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The Banshees of Inisherin: Tragedy at its funniest

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Two lifelong friends find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship, with alarming consequences for both of them. Digital editor Dan Jensen sits down to check out this critically-acclaimed film that has now hit Disney+.

THE BANSHEES OF INISHERIN is as close as you can get to a contemporary Shakespeare tragedy short of reviving the bard himself and teaching him how to use screenwriting software. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, himself an accomplished playwright, this is a film that despite having the simplest of plots, is rich with themes and emotional depth.

Set on the fictional island of Inisherin in 1923 Ireland, the story follows two old friends, Pádraic and Colm (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson), the latter deciding one day that life is too short for Pádraic’s dullness and suddenly ending their friendship. Shocked at this sudden change of heart, Pádraic does his best to change Colm’s mind until Colm threatens to cut off one of his own fingers every time Pádraic annoys him.

What ensues is a deep character study with some of the most brilliant dialogue driving it forward. This isn’t a happy film by any means, yet somehow manages to be a hilariously dark comedy. The laughs come at the most inappropriate times and the film never tries to be funny — it just is. Often, you’re left wondering why a line delivery or situation evoked such a chuckle, but that’s one of the many ways Banshees succeeds at being clever.

Along with the two main characters are Pádraic’s sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), who acts as a mediator in the feud. There’s also the local simpleton, Dominic (Barry Keoghan), the son of the town policeman who dreams of winning Siobhán’s heart but also hides a dark secret. Then there’s the strange Mrs McCormick (Sheila Flitton), a gnarly old woman who prophesies death and misery and bears a resemblance to the witches from Macbeth.

Aside from being populated with quirky characters, the setting provides some gorgeous scenery as one might expect from a quaint Irish island. The production design feels authentically 1920s and the movie starts off feeling like a cosy, warm blanket that draws you in, wraps itself around you and makes you comfortable. That is until the narrative starts feeling increasingly morose and as much as you want these two old friends to patch things up, the chances of a happy outcome look slimmer with each passing scene. Eventually, the blanket starts to feel too hot and you just want to kick it off.

The character of Colm comes to this juncture in his life due to realising that time is short and we only have one chance at leaving behind a legacy — in this case, his music. He shuts out everything that he deems meaningless, including his friendship with Pádraic. In turn, Pádraic reminds him that it’s more important to be nice to people and in this we have an interesting dichotomy between what’s more important — the here and now or an uncertain future.

Banshees also explores themes of the struggle with loneliness, the cost of holding grudges and the importance of friendship, along with how fragile they can sometimes be. Set at the tail end of the Irish Civil War, it also provides a commentary on the two warring factions if one chooses to look that deeply into it. It’s a film that works on many levels but can just as easily be enjoyed for the story on the surface.

As with The Quiet Girl, another Irish film released in 2022 and featuring few characters and locations, Banshees achieves an extraordinary amount with so little. But as wonderful as the cast is and all performances outstanding, it’s the dialogue that makes the film stand out. So many lines come across as sheer writing perfection and always feel like natural conversation, never once forced or stilted. There’s not a lot of action in the film, but there’s never a moment where things aren’t completely absorbing.

Make no mistake, though, Banshees isn’t a feel-good film, despite the frequent comedic beats. In many ways, it resembles life, where even in the darkest times, you’ve sometimes just got to laugh. The film was nominated for nine Oscars at this year's ceremony, yet achieved absolutely none. Surely there’s some kind of dark, ironic joke to be found in that.

The Banshees of Inisherin is now streaming on Disney+.

You can follow digital editor Dan Jensen on Twitter @DanJensenIA. Follow Independent Australia on Twitter @independentaus and on Facebook HERE.

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