Friendships between men tend to disappear, not die. Not so in “The Banshees of Inisherin,” where Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) tells his closest friend Pádraic (Colin Farrell) to stop talking to him forever. They live in a small, isolated Irish village. Colm wants to focus on his fiddling, on finishing the song that will make him great. But he feels the approaching deadline of death and decides that he doesn’t have time for silly talks with Pádraic. Pádraic doesn’t understand and keeps trying to talk to Colm. Colm threatens to cut off his own fingers if Pádraic keeps talking to him.
The movie fulfills his promise, and fingers do in fact come off. It's no spoiler that the movie is violent. But the violence itself didn’t feel surprising, either. The potential violence simmers underneath the whole movie, beneath every beautiful shot of the Irish countryside, every drunken moment in the pub, and especially the distant cannon shots which echo over the water, a reminder of the Irish Civil War.
But more than just violent, “The Banshees of Inisherin” is lonely, too. Pádraic is continually isolated, pressed and put through increasingly miserable scenarios. His much brighter sister leaves to take a teaching job, and slowly, he realizes he might not be as smart as her. He becomes meaner, angrier and more isolated. All of this makes “The Banshees of Inisherin” feel dark, melancholy and strange.
It’s in this uneven, isolated feeling where “The Banshees of Inisherin” really shines. The film leverages history, especially the Irish Civil War, to amplify its sense of loneliness, and uses the Irish Coast to instill a desperate and austere beauty, of a land and people isolated, abandoned and strange to each other.
But the film never dives into excessive violence or loneliness. Rather, the film follows Pádraic’s attempts to claw himself out of his isolation. The violence is brief and desperate, more pathetic and pitiable than horrifying or gruesome.
I also shouldn’t ignore the ways that “The Banshees of Inisherin” is funny and absurd. The premise is a little ridiculous; the escalation of events even more so. And there’s something inherently humorous in violence that comes out of male loneliness, out of the simple desperation of Pádraic and the austere, cold ambitions of Colm, and his desperation to do something worth remembering. They are becoming lonely, each in their own way. They hurt each other. One wishes that maybe things could be fixed, that these friends could go back to the way they were, a way we never see in the film.
At the end of the film, standing on the beach, Pádraic says to Colm, “There are some things which can never be made up for.” He pauses. “And I think that’s good.” Across the water, The Irish Civil War is quiet, at least for now. There is more violence and misery to come.