The Banshees of Inisherin is great — and even better if you know the history behind it (2024)

It doesn’t take a doctorate in Irish history — thank goodness, since I do not have one — to know that The Banshees of Inisherin is not merely a delightfully madcap tale of Irish zaniness. It is that, since writer and director Martin McDonagh (of In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is incapable of turning out a boring story. But there’s more to it than what’s on the surface.

The Banshees of Inisherin plays like a very funny fable or a folk tale, the story of two lifelong friends, Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson). The two men live on a remote island off the Irish coast, which is sparsely populated by a collection of eccentrics who’ve known each other forever and are unlikely to ever leave. The only occupant with aspirations to get off the island is Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), who’s tired to death of everyone, especially the men, who are, as she says, “all f*ckin’ boring.”

Well, maybe not all boring. One day at the pub, their usual afternoon haunt, Pádraic discovers that Colm is no longer his friend. The reason for the break is elusive to Pádraic, and even a bit elusive to Colm, who just can’t deal with his friend anymore. But when Pádraic can’t accept Colm’s decision, Colm sets out to make his intentions clear in the most unhinged way possible.

McDonagh (Irish, but raised in London) is a playwright at heart and by trade, and he thrives in this sort of setup: a tightly controlled world of weirdos, a hothouse for quarrels and inside jokes and petty beefs and grudges held so long that people barely remember where they started. It makes for immensely entertaining storytelling, and he’s at his best in this distinctly Irish setting. Reuniting Gleeson and Farrell, whose odd-couple pairing rendered the gothic crime comedy of In Bruges so unforgettable, was the right choice. They’re fantastic in the roles, Gleeson as a world-weary grump and Farrell as a naif who seems to be missing a few screws.

But if you don’t detect what’s happening in the background of The Banshees of Inisherin, then it just plays as a weird tale told late at night over a few pints. The film really expands when you look into the background.

Because just across the way, across the water from Inisherin, there are explosions visible on the coast. The characters remark upon them occasionally, musing on the fighting that’s happening over there, a conflict they hope and believe will be over soon. No matter — it doesn’t touch them here on the island, where it’s Colm and Pádraic’s break that occupies everyone’s attention.

That fighting, presumably, is actually part of the Irish civil war. The film is set in 1923, at a time when that conflict had been raging for nearly a year. It’s part of the long history of strife and violence in Ireland, mostly having to do with vastly differing views on British rule of the island. The civil war commenced after the Irish War of Independence, which led to the establishment of Ireland as a free state that nonetheless would remain part of the British Commonwealth (more like Canada than Scotland, in other words). Some who had fought for independence with the Irish Republican Army supported the treaty that created the Free State; others fiercely opposed it, believing that Ireland ought to be wholly free from British involvement.

The result was a bloody war in which men who had fought on the same side now were fighting one another, lasting from June 1922 to May 1923. Watch The Banshees of Inisherin with this in mind, and you can start to see what McDonagh is doing. The break between Colm and Pádraic works on its own terms, but it’s also a startlingly violent fight between men who are basically brothers, a fight that has a logic to it and yet is heartbreaking precisely because of the depth of history between them. It’s the conflict in microcosm.

The Banshees of Inisherin is great — and even better if you know the history behind it (2)

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The “banshees” of the title (and of the song Colm is composing throughout) are significant, as well. They hail from Irish folklore: female spirits who shriek and wail and mourn, signaling that a family member will soon die. In The Banshees of Inisherin, there’s no literal banshee, but it’s clear that’s the role that Mrs. McCormick, the pipe-smoking old woman that Pádraic avoids like the plague, plays in the village. Her dark forebodings suggest death is on the horizon — literally, on the horizon they can see.

In the end, the characters muse that the conflict across the way seems to be subsiding, and it seems the conflict on Inisherin might be too, in the darkest of manners. But that dialogue is meant to take on a note of bitter irony — or perhaps the darkest of comedy, which are two sides of the same coin in Ireland. Because we know, 100 years later, that the conflict didn’t subside in Ireland, even if a tenuous peace held in the Republic. Plenty more fighting would transpire, much of it in Northern Ireland (now part of the United Kingdom), specifically during the Troubles, which lasted from the 1960s to the 1990s. Plenty more blood would be spilled, and conflicts would divide Irish society for generations.

Which is what provides The Banshees of Inisherin — undoubtedly a comedy, and often a very funny one — with its tragic backbone. Friend against friend, brother against brother, love lost and grudges cracking the fabric of society; it’s all contained in this little fable. And the banshee foretelling doom stands in the background, shrieking and mourning it all.

The Banshees of Inisherin opens in theaters on October 21.

The Banshees of Inisherin is great — and even better if you know the history behind it (2024)

FAQs

What was the point of Banshees of Inisherin? ›

The Banshees of Inisherin is about the tension between 'community' and the 'individual'. Community restricts individuality, but individualization risks alienation and isolation.

What do Irish people think of banshees of Inisherin? ›

Oscar-nominated film The Banshees of Inisherin portrays Irish people as “moronic” and is “extremely offensive”, according to a complaint to the Irish Film Classification Office (IFCO).

What is the moral of the story in The Banshees of Inisherin? ›

It's a deeply cynical story with an achingly human message, a meditation on the way we define ourselves through others. One cannot pin their failures on a friend, nor can they use a peer as proof of virtue. We are our own individuals and must recognize ourselves as such.

What is the allegory of Banshees of Inisherin? ›

I found that there were several ways people decided to interpret this film. Some theorized that Colm and Pádraic's conflict is a metaphor for the Irish civil war. This would make sense as neighbor turned on neighbor without warning during the war.

Is there a hidden meaning in The Banshees of Inisherin? ›

The Banshees of Inisherin can be perceived as a parallel to the Irish Civil war, which tore the land apart due to a conflict between once close civilians, fracturing friendships and destroying blood bonds.

What do the fingers represent in Banshees of Inisherin? ›

Why Colm cut his fingers off in the movie "The Banshees of Inisherin"? If Colm represents the Free State and Pádraig the (original) IRA, then my theory is that Colm's fingers represent Northern Ireland. One of the terms of the treaty was to give up the North.

What is Banshees of Inisherin a metaphor for? ›

The Banshees of Inisherin poignantly depicts a tale of despair and friendship in which despair overpowers friendship mostly throughout the film and this despair stands as a metaphor for the collective angst of Irish people during the Irish War of Independence.

What is the symbolism in The Banshees of Inisherin? ›

Besides being funny and devastating, Banshees of Inisherin is also rife with symbolism about the Irish Civil War – indeed conflict in general, especially male conflict – and McDonough's commentary is explored through the end of Colm and Pádraic's friendship.

What is the mistake in The Banshees of Inisherin? ›

The Irish Whiskey advert at the local pub is misspelled "Whisky". That's the spelling for Scotch. The spelling is correct on the mirror. Persse's Whiskey Company of Galway used the 'Scotch' spelling on advertising mirrors and bottle labels.

What is the significance of the old lady in The Banshees of Inisherin? ›

In The Banshees of Inisherin, there's no literal banshee, but it's clear that's the role that Mrs. McCormick, the pipe-smoking old woman that Pádraic avoids like the plague, plays in the village. Her dark forebodings suggest death is on the horizon — literally, on the horizon they can see.

Why is The Banshees of Inisherin disturbing? ›

Depression amongst men is discussed, and the film has some dark, disturbing scenes. This includes a man cutting off his fingers.

What does the donkey represent in The Banshees of Inisherin? ›

The gentle creature is a mirror of sorts for Pádraic, whose blissful, easygoing nature is destroyed by the end of the film when – major spoiler alert! – Jenny dies. "It's the death of Pádraic's innocence. Jenny represents that," Farrell says.

What was the point of the banshee of Inisherin? ›

The message of the film is the downfall of culture and the way loss can destroy someone. With the two leads serving as metaphors for the Irish as a nation, the message of the film can be read as a cautionary tale.

What is the real story behind The Banshees of Inisherin? ›

While the answer to what are the banshees of Inisherin may remain elusive, many are curious whether the film is based on a true story. As it happens, the Golden Globe winner is a complete work of fiction. However, Martin McDonagh did draw from a lot of real-life history to craft its setting.

What did the ending of Banshees of Inisherin mean? ›

The Death Of A Good Guy

The Banshees of Inisherin shows how the sweet and nice Pádraic is broken down so much that he becomes jaded. Not only does he lose his sense of hope and happiness, but he loses everyone he cares about. Siobhán leaves, Jenny dies, Dominic dies, and Colm makes their relationship impossible.

What is the purpose of the old woman in The Banshees of Inisherin? ›

In The Banshees of Inisherin, there's no literal banshee, but it's clear that's the role that Mrs. McCormick, the pipe-smoking old woman that Pádraic avoids like the plague, plays in the village. Her dark forebodings suggest death is on the horizon — literally, on the horizon they can see.

What is The Banshees of Inisherin trying to say? ›

I rewatched this last night and haven't quite seen my interpretation anywhere so thought I'd drop it in here. The Banshees of Inisherin is about how humans, separated from animals, intellectualize themselves into conflict. Pádraic is pure niceness/stupidity, mirrored by the animals prominently featured in the film.

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