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Film review: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

27 February 2023

Contrary to the impression given by the title, there is nothing supernatural about this film although it has aspects of horror within it. The film identifies some psychological problems in the state of things and how we see Irelandís past and its present.  And the future would also be in question too. The island is a deranged sort of place.

For most of the film the disturbing and strange goings on are portrayed in such a way that the film still feels massively cosy which makes it very enjoyable even though the plot is truly bizarre.  As the film nears its climax, writer and director Martin McDonagh has to push hard to break through for us to register something we can identify as a suitable human response to the antisocial behaviour and self-mutilation of Brendan Gleesonís character.

Itís tempting to see all this as profoundly symbolic. The cosy beauty of this picture postcard bit of Ireland in the 20ís where the civil war was going on at the time but hadnít quite reached, though there are some vague references made to it on two occasions through the sound of explosives going off.

The film made me think of Lars Von Trierís movie Dogma where the homely values of rural America are revealed to be an utterly dark and corrupt sham. However, there is something jaunty and jolly about this film which gives it a very original mood in the juxtaposition of the elements of great tenderness and sensitivity and the insensitive cruelty which the same characters exhibit in a tragic story, though one that has some redeeming features.

The film also seems to be saying there is beauty in weirdness even if itís just the weirdness of a made-up story which pulls you into its reality.  We want niceness but we also want cruelty and emotional immaturity is another modern theme here.

To connect rural island life with emotional immaturity may not be fair but itís important to the telling of this particular story.  Is there danger in too much comfort? Are we losing touch with reality, with what is important. Is there wrongness in experimenting too much with ourselves, in toying with ourselves? There is a parallel made between our own self-indulgent narcissism and insular thinking of island life.

The island is very much presented as a kind of universal microcosm but it doesnít have a grand narrative about humanity, rather a smaller one. This seems to be a part of McDonaghís technique.

Ireland is still a nation with collective issues and those issues have morphed. Itís great that filmmakers like Martin McDonagh are addressing this new weird Ireland which is a product of the old weird Ireland. The film wouldnít work if it was set in the present day because McDonagh wants to use somewhat mythical archetypes of Irishness. Contrary to what some critics have said, the characters do not convey the idea that being dumb is part of being Irish, this is just a concern that some Irish people will have.

Are these themes not really just Irish, but universal? Yes, that too. Ireland here could stand for all of us, for the rest of humanity, but a humanity that is stranded in an island community in Ireland in the 20ís.

This is irony. Whatís so uniquely Irish about these people anyway? They speak like kind of familiar types but thatís just culture, isnít it? Beneath this they are just typical humans. Perhaps thatís why they are drawn into their own unique story.  There is a distancing effect of some sort. Existential, a bit Samuel Beckett.

This point about Irish culture has been made many times before. Itís a culture that because it had to somehow survive an attempt to erase it, a certain absurdist irony is created about what does it all really mean?

And there is a kind of fake stand in Banshee doing her omen filled thing. Padraic calls her a, ďnutbag.Ē

Colm tells Padraic no one is going to remember you because youíre going to live out your life in this place and leave nothing that anybody in the future is going to remember you for.  He tells Padraic that he doesnít have the time to do the normal habitual things they have been doing year after year. He wants to compose a tune that will make his name live on in posterity.

Neither of the central duo have any romantic interests nor seem particularly destined to have any so in that sense they are lonely.  We feel terribly sympathetic towards Padraic because we see this friendship as terribly important, as terribly important as our closest ties if it was just one tie, which after it has gone makes every one of us watching, in a very fundamental way, sad.

This is a very entertaining film about humanity, but not really about politics.

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