The Greeks defined four types of love that one person can express for another. Eros refers to the kind between lovers, Storge refers to the kind parents feel for their children, Agape is a general sort of love one feels for humankind, and, finally, Philia is that between friends. While most stories in print, on stage, or on screen deal in the formation or breaking of erotic love, there is a type of falling out that’s equally as gut-wrenching, if not possibly more-so: the loss of a friendship. Even if one doesn’t see it coming, an individual can find understanding on some level as to why they were not a good match romantically for a person, but, to lose a friend, that’s a wound that never really heals as the rejection hits differently. In his latest work, writer/director Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths/In Bruges) explores this concept in the darkly comic The Banshees of Inishirin, coming available on home video in a variety of formats December 2022.
In the island town of Inisherin, close enough to hear the sounds of civil war but not close enough to consider the bloodshed as more than something on their periphery, a conflict of a different sort begins when Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) is briskly and coldly told by Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) that they are no longer friends. Bewildered, Pádraic struggles to accept this news and, despite Colm’s plain and clear words of platonic dissolution, attempts to win back his longtime friend. This action, while done with affection and love, is received as an act of aggression, resulting in Colm committing acts of violence that while forever shift their relationship going forward.
What follows is a standard home release review, so if you’re interested in learning about The Banshees of Inisherin without spoilers, head over to senior critic Hunter Heilman’s initial theatrical review.
If you’ve seen McDonagh’s other films, the writer has a gift for writing stories that manage to be at once profound and trivial, hilarious and tragic. One wouldn’t expect Seven Psychopaths (2012), a story about a screenwriter (Farrell) struggling to write a script with support from his thieving best friend (Sam Rockwell), to possess not only some great performances from its supporting cast but depth regarding love, support, and murder. The divisive Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) got maligned for what some took as a redemptive arc for a racist cop (also Rockwell), missing that the film is an exploration of the culpability of us all when we allow violence to go unanswered while also being tragically funny at near every turn. McDonagh brings that same sharp wit and biting humor to Banshees as he reunites his In Bruges (2008) leads Farrell and Gleeson, this time turning the spotlight on human connection and the difference between the importance of being kind versus legacy. With a plot so simple and straightforward, one wouldn’t conceive that they’d be so riveted, so uplifted, and so destroyed, and, yet, that is the case with Banshees.
Part of the impact of the film stems from the performances, part from the characterizations. As expressed in the main featurette “Creating The Banshees of Inisherin,” McDonagh mentions how each of the characters are really the protagonists of their own story. Put another way, each character is acting of their own accord, with their choices determined and acted upon just like we do in the real world, based upon our own needs and desires. This choice means that at any point the audience could side with Pádraic or Colm, or Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon) or local dimwit and officer’s son Dominic (Barry Keoghan). So when one says or does something, the way that it plays in the script, everything shifts so that, perhaps, we, the audience, could find ourselves considering who the bad guy of the film is. Is it the one who, upon hearing his friend’s wishes to cut ties in order to try to write music that would create a legacy (Colm), or is it the one who hears the words but does not abide them (Pádraic)? Is it the one who functions as a go-between while also seeking more to life than the island (Siobhán), or is it simpleton who leads with his mouth first and his heart second (Dominic)? With all of these pieces in play, you’d expect a little shortchanging or some cut-corners, but all of that is absent here. The only thing that’s done quickly is kicking off the tension as the film begins and, within minutes, Colm has made his declaration of dissolution, with everything that follows built around that conflict. Given the chemistry between Farrell and Gleeson, evidenced from In Bruges, and their performances, it’s easier to cast Colm in the villain role than to consider Pádraic’s responsibility in the situation; yet, the script never lets either one off the hook for their role in what’s, essentially, a messy breakup. For their parts, Condon and Keoghan are delightful, offering an unexpected grounding via their performances that allows their characters to hold a mirror up to the problems Colm and Pádraic only think they have.
Another fantastic aspect of the film is the detail work of the homes, Colm’s and Pádraic’s, which make up two central locations of the film. The local pub is a third central location, a place of social engagement and where several verbal sparring matches go down, and it gets some solid discussion in the “Creating” featurette, specifically about how the location was sought first and then the pub was built upon it so that McDonagh could design the space to his vision for the film. In the featurette, they explain how the interior of the pub is structured to allow for physical distance between the characters within the same space so that the gulf between the two is physical and visible as well as emotional. For those who enjoy the film, especially those scenes, this information enriches the watch; however, there’s not much discussion on either Colm’s or Pádraic’s homes and how they represent each character. Pádraic, an animal caretaker, has a single-floor home that enables his animals to come inside when it pleases them and him (much to Siobhán’s frustration), speaking to how important being connected to nature and simple things is to Pádraic. Conversely, Colm resides in a two-story home overlooking water, his downstairs filled with mechanical devices, masks, and other relics denoting a wider view of the world. All of this not only establishes that, of the two men, Colm looks beyond the simplicity of Inisherin, but a certain inevitability that their friendship would end given Pádraic’s preference for small and simple compared to how Colm sees himself within the world and his desire to make an impression. Each man is driven by their view of the world (who isn’t), but it’s made so evident in the way McDonagh houses the characters that it’s a shame, of all the details explored in the lone featurette, that some discussion isn’t made about this.
Regarding the home release specifically, Searchlight Pictures provided a digital code to be redeemed via streaming service MoviesAnywhere. Oddly, it did not share the film with my iTunes account, so I had to use the MoviesAnywhere app to screen the film and access the special features. This is important to note as typically anything redeemed by MoviesAnywhere is accessible through any other service that’s linked. In addition to the featurette previously discussed and five deleted scenes mentioned in the press release (all of which make sense to have been cut), the MoviesAnywhere version also includes 1:19 minute “Shooting with Animals for The Banshees of Inishirin” featurette that allows the audience to hear from animal handler Megan Hines about working with Jenny the donkey (real name and on-screen name). If you don’t have access through MoviesAnywhere, don’t fret as this same brief featurette is included as part of a larger discussion of working with animals within the “Creating” featurette. Frankly, because it’s *literally* the same information cut the exact same way, it’s a little strange that the brief featurette is included at all.
In the “Creating” featurette McDonagh comments that he left the film ambiguous in its ending on purpose, the idea being that people can revisit the film and come to a different conclusion each time. Whereas one may not find a whole lot of variations in how they read the end of Seven Psychopaths, Three Billboards and Banshees are each improved by their lack of concrete intent by the characters. By keeping them open to interpretation, like a novel (McDonagh suggests), audiences can explore, examine, poke, and prod the material based on where they are in their lives and how they see the world. Having experienced a sudden loss of friendship twice from the same person (fool me once, right?), I saw myself too often siding with Pádraic, his confusion and frustration mirroring a feeling I know all too well. Even when Banshees escalates into self-mutilation and accidental animal slaughter, none of it feels done to elicit audience shock but as a choice by the characters that demonstrates just how far gone they are from separating the necessity of immediate kindness versus the longevity of legacy (something that feels particularly biting with the irish Civil War ever-present in the background of the story).
In a moment which feels, briefly, like a wind of change is coming between the pair, Colm tells Pádraic about the song he’s written, “The Banshees of Inisherin,” stating, “And maybe there are banshees, too [on Inisherin]. I just don’t think they scream to portend death anymore. I think they just sit back quietly, amused, and observe.” (Emphasis included in the screenplay.) Amid war civil and interpersonal, there is no warning for when our time has come; sometimes all we can do is hope for the best and make our best guess at what to do. It’s a somber notion; one that permeates the film and the audience upon completion.
The Banshees of Inisherin Special Features: *
- Creating The Banshees of Inisherin – Go into the inimitable mind of director-writer Martin McDonagh as he delves into The Banshees of Inisherin, from story inception and reunion of its gifted actors, to searching the islands of Ireland for the perfect, evocative locations. (17:50)
- Five (5) Deleted Scenes (4:53)
*Bonus features vary by product and retailer
Available on digital December 13th, 2022.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD December 20th, 2022.
For more information, head to Searchlight Pictures’s official The Banshees of Inisherin webpage.
Final Score: 4.5 out of 5.