The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin ★★★★★

Is it better to be remembered or liked? It’s a question with little more practical utility for the majority of people than, say, trying to play a fiddle with four fingers. 

The idea nonetheless becomes the preoccupation of one of the characters of Martin McDonagh’s “The Banshees of Inisherin,” played by Brendan Gleeson. One day, after pondering the dilemma, he decides that he will abruptly cut off friendship with his best mate (Colin Farrell), and choose legacy over likability. 

McDonagh, since his theatre days, has had a preoccupation with stasis. This arose with mystical thematics of purgatory in the director-playwright’s earlier film, “In Bruges,” and, throughout his work; in back and forth dialogue that often amounts to a feck-filled rendition of the old “Who’s on First” comedy routine. There is no progress. No understanding. Just words colliding against each other, heads butting, appendages flung. 

“Banshees,” in which the plot escalates through Gleeson’s character cutting off an increasing number of his fingers, has a sort of corporeal symmetry with one of McDonagh’s stage plays, “A Behanding in Spokane.” Starring Christopher Walken as a man who goes to violent ends to reunite himself with his chopped-off left hand, the character makes it his entire life obsession to find the missing limb. In “Banshees,” the severing of digits becomes similarly a sort of declaration of purpose. In the absence of all other intent, there is always the intent of violence. 

So when two men are stuck on a remote Irish island, with naught to talk with but each other and their animals, any attempt to disrupt stasis with the introduction of intention… necessarily results in bloodshed. 

McDonagh, through his legacy of works for stage and cinema, must be held as one of the current screenwriting auteurs, immediately distinctive in his rhythms in the same way as Billy Wilder or Joseph L. Mankiewicz. 

In “Banshees,” he has reached a point of such mastery, that, in Ferrell’s character, he essentially writes himself an antagonist. A man insistent on niceness, on inaction, on stasis. Stubborn as the donkey he calls his dearest companion. As “Banshees” escalates, it is as if McDonagh is waging a war of verbal principle on the character’s passivity. Insults and aggressions are hurled at a relentless pace towards his disregard. Just offscreen, it’s almost possible to envision McDonagh waving a pair of hedge cutters in Farrell’s direction, yelling,

something, for fecks sake. Or if not, at least want retribution.”

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