Last week I saw the film The Banshees of Inisherin and the other night it won the Golden Globe award for “best picture, musical or comedy.”
Best musical or comedy? One of the characters plays the fiddle, but this is no musical. And I did laugh a few times during the film, although given my stunned and sad state after leaving the theater, I would never classify what I saw as a comedy.
But did the movie deserve some kind of award? Maybe so.
Set in 1923 on an isolated, island community off the coast of Ireland, The Banshees of Inisherin provides an intimate close-up of two men—Colum and Padraic—who have long been friends. Or were friends. When Padraic wanders over to pick up his friend for their daily afternoon visit to the pub, Colum informs Padraic he no longer wants to be friends.
The question is why. Colum’s initial explanation is that he doesn’t like Padraic anymore. Finds him dull. Says he’s tired of their casual, inane chatting about insignificant matters. Naturally, Padraic is hurt. He attempts over and over again to bring Colum back around.
But Colum resists—to the point where he says if Padraic doesn’t stop talking to him, he’s going to start cutting off his own fingers. What?!
Colum is having an existential crisis. He is despairing over the passing of time and that he hasn’t left his mark in the world. He wants to focus now on composing music because music lasts forever but chatty conversations with friends disappear forever in the annals of history.
That he carries through on his threat to start loping off his fingers is inexplicable and grotesque, and leads to escalating violence between the two men in a way only men can deliver.
Not sure what’s comedic about that. Or musical. Padraic has a sister, Siobhan, who lives with him on their small farm and seems the most reasonable and intelligent character on the island, although she’s been labeled a spinster and takes an opportunity to escape to the mainland when offered a job as a librarian.
There are two other characters of note: Dominic, who is mentally disabled and beaten and abused by his father (not funny or musical), and an old crone who is a prophet of doom who foretells two deaths (also not funny or musical).
My overall reaction is a complicated one. Despite the simple, one-plot story, I remained engaged throughout the movie, yet at times I wanted it to move along and end. When the ending did come, it was fitting and satisfying.
I think what earned the film the Golden Globe is its uniqueness, its willingness to take a simple premise to its farthest reaches, its powerful performances by its cast, and its extraordinary setting.
4/5 stars. See it if you can bear the sadness.