Brendan Gleeson in the film THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN. Photo by Jonathan Hession. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved.

The Banshees of Inisherin: Relocating the Emotional Nexus of Filmmaking

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‘No one makes sad films anymore’, said Martin McDonagh, the director of the new Banshees of Inishrin film that is so-called destined for Oscar contention, in a recent Guardian interview. Indeed, whilst this comment is not necessarily true (I hear of Brendan Fraser’s Oscar rival ‘The Whale’, being devastating) I personally could not help but reflect on this comment whilst watching McDonagh’s latest picture, having read his Guardian interview beforehand. What does it mean to laugh, or cry or understand? ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ made me want to express all of these emotions, but on a plane that is not synonymous with other critically acclaimed movies. The plane in which I existed in my cinema chair. A plane that through witnessing emotions, forced myself to confront and reflect on my own.

Whilst I am self-admittedly a cinephile and find that engaging in cinema has been such a fervent part of my life that it is akin to other activities that one does during the day, like brushing their teeth, putting one foot in front of the other when walking, and fricking breathing?!, sometimes the meanings and symbols that one observes in filmmaking feels distant and vague. Whilst unlocking these meanings can be an extremely rewarding activity, it can also lead to confusion and an entanglement within meaningless details, because if the message behind a film is interpretative it can sometimes mean that everything can be something, and all of a sudden, I am stranded on a journey like that in Jules Verne’s novel, A journey to the centre of the Earth, without much choice in the matter. I recently viewed Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A space odyssey for the first time, and whilst deciphering the films ending, I found that it holds multiple interpretations, varying from human zoos to an overarching subliminal message about God. 

The point that I am trying to make is that whilst filmmaking, and art in general, exists in the subjective, and the magic of art is unlocking your own meaning from whatever you may be observing, the yearning of filmmakers for sensationalistic, atomic, earthquake splitting ideas can exist as a hurdle more than a Rocketship. The more that the observer experiences the same process of confusion aforementioned, the less that we can empathise with the simplistic nature of emotions within the filmmaking, which is ultimately the way that individuals appraise experiences, things, and ideas. Even the most highbrow of cinema critics would argue that meaning only exists so far as to help the audience further associate with the emotional psyche within the protagonist’s minds. 

I believe I can speak not just for myself, but also the multitudes of people packed into the Little Theatre cinema when I say that I found The Banshees of Inisherin to be profound even if the meanings and ideas communicated existed on a more basic plane than what one may be used to in modern films. Set in a 19thcentury rural community on a small island off the coast of Western Ireland, The Banshees of Inisherinchronicles the decline in the friendship between two men who may have once been seen as inseparable, Padraic and Colm (portrayed by Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson). Whilst Colm’s intentions are admirable (he wants to dedicate the rest of his life to composing music, rather than talking about nonsense with Padraic at the pub), he attempts to terminate the friendship brutally in a way that makes Padraic, labelled as ‘one of life’s good guys’, feel irrevocably lost. McDonagh’s film mainly deals with the aftermath of this rift. Whilst Banshees of Inisherin may lack the emotional complexity of Aftersun, nor the once in a generational level of despair as The Whale (from what I’ve heard), it was still overwhelmingly an incredibly fulfilling and rewarding experience. The Banshees of Inisherin dealt with its themes and emotions plainly with a heavy dose of realism, heavily reminding one of their own friendships and how the connections that we all make with those around us is the ultimately defining point of existence. 

A scene which I think defined the soul of this film is when Colm performed a piece of music in the local pub. In this sense the film is perfectly defined, as an endeavour for those watching to explore the emotional richness of their own lives. The Banshees of Inisherin is Colm and his small-time folk brothers that regularly play in the local pub, however McDonagh wants us to realise that this is not a lower form of music than Mozart, J.S Bach or Beethoven, rather the only way in which we can evaluate any type of artform is through our own emotional connection to it. In an essence, that is why Banshees of Inisherin is so acclaimed and was personally such a rewarding experience. It has re-evaluated the way in which I appraise art and has allowed me to understand the benefits of minimalism within artforms. 

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