Thursday, August 24, 2023


Mackay and Whitsunday Life

Movie Review

The Banshees of Inisherin

Coastline cliffs with a wine-dark sea below, long fields of warn-green, windswept grass, desolate and marked only by some lonesome cottage and a grey, etherised sky. Quaint people and quaint villages, cut off from the main and the problems of life.

This storybook ideal of early 20th century Ireland, Martin McDonagh’s newest film The Banshees of Inisherin tells us, is a lie.

On the remote island of Inisherin, Pádraic Súlleabháin (Colin Farrell) is devastated when his buddy, Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), suddenly ends their lifelong friendship. It echoes what's happening on the mainland, where Ireland is not doing so well – it is raging in Civil War, and those drumbeat sounds of distant cannons and brother fighting brother can be heard from across the sea in little Inisherin.

That is the simplest layer of McDonagh’s film, an allegorically dense work that balances tragedy and comedy only as a playwright could; it is outrageously funny in its pure absurdity, yet desperately plaintive. That humour derives from McDonagh's stylistic choices as a director and his abilities as a writer, and those sadder notes present sides to a truer story of a place trying to leave the shadow of colonialism – but one that might miss the point with its simpler caricatures of Irish people.

In James Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus remarks of a damaged mirror: “It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookingglass of a servant.” For Irishman, their art was often doomed to one reading: a reflection of the outside reader – a non-Irish person - only worse because they believe Irish art to be broken in nature because they believe the Irish are broken in nature.

A century on from Ulysses, we still point at the warn-green grass, the simple, peasant Irishman drunkard, and we laugh. Dublin isn't a cosmopolitan city, no – we don’t see the real Ireland; we diminish Ireland.

Despite the diminishment, The Banshees of Inisherin is an immensely enjoyable film. It alights on dreadful, tragic feelings, whilst composing an Irish Civil War story with humour and pathos which brings its audience into a contemplative mood – "do I understand Ireland better? Perhaps. Do I want to know more? Certainly."

The Banshees of Inisherin is showing this weekend at the Bowen Summergarden Cinema

Review by Declan Durrant

In other news