Some Things There's No Moving On From
by Davin Lee
In the face of the Absurd, it was Camus’ belief that one should not seek truth, but find joy in the struggle. To know the world lacks meaning, and accept the responsibility of happiness as solely ours, we may then know happiness. But what happens when someone continues to fight that current? In Banshees of Inisherin (2022), Martin McDonagh explores the nature of kinship and brotherhood and the struggle of its coexistence with the absurd in the face of the Irish Civil War.
To understand McDonagh’s intentions with the film, one must first comprehend the deep and painful divide between the people of Ireland after the Irish Civil War. During the early twentieth century, the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed as a result of the Irish War of Independence. It would grant Ireland some autonomy from the United Kingdom, but acknowledged Ireland as a part of the British Empire. Despite independence in all but name, Nationalists of the Irish Republican Army objected to the treaty as it represented what indentured servitude was to slavery: a thin veil with which to hide complete control. Some however, supported the creation of a Free State of Ireland, seeing it as a pragmatic step towards better lives for the working class. Starkly different definitions of freedom lead to internal strife that lingers to this day.
Colm and Paidric are the personifications of the growing Irish Republican Army and Free State during the time the film is set. McDonagh uses the feast as the manifestation of the strain between Ireland’s countrymen, setting the town pub as the communal epicenter in the film. Despite being life long friends, Colm asks Paidric to never speak to him again, citing his dullness and lack of refinement as the main reasons for this sudden change. Colm tells Paidric that they are getting older and that Colm should start focusing on more important matters, like writing fiddle tunes and teaching them to younger players before he dies. For every effort Paidric makes to talk to Colm, he says he will cut off a finger from his “fiddle playing hand."
In a particular scene we see Paidric having dinner with his sister, in which his beloved donkey Jenny keeps disrupting the meal. The scene is played in a comical tone, but it is meant to represent the connection between feasting and our relationships with the things we care for. Despite being a farmer that should treat animals as food or tools, he speaks to them as if they were his children and even is known to have them in his home, much to his sister’s chagrin. A humble stew is served, and at the table are only Paidric and Siobhan followed by a few farm animals wandering the dining room. These are the things that give Paidric warmth, one that was once shared between Colm and him. This scene is also meant to show Paidric as the human embodiment of the working class of Ireland during the civil war. Paidric has the humility to eat and share among those whom we usually deem as lesser, such as animals. There is no pretense to the meal that Paidric and Siobhan share, and Paidric shows no sense of entitlement above the animals he tends to. The tone and context of the feast here indicates a strong bond between those in attendance.
On the other hand Colm has a yearning desire for legacy that drives him to feel a sense of superiority over those who just wish to live in peace. An aspiring fiddle player, Colm wishes to write his opus before he dies. He often tells Paidric that he no longer has the time for Paidric’s dullness, as he must surround himself with intellect to meet his aspirations. We see the growing divide between Paidric and Colm within their interactions at the town pub, where all the folk gather and gab about their lives and the affairs of the island. The pub, representative of the archetypal feast, is a common place for ideas and celebration among people of all classes and sects. However, as Colm makes his separation from Paidric clear, we see a shift in tone within the once lively gathering place. We see other intellectuals gather and play fiddle tunes with Colm, all enamored by his romantic nature while Paidric watches from a distance, isolated from the circle Colm has formed. Colm is the embodiment of the bourgeois idealism that grew among the upper class of Ireland following the Anglo-Irish Treaty. Colm has a desire for meaning that stems from a greater sense of value within himself than others of a less artistic nature. It is also important to note, even when Colm is present at a feast or celebration, we never see him eat. We very much see Colm from Paidric’s perspective, as the intimate details of his life, such as who he would share a meal with, are never shown. This adds to the symbolic nature of the character, showing the disconnect between the working and upper classes.
The aforementioned town pub evolves as a living breathing feast. While initially lively and full of chatter, as Colm continues to distance himself from Paidric, more and more people form divisions and cliques within the once equally shared space. McDonagh sees the feast as an act of trust. In a scene halfway through the film, we see Paidric confront Colm in the pub as Colm is sharing conversation with the town policeman Peadar. Earlier that day Paidric had had a scuffle with Peadar after slandering him in the street, but they show no animosity to each other within the pub as both understand their quarrels do not belong there. Once libations are shared, it is as if there is a social contract that binds people there to trust in each other to remain civil. This is only broken once in the film by Paidric when he attempts to gain Colm’s attention, signifying the level of distrust between them at this point in the film.
Colm and Paidric’s relationship reaches the point of no return when Colm throws one of his severed fingers, cut as a result of Paidric’s constant efforts to speak to him, at Paidric’s door. Unbeknownst to Colm, Jenny the donkey chokes and dies while trying to eat the finger. This is the final act of sacrilege; whatever rancor there was between Colm and Paidric had been kept between them thus far. The symbolic feast between the townsfolk had been relatively untainted, with their unity only beginning to show minor signs of splitting. Now, with Jenny dead, a being Paidric saw with deep compassion had become a casualty of the feud between the two men.
The feast, though not religious in this context, is sacred to the bonds of community. Whatever apostates may disregard the mutual trust shared in the act of drinking and dining together will not only face the consequences themselves, but will cause destruction to those around them. Not only did Colm and Paidric’s relationship sour with every attack between them, but so did the lives of others around them. McDonagh uses the feast to portray a fall from grace. He depicts the cold and ruthless crushing of a countryside naivete and simplicity through the development of increasingly grotesque imagery within food and narrative. What was a spat between friends led to friends being divided and appendages severed, with extreme measure after extreme measure being taken for something so superficial as dullness. Nonetheless, there is a familiar sadness in knowing that Colm and Paidric do care for one another on some level, but with everything said and done they must move their separate ways.
Banshees of Inisherin. Dir. Martin McDonagh. Perf. Colin Farrell, Barry Keoghan, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon. Searchlight Pictures, 2022. Streaming.
Gleditsch, Kristian S. “Irish Civil War.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 22 Aug. 2023, www.britannica.com/event/Irish-Civil-War.