The Banshees of Inisherin

Before identifying what this film is, it helps to identify what it isn’t. The Banshees of Inisherin is not a lecture on male friendship. Neither is it an allegory of the Irish Civil War. Many accounts of the film treat it as one or the other.

The Banshees of Inisherin is a story of friendship and community, with each of those words taking one of the darker of its meanings. The friendship is between Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson), and its explicit termination by Colm. The community is the (fictional) island of Inisherin, off the west coast of Ireland, during the Irish Civil War.

The trailer doesn’t do the film justice, but here it is:

Banshees is a play turned into a movie. Martin McDonagh made his name as a playwright, wrote the first two plays in a trilogy, and had a title for the third: The Banshees of Inisherin. He then worked in film, writing and directing the wonderful In Bruges, in which Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are perfect together. They are just as good together in Banshees, but Banshees is not a sequel: it’s a reunion of McDonagh, Farrell, and Gleeson to tell a different story.

So why make Banshees for the screen rather than for the stage? I can think of three reasons. First, the film shows us the island, with its harsh natural beauty divided by stone walls. Second, it allows animals to be part of the ensemble cast. Banshees is an ensemble piece (whatever Oscar categories might say), with captivating performances from Farrell, Gleeson, several other humans, and several animals, including a donkey and a dog. Third, there’s more money to be made from screen than from stage; this is less convincing to me than either of the first two.

If I watch Banshees as a play, with an interval, I go into the break convinced that it is the best thing I’ve ever seen. In particular, the dialogue is great, and unbelievably well acted. The first half ends with Pádraic and his sister leaving the pub after a dramatic confrontation with Colm.

The second half didn’t work as well for me. Many movies (I don’t see as many plays as I used to) have second-half action because the movie (or play) is meant to get more exciting., rather than because the action grows naturally out of the early scenes. Banshees falls into this trap: I can’t explain without spoilers.

That said, Banshees is a very good movie, and play for the big screen. I recommend it highly. My preference for the first half shouldn’t overshadow my admiration for the film: the dialogue, the acting, the setting,…

If you allow yourself to watch it as a story, rather than as a lesson on masculinity or on Irishness, I think you’ll enjoy it too. But over to you, if you’ve seen it: what did you think?

Oscar Nominations 2023

I love movies, but rarely go to the movies these days. I detest much about the Oscars: “I used to be disgusted. And now I try to be amused”, to quote Elvis Costello writing about something else. So why post in reaction to the nominations for the 2023 Oscars?

It’s late January 2023, a good time to reflect on the films of 2022. Many other people, be they critics or civilians, are already in the conversation: here’s an example from my favorite newspaper.

Everything Everywhere All At Once leads nominations. It is also my favorite among the 2022 films I’ve seen, so perhaps I should be less dismissive of the awards. I loved “Michelle Yeoh as an unsuspecting launderette owner who battles evil by connecting with different versions of herself in parallel universes”. I’ve yet to see her main rival for the award: Cate Blanchett in Tar.

The Banshees of Inisherin was also much-nominated and deserving. Martin McDonagh wrote a play, then turned it into a film. The first half would send a theatre audience in to the interval stunned by its greatness: dialogue, acting by humans and other animals,… It ends with a particularly intense scene in a crowded pub.

The second half of Banshees is clumsy, mostly in a “we need to up the stakes as the movie goes on” way. I strongly recommend the film, and enjoyed the second half even as I felt let down after the first. As for Oscars, it made me feel the lack of an ensemble award.

I enjoyed several animated movies in 2022, especially Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, which was nominated and may well win, and Richard Linklater’s Apollo 10½, which was not nominated.

Looking forward to the awards and beyond: I should see more movies; I should be less grumpy about awards. How about you?

Getting Back Into Movies

I haven’t been a regular movie-watcher for far too long. There have been many reasons for this, including parenthood, Covid, and attention span problems. Now, as my attention span returns, I’m returning to movies, mostly through the internet rather than movie theaters.

You can see what I’m watching by visiting me on Letterboxd. I mean to keep logging the films I watch, rating most of them, and reviewing some of them.

My favorite source of movie reviews is the YouTube channel deepfocuslens. Maggie is my favorite kind of YouTuber: what I term an ELK, one who is Enthusiastic, Likeable, and Knowledgeable.

I must get to a theater soon to see Dune, which I have been looking forward to seeing on a big screen for years. My most regular movie-going years were during graduate school, when the theaters in the mostly-dead malls between Amherst and Northampton (Massachusetts) used to have “twilight shows” for $2.50. That was cheaper than renting a videotape. (That comparison will illustrate how long ago I was in grad school.)

What is your current view of movies? Eclipsed by TV shows? Products for the dying institution of the movie theater? In a golden age made possible by new technologies of production and consumption?