Banshees of Inisherin's symbolism and the ending explained
Banshees of Inisherin spoilers follow.
Banshees of Inisherin is out on Disney+, and given the raft of awards it has won and been nominated for, there are plenty of reason to go watch (or rewatch) it. Martin McDonagh's movie is still an Academy Awards hopeful, with many putting it on their prediction lists for Best Picture as well as Best Actor for Colin Farrell.
The movie is set in 1923 on the fictional island of Inisherin (literal meaning: 'Ireland island' – not a coincidence) and tells the story of a pair of friends who fall out — seemingly for no reason. Colm (Brendan Gleeson) suddenly decides he doesn't want to be a friend of Pádraic (Farrell) any more, and the latter can't seem to come to grips with the sudden dissolution of their relationship.
Colm reveals it's because Pádraic is boring and a drain on his creative brain; Colm plans to write a musical opus so that he'll always be remembered. Pádraic is no sophisticate, but he has a good heart and unfortunately doesn't quite get the hint. The two could be said to embody contrasting existential, even religious types: those who live for posterity and those who exist only in the moment.
Pádraic continues to pursue a friendship with Colm, leading Colm to threaten him with an odd ultimatum: if Pádraic doesn't leave him alone, he'll cut off one finger every time Pádraic approaches him. Pádraic is perplexed by this threat, and his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon, Better Call Saul) begs him to leave Colm alone.
Pádraic befriends the slow-witted but sweet Dominic (whose abusive father is the island's policeman) played by Barry Keoghan, but his true love is his miniature donkey Jenny, whom he invites into the house against Siobhán's wishes. However, Pádraic can't leave well enough alone and tries to repair his relationship with Colm, leading to the severing of several fingers over time.
Siobhán is offered a job on the mainland and is torn about leaving her brother, while Dom eventually dies by suicide, walking into the lake and drowning himself. All of this is set against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War, which takes place on the mainland; gunshots and smoke are heard and seen, a talking point for the people of Inisherin.
Ultimately, Siobhán tells Pádraic about the job and packs up to leave their house — he waves goodbye to her from the cliff edge, watching as she sails towards the mainland. Meanwhile, an irate Colm throws one of his severed fingers at Pádraic's front door.
When Pádraic returns home, he finds his beloved Jenny dead, having choked on Colm's finger. He finds Colm and tells him that he's going to come and burn down his house the following afternoon at 2pm, and the only request he has is that Colm makes sure to put his dog out of the house.
Pádraic makes good on his word, picking up the dog and setting fire to Colm's house with Colm inside. Pádraic writes his sister a letter, in which he lies about Jenny, saying how happy she is to be in the house; afterwards, he buries her in the yard with a cross to mark her grave.
While walking out on the shore, Colm's dog begins to bark and runs towards the beach where Colm is standing, having broken out of his house during the fire. Colm apologises for Jenny's death, and suggests that now the two are even, but Pádraic says that would only be true if Colm had stayed in the house and died.
Colm says: "I haven't heard any rifle fire from the mainland in a day or two. I think they're coming to the end of it," to which Pádraic replies, “Ah, I'm sure they'll be starting it up again soon enough, aren't you? Some things, there's no moving on from. And I think that's a good thing.”
As Pádraic walks away, Colm calls out to thank Pádraic for looking after the dog. Pádraic says "any time." Meanwhile, the old 'Banshee' herself Mrs McCormick, clothed very much like the medieval embodiment of Death, watches the pair from the hilltop.
Besides being funny and devastating, Banshees of Inisherin is also rife with symbolism about the Irish Civil War – indeed conflict in general, especially male conflict – and McDonough's commentary is explored through the end of Colm and Pádraic's friendship. At a certain point, the source of the conflict is irrelevant, even forgotten.
Jenny's death, an unintended consequence, drove an insurmountable wedge between them, and now the conflict is unending — there are some things from which you cannot come back. Still, there are things that bind (such as the glimmer of shared compassion over their animals), though this doesn't necessarily translate into a hope that the conflict will ever be settled.
Banshees of Inisherin is now on Disney+.
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