In 'The Banshees of Inisherin,' friendship is war : Pop Culture Happy Hour In The Banshees Of Inisherin, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two longtime drinking buddies who face a crisis when one of them decides he really doesn't want to be friends anymore. Set on a fictional island off the coast of Ireland, the film was written and directed by Martin McDonagh (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and is in theaters now.

In 'The Banshees of Inisherin,' friendship is war

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"The Banshees Of Inisherin" is set on a secluded island off the coast of Ireland. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson play two longtime drinking buddies who face a crisis when one of them decides he really doesn't want to be friends anymore. I'm Stephen Thompson. Today we are talking about the movie "The Banshees Of Inisherin" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining me today is writer Chris Klimek. Hey, Chris.

CHRIS KLIMEK: Oh, it's a pleasure to be with you, sir.

THOMPSON: Also joining us is film critic and culture journalist Bedatri D. Choudhury. Hey, Bedatri.

BEDATRI D CHOUDHURY: Hi. I wish I could do an Irish accent, but I'll just say hi.

THOMPSON: Not even going to attempt it.


THOMPSON: So "The Banshees Of Inisherin" is set on the fictional island of Inisherin during the Irish Civil War of the early 1920s. Inisherin's few residents drink, work the land, tend to animals and stave off loneliness, while explosions and cannon fire ring out across the water. But Inisherin is home to a civil war of its own, albeit on a much smaller scale. A fiddler named Colm, played by Brendan Gleeson, decides he no longer wants to be friends with a man named Padraic, a farmer played by Colin Farrell. Padraic lives with his pet donkey, Jenny, as well as his sister Siobhan, played by Kerry Condon. She tries to mediate Colm and Padraic's dispute while coping with her own feelings of depression and isolation.

Matters get complicated when Colm issues a threat. Every time Padraic tries to talk to him, Colm will cut off one of his own fingers, thus complicating his effort to write a piece of music that will outlive him when he dies. "The Banshees Of Inisherin" was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who directed Gleeson and Farrell in the 2008 film "In Bruges." McDonagh is perhaps best known in the U.S. for directing the film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" in 2017. This movie is in theaters now.

Chris Klimek, I'm going to start with you. What did you think of "The Banshees Of Inisherin"?

KLIMEK: Well, I loved this movie. But I am a McDonagh guy, and this is - of his four feature films, this is the movie he's made that most resembles his plays and particularly his early plays that are, you know, like this one, set in remote villages in the west of Ireland. They all deal with similar themes of just crushing loneliness and isolation and emotional disconnection, I guess, just because there are so few people around, you are not going to find one who is just congruent with you.

You know, it's interesting that this is an "In Bruges" reunion because this is so different from that movie, you know? I mean, he started his feature career with that, and it would have been possible if you didn't know his work in theater to say, like, oh, this is a good movie, but this guy is kind of a Tarantino, you know, disciple who's - the sort of mordant violence, dark comedy. And this is not that. It's funny 'cause I'm calling this a hyper-real premise, which it's really not. I mean, it's an end of a friendship. It's the most common thing. And it's probably the most emotionally relatable thing that I've ever seen in a McDonagh play or film, where, like, we've all had relationships like that, where we're just like, you know, this is not a fulfilling friendship, and I kind of - like, I don't wish to offend this person. They're a good person. I don't want to hurt their feelings. But I also - I really need to limit my time with them.

I mean, that is very relatable, right? And to have that kind of be so effective a stand-in for so many larger things about, like, you know, we don't know how many days we have, the idea of, like, maybe creating something that will outlive you - it's just a really nice example of taking something completely relatable and common and human scale and letting it represent something larger. So I really, really like this film.

THOMPSON: Yeah. How about you, Bedatri?

CHOUDHURY: You know, like every McDonagh film - and, Chris, I'm so glad you brought in his plays because I watched "Hangmen," which I wasn't very fond of. Yes, I agree that it's great. I really enjoyed while in it. But always with a McDonagh film, you're, like, thinking about it later, and it sits so uncomfortably on you. I'm still questioning it and negotiating it. But, you know, there's this thing he does and which, as an audience, it's so infuriating sometimes. He tinkers with your brain cells and plays with who you sympathize with. He makes you sympathize with someone and then makes you feel like a bad person for doing it.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

CHOUDHURY: So that - I mean, he always has the audience questioning what is moral, what is immoral or what is right, what is wrong. And then, like Chris said, this situation is like, you know, we've all woken up one day and decided, you know, maybe we should just spend a little less time with X and do something more productive. But he takes it to this bizarre level where you can't take these sides, and he makes you take these sides.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

CHOUDHURY: So it's a very uncomfortable watch for me (laughter).

THOMPSON: I mean, you just made me like the movie more.


THOMPSON: You know, we're not going to talk too much about "Three Billboards." I did not like "Three Billboards."

CHOUDHURY: Yeah, me neither.

THOMPSON: I didn't think that was a world he understood. This feels like a world he understands. And I like this movie so, so, so much more. I do think there's a little bit of an element here and there of kind of block this metaphor. You know, what did the cutting of the fingers, you know, symbolize about Irish Civil War? Like, yeah, I do get that. But the more granular this movie is and the more your allegiances shift and the more you kind of understand why characters are doing what they're doing, even as they behave in extreme ways, I really dug that. And I appreciated how difficult the fuel mixture is when it comes to putting this movie together. This is a black comedy, kind of whimsical countryside movie, for lack of a better term.


THOMPSON: You know, but it's representing real themes of war and depression and social isolation, just like how much social isolation affects people's behavior and limits the choices that characters in this movie make. I found myself thinking about it more later not necessarily - it didn't curdle quite the way "Three Billboards" did. It deepened the film in ways that I appreciated.

KLIMEK: It's funny. The prior McDonagh - I mean, aside from "Three Billboards," which obviously, we had big arguments about, but the - like, the prior McDonagh artifact also involves self-mutilation in a way that I really changed my tune on after I saw it again, was the play "A Behanding in Spokane," which, I mean, I saw that with a bunch of movie stars in the cast. I mean, Christopher Walken was the lead, and Sam Rockwell and Anthony Mackie were in it. You know, and I was like, wow, wow, wow. And then I saw another production of that play again, and I was like, oh, this is actually not a great play. But clearly, self-mutilation is a theme in McDonagh.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. And there's also something unrelatable about the geography of it. It's, like, cut away from everything else. It's a world unto itself. But added to that, there's something so claustrophobic about this film. Like, that is the beginning and the end of their worlds, and everything in this film is untenable. Like, you know, he can't write a good music piece if he doesn't have all the fingers, you know?

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

CHOUDHURY: The love is untenable. The rage is untenable. Like, you know, it's just - speaking to the gender distribution and the gender ratio of this island, it's so old and male.


CHOUDHURY: And there is a toxicity that comes with that, of course. But what's interesting is anyone who has a semblance of a future, you know, who thinks of a future, imagines a future, be it Siobhan or be the cop's son...

KLIMEK: Dominic.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. You know, they think of a future. And I'm not going to spoil this, but, like, they are ejected or rejected from this island. It's just this thing where you live in this moment and you fester in it, but you can make it better. And there is a theme which I've seen in other films. He - there is a big action which makes it better. But here it's very - like, you know, it's a snake eating its own tail. It's, like, constant and very contained.

THOMPSON: Well, and that's where I want to throw out praise for two components of this movie that I think are so important. One is Ben Davis' cinematography...


THOMPSON: ...Which makes this place seem so beautiful and so, as you said, Bedatri, claustrophobic at the same time, even though there are expanses everywhere.


THOMPSON: And there's sky everywhere, and there's lush greenery everywhere. Like, it is a - in some ways it looks like a vacation destination and a prison at the same time. And I think that is such a testament to the cinematography and also to Carter Burwell's score...



THOMPSON: ...Which is playing on some of the themes that are running through the film. You know, Colm is a musician, and, as you said, like, if he cuts off his fingers, it's going to affect his ability to write the piece that they're going to remember him by. But the music is really, really evocative of Ireland in the 1920s in ways that really place you in this spot. So I think it's a beautiful-looking movie. It's a beautiful-sounding movie in ways that I thought were really important.


KLIMEK: Yeah. I mean, I think it's the most gorgeously shot of McDonagh's films, and I actually didn't check to see if the cinematographer was someone different. But, I mean, of course, this is something that, on stage, you have to suggest, right? Particularly in those earlier plays, I mean, people are always talking about gazing out at the seaside or whatever, but we can't see it, you know, or we see a painted backdrop. And, I mean, I agree with everything you said about those seascapes and the score.

And the other thing is the fact that they are occasionally hearing the gunshots and explosions from the mainland of the civil war that's going on. But we don't see any of that. And I don't know, Stephen, if maybe that was one of the things that you thought was a little heavy-handed. But, I mean, it certainly worked for me that there's - you know, there's all this beauty and all this violence and horror that they're aware of, you know, just enough to, like, sort of suggest all the things that they might not be experiencing on this lonely island. I didn't want to say lonely island.

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

KLIMEK: But damn, OK.

THOMPSON: Yeah. I mean, I think the fact that they're isolated but also protected...



THOMPSON: ...In a way that keeps them there in a way I did think was interesting. I wanted to talk a little bit more about these performances 'cause Colin Farrell won Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for this film. He is clearly considered a major Oscar contender here. What did you think of these performances all around?

CHOUDHURY: I do think these are very Oscar-worthy performances. But it would be interesting to see who or what gets considered as the main actor and who gets considered as supporting actor because I really think both of them drive the film so ably and equally. So it would be interesting to see, you know, where that line of distinction falls. I also wanted to talk about Kerry Condon as Siobhan. And if there is any justice in the world, her performance here in this film needs to be awarded because she's literally the only life in this film, the only - she - I think she just brings in so much of life and vibrance into this whole very bleak, very damp sound and landscape.

KLIMEK: I mean, certainly there are no weak performances in this. I think the reason I'm going to tip the emphasis to Farrell is just because what an amazing career pivot this guy has had. I mean, if you saw "Tiger Land," the Joel Schumacher movie in 2000, he was always a strong actor. But he had, like, this five-year run where it's like, we're going to make you an action star. You know, we're going to put you in "SWAT." We're going to put you in "Miami Vice." We're going to put you in...

THOMPSON: (Laughter).

KLIMEK: I mean, not to dismiss them. I enjoy some of those films, of course. But I was looking at his filmography, and there's still, like, more stuff that I would infer was just a job, you know, in recent years than I was expecting to see. But the fact that there are films in there like "The Lobster," which - I know he replaced Jason Clarke in that movie, but, I mean, I cannot imagine that film without him. And the fact that Farrell is a guy who is so handsome that it almost works against him - like, you really have to find a way to deal with that, similar to, like, Jon Hamm or, you know, George Clooney. Both had to kind of figure a way to, like, not let their looks, you know, dominate the entire performance, which he does very well here. You know, you actually believe that he's a little schlubby. He has kind of bad posture. The way he walks is kind of hesitant and, you know, like, not bursting with confidence. So just the distance that he has traveled to this - I think it's totally praiseworthy. I'd be very happy to see him get all the awards for this performance.

THOMPSON: Yeah, I think I agree with what you're both saying. I think Condon is terrific, kind of representing a promise that doesn't exist in these other characters. And I do think Farrell is doing such a lovely work here. And really interesting - I was watching it at one point kind of thinking, like, what's his Oscar clip - right? - because, like, my favorite of his performance here is this kind of hangdog, huh (ph) face.

CHOUDHURY: Bleh (ph).

THOMPSON: And, like, is his Oscar clip just his scrunching his face and tilting his head slightly? - 'cause that's kind of my favorite thing he's doing here. My kind of final note of praise on this film - I thought it was so interesting to watch a slice-of-life movie about a community. There's not really even a romantic partnership. There is, like, a brief kind of fumbled attempt at a courtship, but, like, romance is just nowhere in this film. In ways that I thought were really interesting, this is a film that centers friendship. Like, the conflict is entirely around the importance of this friendship in ways I really dug.

CHOUDHURY: Yeah, and it's not just about the absence of romance. Like, you know, I was also thinking it's also a lack of, I would say, love or productive love, that it's, like, rage love. All these basic emotions are taken to such a limit that they're not serving anyone anymore, and which I think was an interesting theme in this film. And thanks for pointing that out, Stephen.

KLIMEK: I mean, is it too reductive to just say the problem is that there are just not enough women on Inisherin? I mean...

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. But also the first thing I told my partner - and because I grew up in India - after I watched the film is, like, all this is because the sun doesn't shine. Like, these people need more sun in their lives.

THOMPSON: I just think it's interesting that, Bedatri, your takeaway from this film is that it's so bleak because the audience where I saw it just laughed the whole way through. Like...

CHOUDHURY: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely.

THOMPSON: It is a quirky comedy. It's a black comedy. So it's not a dirge.

CHOUDHURY: It's definitely not a dirge. It's funny. I had laughed at so many instances myself, but I just think the world-scape (ph) in this is - like you said, it's expansive, but it just seems very limiting. And for me, you know, my brain just says, oh, it's because it rains there all the time. It's cloudy all the time. People are just not happy.

THOMPSON: Everybody needs a little sunshine.


THOMPSON: Well, we want to know what you think about "The Banshees of Inisherin." Find us on Facebook at or tweet us @pchh. Up next, What is Making Us Happy This Week. Now it's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What's Making Us Happy This Week. Chris Klimek, what's making you happy this week, buddy?

KLIMEK: Oh, God, I wasn't going to do this. Bono's memoir just came out.

THOMPSON: Oh, man, you and U2.

KLIMEK: I'm going to recommend the read-by-the-author version if you have 20 hours to spare. Bono is a great reader. He has a lovely Irish accent, and so much of the autobiography of his band is about the isolation and sort of dead-endedness (ph) and, you know, lack of opportunity in 1970s Ireland, which was, of course, a - you know, beset by sectarian violence, and his solution was to form a band.

The other part that particularly interested me as a - you know, someone who's followed this band for better or for worse, forever and ever, was, you know, getting more into the trenches of his sort of 21st century lobbying, activism for debt relief and AIDS, getting past the lapel pin phase, the speeches from a podium phase, and actually building those relationships with administration after administration, meeting the people you need to meet to actually effect change and having some of your, you know, rock star buddies say, oh, you're a sellout because you had your picture taken with George W. Bush or whoever, and, you know, him writing very candidly about, like, this is the deal you make. You know, if you want to get into a position where you can really try to change things, you have to do this. So I found that very, very candid and enlightening. Take all the disclaimers with my endorsement that you must, but I am endorsing the read-by-the-author version of "Surrender: 40 Songs, One Story" by Bono. I'm so sorry.


KLIMEK: (Impersonating Irish accent) Am I bugging you? Don't mean to bug you.

THOMPSON: Thank you, Chris Klimek, you goof. Bedatri D. Choudhury, what's making you happy this week?

CHOUDHURY: I'm not a big sports person, but, like, you know, the Phillies are having a moment in the sun, so - and "Dancing On My Own," which is a Robyn song, covered by Calum Scott, has suddenly become this big anthem for the Phillies this season. But the Philly Orchestra has come up with their own version of "Dancing On My Own," which is fantastic.



CHOUDHURY: It's just such a happy little clip. It's very short. It's on YouTube - again, like, you know, Philly being Philly, the sports obsession, and they're finally doing so well, and there's that happiness. But it's also the very, you know, Grammy-winning Philly Orchestra, very tight upper lip. So to see them cheer on a sports team with so much joy is absolutely beautiful. So that's making me happy this week.

THOMPSON: Nice. So that's the Philly Orchestra playing "Dancing On My Own." All right, thank you, Bedatri D. Choudhury. I have two things making me happy this week. One is the new album "Dirt Femme" by the singer Tove Lo. You may know her as Tove Lo, if you pronounce it that way, but she is Swedish, and she pronounces her name Too-vay Loo (ph). It is dance-pop bangers through and through but also really thoughtful at the same time. She's reflecting on her relationship with femininity in really, really interesting ways. And the songs are so, so catchy. Let's hear a little bit of "2 Die 4."


TOVE LO: (Singing) Look alive and come with me. You're to die for every day. When I think about you, the world go less blue. Let's do it over again.

THOMPSON: So that's "Dirt Femme" by Tove Lo, one of my favorite albums of the year. If you love "Dancing On My Own" by Robyn, you should check out this record. And one more thing before we go - starting this Sunday, we will be dropping a special series that my pal and fellow host Aisha Harris has been working on for more than a year. It's called Screening Ourselves. And in each episode, Aisha digs into film history and looks at a movie that is considered a cinema classic but wasn't exactly loved by the communities they represented. Sunday's episode is about "The Godfather." Make sure to check that out right here in the POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR feed. Again, it's called Screening Ourselves. I really, really think you're going to dig it. That is what is making me happy this week. That brings us to the end of our show. Chris Klimek, Bedatri D. Choudhury, thanks so much to both of you for being here.

KLIMEK: Thank you.

CHOUDHURY: Absolutely a pleasure. Thank you so much.

THOMPSON: This episode was produced by Candice Lim and edited by Rommel Wood and Jessica Reedy. Hello Come In provides our theme music. Thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Stephen Thompson, and we will see you all next week.


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