‘The Banshees Of Inisherin’ Review: The Funny Sadness Of Lonely Men

There have been a few films in 2022 that have attempted to critique the roles that men occupy in society. “Men,” which was released in June, and “Don’t Worry, Darling,” which came out in September, are a couple of examples that come to mind. Both have female protagonists who suffer the consequences of patriarchal power structures and try to confront them. These films are violent, portray their men as wholly villainous, and do little more than scratch the surface of their own argument. Both films are more interested in visual tricks and beautiful aesthetics and motifs. The climax of the folk horror film “Men” involves a generic male character birthing himself over and over again, which comes off as a surreal, on-the-nose metaphor for toxic men enabling toxic men. The analysis in both films is half-baked and lazy, hoping to be taken seriously simply because of their —let’s be honest— weak association with the word “feminist.”


“The Banshees of Inisherin,” on the other hand, deals with themes of loneliness and anger and, through that, explores masculinity in a quiet, thoughtful way. The film is about two lifelong friends, Colm Doherty (Brendon Gleeson) and Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrel), who live on the small, fictional island of Inisherin, Ireland, in 1923. We meet these characters on the day that Colm decides he will no longer talk to Pádraic. He offers no explanation to the baffled and hurt Pádraic, who badgers him until finally, he is given a reason: He bores Colm. When Pádraic resists the abrupt ending of their friendship, Colm, who is trying to focus on his music, declares that each time his former friend tries to talk to him, he will cut off a finger from his fiddle-playing hand and give it to Pádraic. The film tracks Pádraic’s emotional graph as he grapples with this sudden loss, progressing from confusion to anger.

The delightfulness of the film lies in the simplicity of the premise and the fact that writer-director Martin McDonagh does not depend on any fluff, gimmicks, or tricks. Instead, he uses the 114-minute runtime to delve into the notion of what loneliness does to a man and, in a larger sense, what it means to be a man without ambition. Set against the backdrop of the Irish civil war, the film plays with different currents of turbulence, both explicit and those beneath the surface. Though there is violence here, too, the critique is not wholly dependent on it in the same way that it is in the two films mentioned earlier. The violence in “Banshees” elevates the story but is not its point. Rather, the relationship that the main characters (almost all of them men) have with masculinity is approached primarily with tenderness and love, even when they feel enraged and hopeless.


While the individual men in the film work well as metaphors for the varied ways in which the ideas of masculinity harm men, the characters are not just vessels for the writer’s larger moral message. They are fleshed out, colorful, funny, and tragic in their own right. Barry (Dominic Kearney), for example, is young, sweet, naïve, and seemingly on the spectrum. He is treated like the local idiot on the island but ends up being Pádraic’s only friend post his fall-out. That is until he finds out about a cruel trick that Pádraic played on a local musician in order to get back at Colm. Barry’s father is the local police officer (Peadar Kearney), an abusive alcoholic whom Barry hates and fears in equal measure. The officer is cruel throughout, and yet one cannot help but feel for him too when, towards the end of the film, he is led by the island elder (Sheila Flitton) to his son’s corpse floating in the nearby lake. Whether it was suicide or an accident is unclear, but the fact that it was a result of neglect is difficult to argue. The two of them are secondary characters and yet so full and rich, and compelling. They, like the main characters, are also trying to find their place and purpose on this earth as men. And it is often so heartbreaking that it is difficult to watch.

Yet, impeccable comedy permeates this tragic landscape. The dialogue is clever and snappy. There is a constant back and forth between all the characters that feel almost like a play, and it is a real strength of the film. It keeps the audience hooked and the energy of the scenes high. There is the scene where Pádraic’s sister confronts Colm. Siobhán (Kerry Condon), sensible and bright, is both frustrated and pained by the feud between the two friends and the hurt it is causing her brother. It is to her that Colm confesses how boring he finds Pádraic, to which she responds, flabbergasted, that they are all boring. It is funny and tells us of the film’s larger message. There is so much love between the characters in every scene, and yet there is a constant sadness and an inability to communicate the common fear that they are going nowhere. Another example of the masterful balance between comedy and tragedy is in Pádraic’s wonderful, drunken debate-turned-monologue, where Colm says that he wants to focus on his music because music lives forever, and that’s how a person is remembered. Pádraic argues that perhaps being nice is more important than being Mozart. It is intelligent writing that is well disguised in the simple, hilarious language of the characters, delivered with so much heart and sincerity. What makes the tragedy of Pádraic’s character arc all the more painful is also the fact that by the end of the story, he sacrifices his niceness, his best quality, to satiate his growing rage.


We are at a point in history where a lot of art is under the pressure of being socially relevant. Under that pressure, their activism becomes bigger than the story, and the art suffers. Films lose themselves to virtue-signaling and moral preaching. In this demanding and underwhelming culture, “The Banshees of Inisherin” emerges as refreshingly original and sincere. It is compassionate toward its world and the characters that inhabit it. Its commitment to doing a simple thing well is what brings its themes and larger questions into focus with such great success and clarity. It is also what makes this film a truly important piece of art.

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Rabia Kapoor
Rabia Kapoor
Rabia is a writer from Mumbai who is trying to look for the generous potential of the world through her work.

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