Cappuccino Review: The Banshees of Inisherin
"I jes doan like ya no more."
The 95th Academy Awards is coming on March 13th, and as tiresome, virtue-signaling, pretentious, strained, and boring as I find most award shows, this one is impossible to ignore. What can I say? I’m a cinephile. Also, the gowns give me fairy princess vibes, which betrays a sad truth about Yours Truly here, which is that deep down, I must still be something of a romantic.
As an annual tradition, I pop a massive bowl of popcorn (oil, stovetop, salt, no butter), put on my unicorn slippers, and then watch all the Best Picture nominees on my laptop so I can have an Informed Opinion. Having an Informed Opinion is very important, on account of the Weighing In. You can’t Weigh In if you don’t have an Informed Opinion, and I refuse to hold forth on a subject I know absolutely nothing about.
Cappuccino is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
When I don’t know something, I adopt a wise policy of Shutting the F*** Up and listening to people who do. Honestly, more folks ought to try it.
The Best Picture nominees are as follows:
Everything Everywhere All At Once, which I reviewed here.
The Banshees of Inisherin
Top Gun: Maverick (Cruise skeeves me out, and I hate franchise movies, but I’ll eventually watch it, grumble grumble.)
All Quiet on the Western Front
Triangle of Sadness
Avatar: The Way of Water (that sound you hear is me horking up a lung.)
So many movies, so little time, especially now that I’m officially homeward bound on February 14th. Please bear with me during the next few weeks as
I drop to the ground to avoid gunfire get my New York City sea legs. It’s already been a wild ride.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a wild ride of a different sort. In this melancholic and darkly funny parable about the capriciousness of human affection and the gut punch of unexpected loss, writer/director Martin McDonagh tells a uniquely Irish tale. So Irish, in fact, I would have found it impossible to follow without subtitles. The brogues are thick, the scenery is breathtaking, but the subject matter is one we rarely see handled this deftly, and for that reason alone, I am smitten by this remarkable film.
Set in 1923 against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War, The Banshees of Inisherin is an allegory for the war itself, of course, but that’s not the half of it. Colin Farrell’s Pádraic Súilleabháin, a bit dim, a bit simple, but undeniably deep-feeling, calls on his pub-mate Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) to go quaff a pint with him. It’s clearly something they do every day, which, oddly, is the catalyst for what happens next: Colm is sick of doing what he does every day, and now he longer wants to go to the alehouse with his friend.
At first, he doesn’t offer any reason for his rejection. He sits smoking inside his house while Pádraic pounds at the door. Later, Colm goes to the pub but won’t have anything to do with his old chum, driving Pádraic crazy with pain and confusion. Few actors possess the vulnerability that Farrell does. He’s such an exceptional talent, you can see all five stages of grief in his eyes. First, the dim bewilderment. Is Colm putting him on? Then the refusal to believe it’s true. After that, a flash of anger—how dare Colm treat him so poorly! Then the pitiful jockeying to gain Colm’s approval, followed by the forlorn hurt of seeing that Colm wants nothing more to do with him.
All of this happens within the span of just a few seconds, as it ticks through Pádraic’s head that Colm truly doesn’t like him anymore.
And finally, Colm admits the truth. He finds Pádraic unspeakably dull. “The other night, two hours you spent talking to me about the things you found in your little donkey’s shite that day,” he tells him. Feeling his years, Colm says he wants to devote his time to making music, not sitting at a bar with a man whose company he can no longer bear.
In this way and others, director Martin McDonagh taps into a vein of fear so terrifyingly intimate, we rarely speak of it. What if the one we love suddenly decides not to love us back? What if, for no good reason—not to us, anyway—a friend or a lover arrives at the awful truth: we’re dull. We aren’t anywhere near as entertaining as we think we are. On some level, we’ve always been waiting for people to figure that out—and to cuttingly reject us.
Pádraic keeps trying to make sense of Colm’s cold shoulder. “But I’m a nice man,” he insists.
“So, we’ll keep aimlessly chatting,” Colm replies, shrugging. “And me life will keep dwindling, and in twelve years I’ll die with nothin’ to show for it, bar the chats I’ve had with a limited man, is that it?”
A lesser director than McDonagh might have contented himself with merely pleading Pádraic’s case. He doesn’t. But we do watch Pádraic’s formerly carefree spirit plunge into brooding self-absorption. At dinner, Pádraic asks his sister (brilliantly played by Kerry Condon) who the dullest person on the island is, having no idea that with one notable exception, it is he. This is what we do when we have been rejected. We curl in on ourselves. We kick down. But it is the rawest kind of narcissism we feel.
What is wrong with us? Why aren’t we worthy of love?
Sometimes, we aren’t Pádraic-the-Rejected, but Colm-the Rejector. In certain instances, the only reason we don’t end a friendship that no longer fulfills us is because it wouldn’t be “nice.” Niceness is something Pádraic values. The older Colm, who wishes to spend his remaining years composing music instead of getting drunk at a pub with a cowherd, doesn’t.
“I suppose niceness doesn’t last then, does it, Pádraic?” Colm says. “Do you know who will be remembered for how nice they was in the 17th century? Absolutely no one.”
And yet, despite our inner Pádraics and inner Colms, we continue to sit until our asses grow numb, listening to people drone on about the most boring nonsense. Why? Colm’s right, of course. Niceness isn’t noteworthy, except for those to whom it’s shown. But Pádraic is also right. Niceness is more than social lubricant. It shapes characters and worldviews. It’s what enables us to coexist.
Desperate, Colm ups the ante by threatening to cut off one finger of his left fiddle-playing hand each time Pádraic talks to him. Here’s where the Irish Civil War allegory comes into sharper focus. It’s an over-the-top escalation, not unlike the Irish Civil War. In more human terms, when we can’t have love, we settle for power, even if wielding power causes horrific self-mutilation.
Because in the end, it’s love Colm is asking for. A wiser man than Pádraic would see that and give it to him. Colm vaguely hopes that Pádraic will love him enough to leave him alone. But who among us is capable of that much altruism?
Especially when issues of our own self-worth are at stake.
It’s exactly what makes The Banshees of Inisherin an Oscar-worthy movie. We are shown these characters as we are shown ourselves. It’s a mirror any good movie holds up; the wise among us will take a considered look. And like any good movie set in Ireland, Banshees has a touch of the blarney to it.
A fool may amuse us, but in the end, we would be fools not to see ourselves in the fool.
That’s what The Banshees of Inisherin is to me. It’s the story of us.
Copyright © 2023 Stacey Eskelin
Have you seen any Oscar-worthy movies this year? Chime in. I want to hear your thoughts on the matter.
"Also, the gowns give me fairy princess vibes" -- I almost snorked my coffee through my nose.
I've seen "Maverick". It is entertaining and a vastly superior film to "Top Gun," but Oscar material? I really don't think so.
I've come to respect Cruise's acting chops, and he gets to do some real acting in this film. Unlike the first, he is the "adult in the room," though one must scare quote that as he is still a firebrand fighter pilot and naval aviator. Still, having the focus be on the grownup rather than the children is one of the things that improves the film.
There is still the obligatory/gratuitous sweaty sports on the beach scene, but there is some actual logic behind it. The sexism of the original is gone, thank Dog, so all of the characters are more like real characters. It was fun enough spectacle that I bought a copy for those days when all I want are bright lights and big noises. But Oscar worthy? Yeah, even I can't go there. If you lower your expectations, you might still enjoy it for the spectacle.
Now you have to review Tar.