An Incurable Discontent: The Banshees of Inisherin
Movie Review: By Bill Nevins, Columnist
"There are no banshees on Inisherin!", declares one character in this film. Or are there? Well, when you watch this intriguing new Irish movie, you’ll have to decide for yourself. And as you watch it, you may well want to have a pint of stout, a glass of strong spirits, or your rosary beads close at hand. It’s a wild, unholy and disturbing ride, and no mistake! Yet there is a profound gentleness to this movie that is, in the end, very touching.
The Banshees of Inisherin is in the running to win big at the Academy Awards March 12, and it is now available for home- viewing on HBO. I’ve seen the movie once in a theater, and several times now on my home tv screen. It is a fine film, both comic and tragic, but it is definitely not a realistic movie. The Banshees of Inisherin is, in many aspects, a fantasy, albeit one with an unsentimental, realistic hard-edge to it.
Among the fantastical features of this film: On an Irish island in 1923, it never rains except at night; there are NO TOURISTS; the pub is nearly hanging over a cliff; the porter is only bottled and not on draft; a fiddler goes to the most extreme ends imaginable out of annoyance, yet composes a lovely tune; a vegetarian donkey tries to eat some dreadful "meat"; the civil war raging on the mainland barely disturbs the islanders' peace but does provide grisly employment; the island eejit comes a- courting in the kitchen to the most intelligent woman on the island; guys slug down poteen like it's Coca-Cola; the local constable beats innocent law- abiding citizens in public; Colin Farrell's eyebrows mercilessly upstage him; there are NO mermaids, leprechauns, fairies or selkies in evidence, etc.
You might even consider it a fantasy- horror film, of sorts. And yet, and yet, it is a damn fine Martin McDonough movie! Funny and horrid and with much to say! Cynical as sin! And shocking! Oh, very, very shocking. But funny, though you may feel guilty laughing! I did.
(If you want a more “realistic” movie about Ireland, try The Secret of Roan Inish or The Quiet Man —
I am joking!)
What is this movie “about”, really, and why is that question important? Well, I think the answer is partly historical and local to Ireland, but I also think that, philosophically, the film’s questions are universal, and thus its wide appeal. The Irish Civil War, brief and atrocious as it was,
took place 100 years ago, and yet “the troubles” (as they are quaintly and euphemistically called) still haunt Ireland, just as the characters in this movie—and perhaps many of us fellow humans to this very day—still are haunted by an incurable discontent.
Just my opinion, mind ye--The Banshees of Inisherin is a fine film. The film's principal appeal is its actors, every one of which in small ensemble brings richness of humanity to characters who range from a despairing fiddle player (Brendan Gleeson) and nice but dull farmer (Colin Farrell) to his sister (Kerry Condon) and a mentally- challenged abused teenager (Barry Keoghan). The story is quirky: On a desolate island off Ireland Farrell suddenly finds his old pub buddy Gleeson wants nothing to do with him because he's so dull. Farrell is heartbroken and tries again and again to get his friend back, which leads to a shocking reaction (no, nobody is murdered) by Gleeson. That's about it, but within five minutes you really care about these people, all of them victims of age-old prejudices and superstitions. The landscape, however bleak, has a quiet, stark beauty, and the movie's script never lags. You'll need to turn on the closed captions because the Irish accents are as thick as the fog.
I have been to the areas of Western Ireland where this film was shot—the Aran Island of Inishmoor and Achill Island on the coast of Connemara — and I can attest to the beauty and the strangeness of that part of Europe’s Atlantic edge. Surely, there are hidden secrets of history there, and lovely, mad stories to be told. The Banshees of Inisherin is one of those lovely mad stories. I highly recommend it to you! You will love it or hate it, and maybe have trouble deciding which, I guarantee you. But don’t say you weren’t warned!