In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for The Banshees of Inisherin, we will explain the film’s ending.
- 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 end of The Banshees of Inisherin explained
The final stretch 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 how Britain treated pre-independence Ireland.
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. As discussed in our section on Inisherin’s themes, a banshee is part of Irish folklore. A dramatization of the funeral practice of keening, where women wail in mourning, a banshee 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.
What are your thoughts?
Is there more to the ending that you think should be part of the Colossus Movie Guide for The Banshees of Inisherin? Leave your thoughts below and we’ll consider adding them.
Happy New Year Chris and Travis. My life partner Carol Lambeth and I saw the Banshee film recently and recognized it as a fine film on many levels but we were baffled as to its main theme. Something Irish, for sure, but we wouldn’t have gone so far as to call it a scaled down portrait of the Irish Civil War. I wonder how you came to that sweeping conclusion. I checked with reviews in the Irish Times and The Guardian — they didn’t call it so. Do you have a source? And feel free to call anytime, Chris.
Throndike! I hope you’ve been well! It would be great to catch up. A phone call is needed.
One of the reasons we started the site is because most reviewers don’t get into thematic concepts. So it doesn’t surprise me that the Irish Times and Guardian didn’t have anything about it. For example, when No Country For Old Men came out, I read 50 reviews from popular critics and not a single one mentioned what the title meant in terms of the story. A number of them questioned why the movie ended with Tommy Lee Jones talking about his dreams. But not a one made the connection to the title.
Regarding Banshees. It’s actually set during the Irish Civil War. That’s the conflict going on in the background during several scenes. At one point Padraic stops, looks off in the direction of the fighting and says, “Good luck to you. Whatever it is you’re fighting about.” That idea of not knowing what they’re even fighting about is the same exact thing we saw at the start of the “civil war” on Inisherin. Colm says he doesn’t want to be Padraic’s friend anymore. Everyone wants to know what they’re fighting about. And Padraic has no answer. Even after Colm tries to explain himself, Padraic’s still confused. Everyone is.
And the same way the Irish Civil War ended in the two sides co-existing in country, Banshees ends with Padriac and Colm co-existing in Inisherin.
So the initial hint is that the war is going on in the background of the movie. Then you have in-fighting between two characters. Which resonates with the war. But then the events essentially play out and conclude in a manner similar to the actual events of the Irish Civil War. Which seems like a pointed choice rather than a coincidence.
There’s no direct source. I didn’t see anything from the director or in another review. It’s just me putting my narrative expertise to use.
Thanks for this analysis. I felt like there was something I was missing about the deeper meaning of this story and this helps me understand. I was thinking about how Paidraic had a donkey and Colm has a sheepdog. Do you think there’s a significance or symbolism for why they each have these as their special animal? I didn’t know there are donkeys native to Ireland but apparently the smaller donkey is distinctly Irish and called “the poor man’s tractor”.
I don’t know about specific symbolism but you could make the broader point that each side had innocents they were taking care of. And sometimes that worked out (like Padraic taking care of the dog) and sometimes it didn’t (poor donkey).