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What is The Banshees of Inisherin about?
Banshees of Inisherin is a satire by writer/director Martin McDonagh about the Irish Civil War. Its lead characters, Colm and Pádraic, are symbolic of the Irish Free State and Irish Republican Army and . McDonagh is pretty critical of the war. Through Colm, we see the arbitrariness of the war’s beginning and escalation. Then through Pádraic, it’s the inability of the other side to just accept the new rules. The tone could have been serious, but McDonagh opts for something more rueful and absurd. It’s as if he’s asking, “Isn’t it crazy things reached the point they did?” Despite his chastisement, he seems to understand that there is, eventually, a line that once crossed can lead even a silly conflict to a point of no return. The parable-like nature of Banshees also allows McDonagh to bring in aspects of Irish folklore via Mrs. McCormick.
Movie Guide table of contents
- Colm Doherty – Brendan Gleeson
- Pádraic Súilleabháin – Colin Farrell
- Siobhán Súilleabháin – Kerry Condon
- Dominic Kearney – Barry Keoghan
- Peadar Kearney – Gary Lydon
- Gerry – Jon Kenny
- Jonjo Devine – Pat Shortt
- Mrs. O’Riordan – Bríd Ní Neachtain
- Written by – Martin McDonagh
- Directed by – Martin McDonagh
The ending of The Banshees of Inisherin explained
The ending of The Banshees of Inisherin begins with Pádraic burning Colm’s house down. Pádraic writes a letter to his sister where he paints a much different picture of life in Inisherin than the reality. He wants Siobhán to come home. Office Kearney goes to beat up Pádraic but Mrs. McCormick intercepts him and takes him to Dominic’s body.
The formal conclusion begins the next morning. Pádraic goes to see if Colm stayed in his burning house or left. Colm’s on the beach. He tries to tell Pádraic that they’re even now, but Pádraic won’t have it. He tries to talk as friends, but Pádraic doesn’t reciprocate. Then the conversation turns to the war. Colm thinks maybe the fighting is finished. “I’m sure they’ll be at it again soon enough, aren’t you?” is Pádraic’s response. “Some things there’s no moving on from. And I think that’s a good thing.”
As Pádraic leaves, Colm says to him. “Pádraic. Thanks for looking after me dog for me, anyways.” There’s a hint of a smile on Pádraic’s face. A softening to the intensity he had maintained so far. A quick “Anytime” escapes. Then Pádraic’s off.
Colm’s left on the beach, with his dog. He hums a song. The camera cuts to Mrs. McCormick, in a rocking chair overlooking the beach, her back to the camera, wearing a cloak. A long stick with a hook across her lap. The last shot is from the sky. We see the land of Ireland. It’s distant and beautiful. Soaked in golden sun. Lush. At rest next to the water. A soprano sings an operatic song.
The main thing is to remember The Banshees of Inisherin is a scaled down version of the Irish Civil War. Colm and Pádraic represent the Irish Free State and Irish Republican Army. What’s transpired between them has led to a bitterness and division that may never end. Despite the fact both care about each other and their historic friendship. This explains why their conversation turns to the war. It drives home the point that this movie has been about the war and the hostility that lingers to this very day over 100 years later.
Even though Pádraic says he thinks it’s a good thing to not move on from certain things, his last “Anytime” shows there’s still an aspect of camaraderie, of kinship. Even if it’s strained. Which seems like McDonagh emphasizing the inherent kinship all Irish share, despite the strife. There’s even a sense that Pádraic wants to relent. That it’s heartbreaking for him to continue with this. But he also craves Colm’s respect. And Colm has only respected Pádraic at his worst. So Pádraic’s leaned into being ugly rather than being nice, as if that was the only way to maintain the new rules of this friendship.
Regarding Dominic. He’s the youngest major character who lives in Inisherin. And his life is grim. His father abuses him. There’s no woman who will date him. He feels betrayed by Pádraic’s turn in character. And his father’s abuse has become public knowledge. Feeling completely hopeless, Dominic drowns himself.
Since the film is metaphoric, Dominic probably represents a youthful outlook on the future of the country. The Irish Civil War did result in tens of thousands of people fleeing Ireland for other countries. Which is exactly what Siobhán did. For those who stayed, the situation wasn’t inspiring. Thousands were dead. The Republicans caused billions of dollars in infrastructure damage. Morale plummeted. Especially since the civil war was a direct consequence of the Irish War of Independence from 1919 to 1921. Dominic as the embodiment of the youth’s hopelessness makes sense.
Especially since Dominic is the son of the lone authority figure on Inisherin. Office Kearney is the closest thing to a stand-in for government that the film has. Though one might argue he’s almost a stand-in for Britain and the dominion Britain had over Ireland. When looked at that way, Dominic’s drowning could be seen as the loss of Britain’s Ireland. That would also make the parental abuse a criticism of British rule.
This view of Kearney as Britain would explain the scene where Pádraic is upset at Colm for drinking with Kearney. The Irish Republican Army wanted full independence from Britain but the Irish Free State settled for “independence” in the form of being a dominion of Britain. If Pádraic is the IRA, then Colm would be the Free State. Then that scene in the bar makes a lot of sense.
Then Mrs. McCormick is the representation of the idea of the banshee, a popular figure from Irish folklore. A banshee is a dramatization of the funeral practice of keening, where women wail in mourning, so is viewed as a forerunner of death. Which is exactly Mrs. McCormack’s role in the film, as she predicts two will die. Then Jenny, the donkey, and Dominic do. That last shot of her looking at Colm on the beach can be viewed as foreshadowing of Colm’s death. Or the demise of the Irish Free State. Which happened in 1937 and led to the birth of the current Republic of Ireland.
McCormick looking at Colm resonates with the final shot of Ireland and the operatic vocalizations that have a keening quality to them. Keening is, afterall, the origin of the banshee. So McCormick is the physical embodiment of the idea, while the music is the aural. Then Colm is the metaphorical embodiment of the Irish Free State. Of course we transition from him to Ireland itself. This reinforces that the entire movie has been about the country. It also brings us full-circle. The opening was also aerial shots of Ireland. Except the initial music is more upbeat and folksy rather than haunting.
It’s worth noting that in the beginning, we go from the aerial shots to Pádraic. Then at the end from Colm back to the aerial shots. Given the power the IRA had before the Civil War and the way that power transitioned to the Free State, this arc from one character to the other is what you’d expect.
The themes and meaning of The Banshees of Inisherin
The cost of arbitrary decisions
Colm’s decision to no longer be friends with Pádraic is sudden and arbitrary. With how small the isle is, the order of things is pretty established, and what one person does affects many others. Colm doesn’t just ease out of his friendship with Pádraic. He doesn’t talk through things with Pádraic. It’s a full termination of the relationship. Not only is that unnecessary, Colm attaches the conditional of “if you talk to me, I will cut off a finger”.
It’s the conditional that really cements McDonagh’s point. It’s one thing to not want to be friends with someone. Arbitrary but relatable. Most people probably wouldn’t handle it how Colm did, but you’ve probably iced someone out of your life in a less direct way. Slow to respond to texts. Not making plans. Canceling plans you do make. Time passes. Distance grows. Friendship is over. These things happen. But “I will cut off a finger” does not.
It’s the absurdity of that idea that shows the absurdity of the entire situation. Especially since Colm cuts off five fingers in total. No one makes him do that. No one says that’s how he had to get his point across. What’s crazy is that cutting off one finger doesn’t stop Pádraic from talking to him.
The point of this crystalizes when you remember The Banshees of Inisherin is commentary on the Irish Civil War. Colm and Pádraic represent the two warring factions, the Irish Free State and the Irish Republican Army. It’s like McDonagh is pointing out how outrageous the two sides were. One came up with arbitrary rules. And the other wouldn’t accept them, even when the stakes escalated. If “Colm” would have been less dramatic, things probably would have worked out better for everyone. At the same time, why couldn’t “Pádraic” just not talk to “Colm”? Was that so difficult?
Because neither will budge, things escalate to a point of no return. Something that was initially silly begins to have an actual impact on the isle/country. And changes the status quo forever.
Limitations of Ireland
Siobhán, Pádraic’s sister, has outgrown what Inisherin has to offer. She can’t find friends, romance, or work befitting her intellect. She’s lonely and aching.
There’s a telling moment where Pádraic confronts Colm. Pádraic is on the side of being nice while Colm dismisses the importance of being nice and elevating the value of art. It gets at the divide between the two. Pádraic is pretty dull and of-the-moment. Colm is loftier and artsier and thinks he’s smarter than Pádraic. He uses Mozart as an example, saying no one remembers who was nice in the 17th century but everyone knows Mozart. To which Pádraic says “Well, I don’t. So there goes that theory.”
At the end of the argument, Siobhán takes her brother away, but not before letting Colm know something. “It was the 18th century, anyway” she says. “Mozart. Not the 17th.” It’s a reality check for Colm’s sense of superiority over Pádraic. Here he believes himself so much smarter, yet he’s also wrong. It also positions Siobhán as the true intellectual of the isle.
And what does Siobhán do? She flees. She takes a job on the mainland, leaving everyone on Inisherin to figure it out themselves. This seems like a euphemism for a kind of brain drain that happened because of the Irish Civil War. Sick of the fighting, tens of thousands of people actually left Ireland for opportunities abroad in England, the United States, and elsewhere.
Why is the movie called The Banshees of Inisherin?
First, the title itself. Inisherin is the name of the fictional isle where the movie takes place. Banshee is a little more complicated. Part of Irish and Scottish mourning involves keening. Keening is a kind of wailing song performed by women. So if you hear keening, you know someone has passed away. This eventually led to folklore about a keening female spirit that if encountered meant a death was coming.
With that in mind, the title is essentially referring to the idea of death in Inisherin. You could read it more metaphorically: a descriptor of women lamenting at someone’s funeral. Or as more literal and prophetic.
In the film, the title is the name Colm gives to his newest musical work. “The Banshees of Inisherin”. Colm then mentions he’s thought of playing it at Pádraic’s funeral. Given what we now know of keening as the origin of the banshee, the reference makes sense. But it probably has less to do with Pádraic and more to do with Colm himself.
Colm is depressed, or, as his priest refers to it, feeling despair. He has become acutely aware of not having much longer to live. Not because of any immediate sickness but because he’s older. Something will happen sooner rather than later. That awareness is essentially an existential banshee and what he’s channeled into his latest piece of music. A haunting, wailing, inescapable sense of mortality. If his demise is imminent, there should be a banshee, in inisherin, prophesying it.
There’s a deeper layer to all of this. Inisherin isn’t a real place. And the movie is Martin Mcdonagh’s way of discussing the Irish Civil War. So the whole of the country is scaled down to the conflict between Colm and Pádraic. What they go through is a euphemism for a conflict that took around 2,000 Irish lives and caused a national fracturing that’s lasted over a century (much like the U.S. Civil War).
The title should probably be looked at as a lament for Ireland itself. And a conveyance of McDonagh’s mourning for the death of national unity that occurred in the 1920s.
Lastly, there is Mrs. McCormick. She’s an older woman, who is kind of terrifying. She predicts two deaths will happen on Inisherin. And two deaths do: Jenny, Pádraic’s donkey, and Dominic. Even though Mrs. McCormick doesn’t wail or scream, her prediction of death, and overall presentation, makes her a banshee-like figure.
Important motifs in The Banshees of Inisherin
Colm and Pádraic
Are two main characters are stand-ins for the Irish Civil War (1922-1923). With Colm seeming to represent the Irish Free State and Pádraic the Irish Republican Army. Their conflict is metaphoric for the war and the resulting ideological divide that continues to this day, over 100 years later.
Colm has his dog. Pádraic has his donkey, Jenny, and other farm animals. You could view the animals as innocents in the conflict. Which would make sense since it’s the loss of an innocent life, Jenny’s, that causes Pádraic to not only retaliate but escalate his feud with Colm. Even then, Pádraic still takes care to protect Colm’s dog. Despite the tension between the two sides, even if they’re cruel to one another, they still care about the innocent.
The Japanese oni mask
Colm’s house is very different than Pádraic’s. There’s an international presence. Colm has decorations from different cultures. This demonstrates how thoughtful and curious his character is, despite being isolated in Ireland. As opposed to Pádraic’s more bare bones and draconian decor. The most Pádraic has in the way of decoration is allowing his animals into the house.
When Pádraic burns Colm’s house, there’s a shot of the oni masks burning. It’s arguable that Colm has the largest collection of international objects in all of Inisherin. Given how small Inisherin is, it’s not like that’s a large amount. But the fact that the place has lost even its small amount of cultural artifacts is a blow. It also gets at the lack of culture that drives Siobhán from Inisherin, as she seeks a more cosmopolitan life somewhere else.
No one forces Colm to cut off his fingers. It’s a stipulation he makes up then follows through with completely on a whim. It shows his conviction, but there’s something stupid about it. It begs the question: why would he cut his fingers off? Why would you do this to yourself? Which is something McDonagh may wish he could go back and ask during the Irish Civil War. “Why did you hurt yourself this way?” The entire movie has a tragic quality that seems to say: it didn’t have to be like this.
Questions & answers about The Banshees of Inisherin
Why did Dominic die? What happened to him?
The most likely outcome here is that Dominic took his own life. That’s why he was so upfront with Siobhán, wanting to know, once and for all, if she would ever fancy him. The scene with her takes place right near where his body’s found. So it’s likely he went from the conversation with Siobhán, off to some quiet area, and jumped into the lake. Why?
Why Dominic did this would be the brutal reality of his life. He lives with a father who abuses him. He has one friend, Pádraic, and they aren’t even really that close. He has zero romantic opportunities. There’s just very little in the way of prospects. Which ties into an overall theme of the despair the people in Inisherin feel. Pádraic, Colm, and Siobhán all express and display signs of depression.
Some might wonder if Dominic’s father, Peadar, had anything to do with the drowning. Probably not. Despite Peadar’s violence, he seemed to want his son around as a caretaker and scapegoat. It also wouldn’t really make narrative sense for Mrs. McCormick to walk Peadar to something he did then have no consequence to the encounter. That means the consequence is the revelation. And that only makes sense if it’s a surprise for Peadar. If he did it, you’d expect some moment where he threatens Mrs. McCormick or says something like “I don’t see anything.” Instead, he seems genuinely caught off guard.
Why did Colm stop talking to Pádraic?
There’s not really a secret here. Colm explains he’s just tired of Pádraic. Others in the town confirm that Colm’s always been a thinker and Pádraic isn’t, so their friendship was always a bit strange.
Why won’t Pádraic be friends with Colm again?
Mostly because the story is a metaphor for the real divide within Ireland after the Civil War. The Irish Free State and IRA did not re-integrate in a nice, cool, healthy way. They stayed at odds for decades. Tensions have continued to this very day.
Also, being mean to Colm has made Colm talk to Pádraic again. So there’s a degree of Colm training Pádraic to act this way. Whenever Pádraic was nice, Colm was angry and dismissive. When Pádraic’s mean, Colm’s interested. So Pádraic leans into just being mean. Even though a larger part of him probably wants nothing more than to let it all go. He’s at a point where he believes he can’t.
Why did the donkey die?
Jenny choked one of the fingers Colm threw at Pádraic’s door. That’s the simple answer. There’s a bit more complexity there though.
The first time Colm removed a finger and threw it at Pádraic’s front door, Pádraic fetched it up right away and took care of it. Why? Because he was concerned about his friend. The second time, Colm leaves four fingers. Which drives off Siobhán. Which depresses Pádraic. Sad and overwhelmed, Pádraic doesn’t clean up the fingers. And Siobhán’s not there to do it or encourage him to do it.
So even though it’s technically Colm’s fault since it’s Colm’s finger, Pádraic’s also to blame. If he had been responsible, he’d have cleaned up the fingers just to not have fingers around his house. Instead, he put it off and gave Jenny the time and opportunity to eat a finger.
What year is it?
1923. The same year as the end of the Irish Civil War.
Is Banshees of Inisherin a sequel to In Bruges?
No, Banshees is not a sequel to In Bruges. Both star Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson but there’s no major narrative continuity between them.
What’s the meaning of the Banshees of Inisherin?
It’s a scaled down interpretation of the Irish Civil War. Colm is the Irish Free State. Pádraic is the IRA. Their conflict reimagines the beginning of the Civil War through its conclusion and the lasting impact it’s had on Ireland.
Is Inisherin a real place?
Inisherin is not a real place.
What is a banshee?
Keening is a traditional part of Irish mourning. It’s a kind of sorrowful musical wailing mainly practiced by women. So if you were passing by a town and heard this crying out, you’d know someone had passed away. This led to the legend of the banshee. A female spirit that keened. The twist being that it wasn’t for someone who already died. Rather, it was a sign someone would. Someone close to whoever saw the banshee.
So the banshee is associated with death.
Is Banshees a comedy?
In the typical was McDonagh’s movies find humor in total bleakness. He did the same thing in In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. Even Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri had a surprising streak of comedy in the midst of its heartbreaking story.
Now it’s your turn
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