Sunday, January 1, 2023

The Banshees of Inisherin


Ireland, 1923. As a Civil War takes place on the mainland, a smaller Civil War begins on the secluded island of Inisherin—between two friends. Pádraic and Colm. Former friends now—Colm decides he doesn't want to be Pádraic's friend anymore, and though the squabble may sound like the petty whims of a five-year old, Colm takes his decision seriously. Very seriously. And Pádraic is left to wonder what went wrong.

Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh

McDonagh is one of those directors with a small but incredibly rich filmography. He's made three other feature films besides this one, and each is brimming with a je ne sais quoi that I can only call his "style." All directors have a style, some easier to spot, and some easier to describe. McDonagh's is easy to spot—his movies are dark comedies and involve bizarrely bold plot and character choices—but almost impossible to describe when it comes to the sense he evokes. For me, anyway, which is probably why he interests me so much. I often find myself returning to movies where I felt like I understood it, but then can't prove it to myself in words. I keep coming back until I can. And if I continue this trend, I'll be revisiting The Banshees of Inisherin soon.

It's a more complicated case than McDonagh's previous films though. Putting aside my comprehension skills, I didn't enjoy The Banshees of Inisherin as much as I have his other work. There were sections of the movie that felt like a bad dream, or a horror movie that I wasn't expecting to be a horror movie. There was a terrifying feeling of dread—which I have to admit is a great compliment to the craft and creativity here—that I didn't know what would happen. That doesn't sound scary, typed out. But imagine the most extreme, unnerving feeling of the unknown. Walking through pitch black in your house, thinking you know where you are, but doubting. And then that doubt coming true. That's how parts of this movie felt. And I didn't like it. 

Great location. Wild, beautiful, and haunting. Very appropriate.

From an artistic standpoint, that can't really be anything but a compliment. But I can't judge movies on objective artistry alone, because how a story moves me is important to defining its quality. Yes, this story moved me; but often in a negative way. I felt a lot of emptiness, a lot of sadness, and hopelessness. And as I write this I think back and I think there was supposed to be hope. And certainly there was meaning. And maybe if I just watch it again knowing what is going to happen will allow me to feel those positive elements better, and understand the hope of the story in my heart, not just my head. Maybe, maybe, maybe. 

What I know is objectively great, and what brought out the entertainment of the piece for me was the writing and the acting. There are individual scenes in this movie that achieve a sort of storytelling version of laminar flow—unbroken surface, everything in perfect alignment with everything else, everything working toward the same clear goal. McDonagh's writing skills are masterful, both in characterization, and in dialogue that is like eating an entire platter of a delicacy. Most good movies have one or two bites of such precise work; here they can occur one scene after the other, until it's rare to find a moment that isn't uniquely captivating. 

McDonagh is one of few directors who allow Farrell to be Irish, and it brings out wonderful facets of personality.

The cast falls into this aforementioned laminar flow without disrupting anything, and bring their characters to full, colorful life. Absolute masterclass performances for characterization and brilliant, unforgettable line delivery. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson's easy chemistry is good to watch, and both also give tight, complex performances. Farrell carries the film though, and makes the plot's strange twists and turns feel plausible, bringing out the dark comedy tone. Without him hitting the right notes, this story easily could have felt downright unredeemable. He holds the line between the sincere and the absurd. Smaller standouts are Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan in supporting roles. I especially loved Condon because her character reflected my feelings in witnessing the story unfold.

Of them all, I was rooting for her the most. And, I think that was intentional. I think Martin McDonagh made me think and feel everything that he intended to. And that deserves accolades. I respect it. And yet, I can't shake the feeling that there's something wrong here. Whether it be some misstep of reason which means the truth of the story is a mistake, or whether it's simply a distaste for the way the truth is exposed—either way, I think it's best if this review goes unresolved.