Rated R for a lot (and I mean A LOT) of specifically Irish swearing. That's not me making a judgement call. It's literally a lot of words that we acknowledge as foul language that we don't specifically use in the United States. Also, the movie gets really dark, going into stuff like self-mutilation and violence towards animals. The R-rating is pretty well-deserved here. R.
DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
I'm glad this is the official kick-off movie of awards season because, after seeing the trailer, it's the movie off of the Academy Awards list that I wanted to see the most. Well, out of the ones I still hadn't seen. Everything Everywhere All at Once made me lose my marbles. But The Banshees of Inisherin was up there. Just because I'm incredibly basic, I was in the mood for another In Bruges. I mean, it's the same director with the same cast. What wouldn't make me excited to see this movie?
Thank God it wasn't another In Bruges. Okay, I need to go back and watch In Bruges again because I've only seen it the one time. But I think I needed something else from Martin McDonagh that still somehow maintained his sense of auteurness about him. (Auterness? Auterity? Auteurnidom?) I kind of have a Danny Boyle appreciation for McDonagh now. When you watch a Boyle film, there are certain hallmarks that really stand out in his work. But Boyle infamously doesn't like doing the same genre twice. I could have seen The Banshees of Inisherin as this very cool and clever takedown of friendship, set up against the backdrop of a civil war. To a certain extent, it is that. But The Banshees of Inisherin is as vulnerable as a movie gets. I mean, that is my buzzword. I love vulnerability in this movie. McDonagh can't hide behind anything here. As clever as his writing is, it's never trying to mask the fact that all of the weight falls on the likability of a village everyman against the boorishness of a snobby intellectual. Yeah, apply this to turn-of-the-twentieth-century Ireland and that's exactly what is going on.
The village is sparse. That sparsity is what makes this borderline a play. Yeah, there are people in the town of Irisherin, but they are color, not forces. They make the world of Inisherin a spectacle of drama. Let me explain. If I had to summarize the story, in its most basic form, is that it is a friendship breakup over nothing. One thing that Colm keeps on stressing is that Padaric has done nothing wrong. Fundamentally, Padaric will never be more than average. He luxuriates in his middling. This story is so universal that it would be considered too basic to film. Obviously, McDonagh knows what he's doing and he's not going to settle for simple. But in the way that Arthur Miller made the mundane fascinating with Death of a Salesman, McDonagh elevates what should be just a spat between two friends into something grandiose and epic. It is through the eyes of those secondary and tertiary characters that compounds what should be a hiccup into something that destroys worlds.
We, as the audience, become the town of Inisherin. The only people who have any right to sway over Padaric and Colm are Siobhan and Dominic, and even Dominc is a stretch. But it is Colm's dramatic nature, despite the fact that he seems calm as stone, that escalates all of the events. Listen, I know that that allegory of the civil war is in the background of this movie and it should be what I'm analyzing. Instead, I choose to analyze Colm and Padaric as a story divorced from the war coloring the setting of the piece. If I get there, I get there. But let me talk about Colm and Padaric because I find them fascinating. Colm outwardly seems in control of the situation. Colm thinks that he is the super-ego, rationally understanding that Padaric removed from his life is all that is stopping him from little immortality that he wishes to achieve. But as dramatic as Padaric gets in the movie (and who acts as an avatar for me), Colm is the one who is dramatic as get out. I honestly get the vibe that Colm is doing this as a form of self-destruction.
Colm is closest with Padaric. He has few friends with whom he interacts in a vulnerable (that word again!) place. He plays the fiddle and the town knows him because of his presence in the tiniest place on the planet. But he knows how Padaric will react. I refuse to think that he considers any of Padaric's behavior as a surprise. Everything that happens in the story is Colm. Sorry if I'm taking a side so hard, but I am. Does Colm have the right to separate himself from Padaric? Absolutely. I don't like it. Like the priest tells Colm, it's not a sin, but it's not nice either. But he does have that right. But the way that Colm handles it. Padaric is owed (sorry, but this is where I'm going to play it a bit conservatively) a real breakup. But Colm's silence is intentionally confusing. What Colm is doing is blaming Padaric for his own smallness. (Grow up.) The ultimatum that he gives Padaric is unreasonable.
From Padaric's perspective, the moral good is to rescue a relationship with his friend. Again, we can start breaking down id, ego, and super-ego here and I ask a better man than I who has a bit more patience and time to do it. But Padaric balances what he selfishly wants, his friend back, with the moral good, stopping his friend from self-destruction. Everything from Padaric's perspective, shy of burning down Colm's house with Colm in it, is done out of good. All of the data he's receiving about the situation is to ignore Colm's words and to concentrate on not letting his friend flounder. It would be easier for Padaric to allow Colm to suffer. Yeah, he would be sad that he lost a friend, but he also knows that he wouldn't be the center of a attention in this small town. Now, we have to be aware of the romantic breakup metaphor going on. There's this idea that, mental health wise, have to discuss aloud. While there are no blatant homosexual overtones, one could easily view this film through a gay lens. If this was a romantic breakup, we'd view Padaric as inappropriate. He would be considered mopey and manipulative. But gay lens or not, we would be denying Padaric his humanity.
I don't see Padaric as mopey. I see him as grieving. In much the same way that death is often confusing and surprising to us, Colm's choice to distance himself from Padaric does. All rational thought and a lifetime of input says that Colm should be close to Padaric. We are built on the expectation of normality and routine. Siobhan and Colm leaving Padaric, especially with a current of anger in leaving, is too much for anyone's mental health. While Siobhan empathizes with Padaric, she doesn't understand that he's a child with a wholly new experience. I don't see Padaric as manipulative so much as he is overwhelmed with emotion. I'm citing the scene where he gets a ride from Colm or the scene where he is saved from the abusive police officer. Leaving Padaric to his own devices may mirror the distancing from arrested development into adulthood, but it is too much without a safety net. (I mean, that's the point of ending arrested development.) But the Padaric shifts from a place of emotional death to literal death with the death of Jenny. There's something morbidly funny in this, although you won't find me laughing. Intellectually, I can state that the silly donkey is the one who dies in this scenario, directly caused by the selfish self-mutilation of Colm. (I mean, I don't need to analyze that. Colm says that his mutilation is tied to his artistic dreams being ruined by Padaric.) But Jenny is the only thing that represents normality. Jenny is given almost childlike qualities. This is an animal that is spoiled and raised by Padaric. As much as it is a joke, Padaric cares about the consistency of the tiny horse's excrement (very confused about what the final status of that animal is). It's the same care that a parent gives to a child.
Just to go full academic on this movie, there's a parallel between parenthood and friendship as well. Although Colm claims to be the more mature one, he only looks out for himself. He has the responsibilities of the single. He can play out at the pub every night and has nothing to really care for outside of his artistic talent. Padaric seems to care for others. He's almost entirely defined by caring. He cares for Colm, Siobhan, Dominic, and Jenny. Jenny, being the allegorical child in this situation, is the focus of his conversation. The conversation about analyzing her feces is the same converation that parents have about analyzing the diapers of a child for heath purposes. Colm's frustration may be that Padaric is boring compared to his free and fancy-free lifestyle, but it also acts a commentary for the traits that Colm lacks. Padaric, for his lacking intellect, has emotional maturity that Colm cannot fathom. Yes, he cares for Jenny out of selfishness because he has bonded with his animal. But he takes care of Dominic not because he loves Dominic. He actually finds Dominic quite annoying, but recognizes that Dominic is being stripped of his intrinsic value by his father. If fatherhood is about sacrifice, that's Padaric acting as the father that Dominic never had.
It's appropriate that Colm bonds with Jonjo. Jonjo, despite his label as literal father and public father (as police officer, caring for the town), he fails at meeting the requirements that it takes to being a father. He cares only for himself and his own creature comforts. He beats on Dominic (I'm not sure if the molestation was a real thing or a turn of phrase) and assaults those who don't respect his authority. But Colm sees a kindred spirit in those who don't care for social conventions nor self-sacrifice. It's while he is sitting with Jonjo that Colm has his speech about being famous for kindess. While Padaric allows his true feelings to come out at this moment, he also should note that people aren't respected for their evil either. Mozart may have been a blowhard, but he's not famous for being a blowhard. (I have no idea. I just know Amadeus.)
So, yeah, I could analyze the civil war as the reason for this movie. But I also really just grew to the characters. I wanted to know what made them tick. Is it the point? Maybe, maybe not. Did I overanalyze the relationship between these two men? Probably. But it's movies like this that have complexity in the simplicity (God I hate me for writing that) that allow me to write for long periods where I really enjoy writing.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.