what he has had, seemingly for decades, until one day Colm informs him he simply doesn’t want to be Padric’s friend anymore. He refuses to talk with him or sit with him at the pub.
The premise is sparse; refreshingly, Banshees seems to be comfortable sitting with that simplicity and allowing for its characters and the space they live in (so visually evocative that it feels as if it is a character itself) to carry us onward throughout the film’s two-hour runtime. (That said, Banshees could likely benefit from about fifteen minutes less screen time — occasionally our characters run into repeated conversations or retread older plot beats one too many times).
The Banshees of Inisherin is fantastically contained both in story and in scope. There are only so many people on this island — a description of “small town” doesn’t even begin to cut it, there are perhaps only a couple dozen people. There is no room for talking behind someone’s back, as you are almost always in the very same pub as the people talking shit about you — everyone’s business, even the most appallingly private, is essentially publicly accessed.
Something hums beneath Padraic and Colm’s fight. Their battle hovers somewhere between notions of ignorance being bliss, but also a certain stubbornness, a digging one’s heels into a seemingly arbitrary decision out of a certain existential desperation. Colm’s stony silence ultimately comes from a space of existential dread, a certain ennui about his aging. He has had too many simple conversations with the same person and now fears that he will die without leaving anything meaningful behind. Meanwhile, Padraic is such an existentially undisturbed person, not worried about life or the war that they can sometimes literally hear occurring across the sea or aging, that Colm no longer wanting to be his friend is perhaps the only thing that can genuinely cause him grief.
While all of this feels very real and raw, Banshees is, more than anything, funny. A comedy about not knowing what the fuck is going on in your life, even when you are trying to be the master of your own fate, even when you thought you may have it all figured out.
The Banshees of Inisherin, in its simplicity, seems to tap into not so much a life lesson, as much as it does a hard-to-place emotion. We only have so much time on this earth and we will not always be able to make decisions that perfectly fulfill us. Maybe part of life is just accepting occasionally living in that discontent. It’s tragic and it’s funny all at once, and perhaps there’s not much we can do about it. It feels important to sometimes sit in that space, and Banshees does it so charmingly.