At some point, we’ve all considered a Facebook purge. Those grammar school mates you haven’t seen since grammar school. Some stranger who showed you a meme at a party. People you never even met but friended because you agreed with their post about Gavin Newsome 2024. Basically, all those hundreds of near-or-total-stranger ‘friends’ whom the FB algorithm puts in your face 20 times a day to waste your precious scrolling time with inspirational quotes or photos of a curious slug in their garden (“Can anyone tell me what this is? It’s eating my cucumbers!”)
But we rarely go through with the purge, do we? We don’t want to hurt their feelings. Who knows what delicate emotional state they may be in? Facebook friends may be the only friends they have.
Well, in The Banshees of Inisherin, Colm (Brendan Gleeson) has no such concerns. (And it’s 1923, so he doesn’t have Facebook anyway.) He wakes up one day and decides his buddy Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is too much of a dullard to waste any more time with. No drifting apart over a few months, no pretending he has other plans at pub time. Cold turkey. Friendship over.
Poor dull Pádraic has no idea how to process this. His days consist of three things: milking his cow; taking the milk to market; having a pint with Colm. He lives with his supportive sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), but she’s a woman, and wouldn’t appreciate his scintillating conversation about what he found in his donkey’s shit that day.
The plot follows Pádraic’s increasingly pathetic attempts to pull Colm back, and the drastic measures Colm takes to convince Pádraic to leave him alone, including self-mutilation. Even after Colm throws his finger he has cut off at Pádraic, Pádraic cannot give up, and their war of attrition escalates to ever more drastic actions.
Sporadic cannon fire from the Irish civil war across the water on the mainland serves as a backdrop to the proceedings, but it’s really more of a textural layer. Banshees, in the end, seems to be about despair, how we handle it and how much burden we take on to help those we love handle it. Set on an island of steep cliffs, the film places its main characters at various distances from the edge of that despair, and has them move toward or away from it.
Colm, a fiddle player, is right on the edge, and has come to realize that it’s his music that calls him away from the precipice. Daily interactions with tedious Pádraic have become too much of a drag on him, so he drops the weight. Stripped of the friendship that kept him cushioned in his simple world, Pádraic now sees what despair is, and is terrified. Colm sees his behavior as self-preservation, Pádraic sees it as cruel and selfish. Yet he can’t recognize his own cruel dismissiveness of the simpleton Dominic (a fantastic Barry Keoghan), who seeks Pádraic’s friendship.
It’s only Siobhan who eventually escapes this isolated land of miserable, stubborn men intact, by walking up to the edge of her cliff and leaping over it, to a job far away. In doing so, she too is abandoning Pádraic to save her soul.
Even for someone like me who appreciates heavy stories as long as the acting is brilliant – which it is beyond here – this would be a lot. You need a sense of humor to get through it, and writer/director Martin McDonagh weaves this throughout, keeping a spark lit in his characters no matter how dark they get on the outside.
Come to think of it, humor is the reason I don’t do that Facebook purge of ‘friends’ whose posts make me want to jump off a cliff. Show me enough clips from Family Guy and kidsgettinghurt and I’ll keep scrolling through the soul-crushing dullness.
Predicted Oscar nominations: 9
Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Actor, Supporting Actor x 2, Supporting Actress, Cinematography, Editing