The Banshees of Inisherin Martin McDonagh (UK; 2022) Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson
viewed Tyneside Cinema 1st Nov 2022; ticket £5
Martin McDonagh’s Banshees of Inisherin is a psychodrama in which the wills of two men are pitched against each other. It’s a common enough film thematic and well represented in English movies such as the Losey’s ‘The Servant’ and Jenkin’s ‘Bait’. Another recent example is John McDonagh’s ‘The Forgiven’ which in contrast to Losey and Jenkins’ films is a weak and unconvincing play out of its protagonists’ opposition.
The scripts of ‘The Servant’ and ‘Bait’ both engendered high levels of intensity.
Inherent in the relations established by these films were the countervailing influences of class and family and their respective scenarios were developed so as to probe and exploit the inherent and endemic tensions in the situations. ‘The Forgiven’ whilst establishing an initially strong dynamic between perpetrator and victim delivered a flat flaccid experience as its script shied away from exposing the deep personal and socio-cultural chasm that divided the protagonists, relying on a parallel editing structure to deliver fake suspense rather than the tension of physical proximity.
Set on an Irish island location of the kind beloved by Hollywood, Martin McDonagh’s ‘Banshees’ pits Paidraic against Colm in a psychodramic test of ‘will’.
The proposition is as follows: from being ‘close friends’ Colm has suddenly and pre-emptively shut Paidraic completely out of his life; a decision Paidraic cannot accept. The immediate problem is that we the audience are dropped into McDonagh’s script at the point of crisis, without insight or perspective on how things had been previously between the two men; our only source of information about the background to the event – life on a small Irish island – is drawn not from experience but in the main from the film industry. Contrast this with ‘The Servant’ or ‘Bait’; we also enter into the flow of these films at a certain point in the story. But firstly the respective back stories of ‘class history’ and ‘family history’ are introduced so that the viewer has a strong and specific understanding of these types of relations. In addition audiences have personal background experience of both ‘class’ and ‘family feuds’ so that they can use their own experiences in reading the development of these films.
In ‘Banshees’ we are simply presented with the fact that Colm has made a particular decision. Statement of this fact is continually re-enforced by the script in which every character repeats the same fact: Colm and Paidraic used to be ‘great inseparable friends’. A pall of deadness from the beginning seeps over scenario as the script closes off personal history by repetitive dialogue about a backstory that has to stand in for the scenes we never see. We never see the originary scenes presumably because McDonagh was unable to figure how to carry off such back clip dialogue. Colm’s decision is particular to Paidraic. Although he says he doesn’t want any more distraction in his life, Colm doesn’t retreat into a cocoon of silence. At the pub he’s happy to engage the local policeman in the art of conversation. Which seems strange as the policeman doesn’t seem any more interesting than Paidraic.
In short the opposition of the two men takes place in a psychic vacuum.
Because the script lacks a natural engine of opposition to drive the conflict, the scenario has to resort to invented spectacle as a device to fuel the engine of the narrative. The device is the threat by Colm to self mutilate by cutting off a finger on his left hand each time, if and when Paidraic tries to speak to him. The script itself runs out of patience with this device and shortcircuits the process of de-digitalisation by having Colm, after cutting off one of his fingers at Paidraic’s first infraction, suddenly cutting off his four remaining ones, as response to Paidraic’s second misdemeanour. As if Colm too had got bored with the prospect of a long drawn out scripted process of finger mutilation. McDonagh’s writing was unable to develop a working scenario that could economically crank up tension in his film, finger by finger. So like one of those washing powder ads, his script skipped the in-between bits. All he wanted was to get to the final spectacle of the fully bloodied cropped hand.
‘Banshees’ fails to develop the characters in a decisive manner that engages the audience. With the the men stepping into the screen out of a narrarive void it needs some deft scripting to fill out the omitted relational significations. Both Colm and Paidraic are dull characters and dull characters make for dull films. In both ‘The Servant’ and ‘Bait’, the characters develop out of a back story, expanding as individual types to fill out the screen with their personas. To fill out Colm, McDonagh relies on the physical presence and close up affection images of Gleeson, which asks the audience to read into his state of mind. Paidraic’s sudden change in character feels overdetermined, ie those scenes representing his development scripted into the end of the film meet the need of the film for spectacle; rather than being events that develop out of the internal logic of the scenario. Paidraic burns down Colm’s house, claiming to be a changed man; he is not ‘nice’ any more. But despite his actions and his words, he doesn’t feel any different; he seems to be going through a series of false claims and motions to satisfy the commercial priority of delivering the product to the market.
Shot with crowd pleasing beautiful landscapes, in a clichéd Irish vernacular setting, this is a film that deals in tokens. Token characters, token Irishness and token Banshees. The Banshee flaunted in the title is represented in the film by the occasional appearance of an old looking woman whose face is slapped over with white foundation (very original). She utters stuff about immanent deaths. She has little centrality or indeed only makes an unconvincing sparse contribution to the film. But the service rendered is to the title, because it is a good title for a movie. The ‘Money’ liked that.