Wednesday 1 February 2023


 A few weeks ago, I watched The Banshees of Inisherin. Something about that film has hung about in my head ever since, thoughts that keep reminding me about the work of writing and a good place for them is in this blog. I have tried not to include the most significant spoilers.

                                         The Banshees of Inisherin showtimes in London

It's necessary to say that I watched The Banshees when we had visitors here, which is not at all the same as being swept up into the understanding of a film when you are simply by yourself. Though there was that wild romantic Irish landscape of the 1930's on my tv screen, there were also drinks and treats to be handed around and general sociability and murmur. My attention might have drawn away from the story now and again, so it is possible that I might not have understood The Banshees completely accurately, and yet and yet . . . here is my current reading of the film. 

The general publicity had described it as being about two long-time friends on a remote island, one of whom has decided that he no longer wants to be friends with the other. From the awards and enthusiasm about Farrel and Gleeson back together after their In Bruges film success, you might imagine that The Banshees was quietly amusing fun. 

No. Not true, at all.  Father Ted, this film certainly isn't.  

It is dark tragi-comedy, especially if you have ever had severe writing doubts because, at one level it seemed to me that The Banshees could be about how one copes with the creative life. Maybe not ideal viewing while those New Year plans and resolutions were mumbling about in my head but that might also be why I've thought about the film all through a too-occupied but unproductive January.

                                                The Banshees of Inisherin at UCD Cinema - movie times & tickets

In the story, the older character, Colm, (Gleeson), has realised that his dreams might never come to anything. He decides to shut himself away from the easy, mindless amiability of his younger friend Padraic (Farrell), blaming that friendship for eating up the years of life as a musician he might have had.

Padraic, hurt by this abandonment, tries crass, obvious tactics like walking alongside Colm on the roads, waiting around at the local bar, and so on. Colm, growing more angrily determined, turns to a series of self-destructive threats and brutal actions that, bit by bit, grimly destroy his own chances.

To me, Colm and Padraic represented two equally unhelpful attitudes to life. Padraic is the almost childish voice that whispers of the pleasure of small, idle amusements, of letting each day take care of itself. Colm, aware of the passing of years, is full of regret and annoyed at his own failing musical abilities, though we are not sure how great they ever were. He longs to commit to what may be his pipe-dream, to work at what we might now call his creative practice. He does not have time to idle with Padriac any longer. These are the damaging voices that so easily nag at any musician, artist or writer. Too soon? Too late? Maybe now is not the right time? Is it my own stupid fault or does he stop me from doing it? Now I am alone and have time, why is my unused bag of skills emptied? 

 No wonder both men are in conflict with themselves and each other.

As a further twist, Colm has a chance of meeting an influential musician who he hopes could open up the world beyond the island for him. Yet a brief visual image informs the viewer that the bicycling musician does not even recognise Colm personally as a musician, or any of the local people. He and his students are casually collecting - or stealing - the local tunes for their own purposes, and in the service of a griwing political culture and identity.

This moment acts like a brief reminder that academic institutions, the cultural media and the big organisations often disregard the actual work of the artists they claim to value. One hopes that Colm had not realised that this lack of influence is part of the artist's story too. He would need to make the music for himself first rather than for the powers that would sap his emotional energy and hope. Unfortunately, for Colm, awareness is slow in coming, and his rage fuels more than one soul.

Two other characters circle around this couple: Padraic's beautiful sister Siobhan (Condon) whose chances are fading as she troubles herself with all the work in the house, and Dominic (Keoghan) of the odd and wayward imagination who has his own hidden pains. One life is too weighed down with servitude and her responsibility for her sibling to make a better life of her own. The other is so damaged that he lives his life wildly, without any thought at all beyond the beauty or oddness of the moment. Both blocked off from their own life  and creative chances, or so it seems.

The story does resolve itself, and there are other themes at work in the film. Nevetheless, the banshee is a dangerous spirit who appears to give a warning. The Banshees of Inisherin certainly felt like a potent reminder. Neither a Colm nor a Padraic be.

Now what plans do I need to make for my February? 

Penny Dolan



Saviour Pirotta said...

Now I have to watch this film, Penny.

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks, Saviour. The film is a harsh but interesting study of life on a small island back in the about the 1930's, and not without some humour. I really want to see it again.

I've read elsewhere - a glance, not a deep study of the idea - that Th Banshees is also a representation of the divisions within Ireland brought about by the civil war.

Sharon Tregenza said...

I absolutely loved this film, Penny. I was thinking about it for days afterwards. I came to it cold and saw it in a cinema - it had a huge impact. It's like nothing else I've seen and featured two extraordinary performances.