A petty and irrational conflict serves as a haunting metaphor for war in writer-director Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, which premieres in Prague cinemas this weekend after scoring nine Oscar nominations on Tuesday including Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay.
The nominations are well-deserved, and The Banshees of Inisherin should net McDonagh his second Academy Award after winning Best Short Film for 2006’s Six Shooter and receiving nominations for Picture and Screenplay for 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Stars Colin Farrell (Lead Actor) and Brendan Gleeson (Supporting Actor), reunited for The Banshees of Inisherin after McDonagh’s blistering debut In Bruges, could also score their first Academy Awards.
Set in the in the 1920s in the fictional village of Inisherin, off the coast of mainland Ireland, Banshees stars Farrell as Pádraic Súilleabháin, a simple village farmer who lives with his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon, also nominated for an Oscar) and has a pint at the local pub every afternoon with his musician friend Colm Doherty (Gleeson).
But in the very first sequence of The Banshees of Inisherin, it’s clear that something is wrong. Colm doesn’t respond to Pádraic when he stops by his home on the way to the pub, and refuses to drink with him later on. Pádraic didn’t think they were having a row, but they seem to be having a row. He apologizes, just in case. But Colm doesn’t waver.
No, Colm simply doesn’t want to be Pádraic’s friend any longer, he tells him. He finds him boring, and finds their conversations together a waste of time. Of which he probably doesn’t have much left, and wants to spend as effectively as possible.
“What is he, twelve? That he doesn’t want to be your friend?” asks Dominic (an Oscar-nominated Barry Keoghan), who is portrayed as a simple-minded village idiot yet seems wiser than anyone else in Inisherin.
For Pádraic’s simple life, the situation leaves him in something of an existential crisis. He attempts to talk it out, but Colm is resolute: in fact, if Pádraic doesn’t leave him alone, he says, he’ll cut off a finger and leave it as his door. And continue until he gets his peace. It’s a wild threat, Siobhán agrees, but they’ll soon learn it isn’t idle.
McDonagh weaves this disarmingly simple setup through the entire narrative of The Banshees of Inisherin, taking what seems like a frivolous bit of hostility to violent and somber lengths. Yet the film never loses its sense of bitter irony: these are all fully-realized characters who are aware of the situation they find themselves in, and their running commentary is often laugh-out-loud funny.
Throughout The Banshees of Inisherin, the characters remark about the explosions and gunfire they hear coming from the mainland. Of course, the film is a metaphor for the Irish Civil War (and similar conflicts), but while the allegory is clear, it never comes across as heavy-handed.
Filled with excellent performances, gorgeous cinematography by Ben Davis on the coasts of Ireland (filming took place on the island of Inishmore in the Galway Bay, a nod to McDonagh’s play The Lieutenant of Inishmore), and a melancholic Carter Burwell score that riffs on Irish folk music, The Banshees of Inisherin is one of the best films of 2022.
Following an Oscar-winning short, writer-director Martin McDonagh has now made four features of equally outstanding quality with In Bruges, the underrated Seven Psychopaths, Three Billboards, and now The Banshees of Inisherin. Fans of the filmmaker might find this one more straightforward and aloof than his previous movies, but Banshees just might win Best Picture at the 2023 Academy Awards.