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  • Writer's picturecharlottewhitether

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

Directed by Martin McDonagh

**Contains spoilers.

I am conscious that this film is a cinematic metaphor for the Irish Civil War. It works very beautifully in this way. However for the purposes of my blog, I wanted to bring forward the themes from the film which resonate with my therapeutic work, and that is what I have done below.

People often come to therapy concerned about a mismatch between their real life, and what they think their life should be. They might have been brought up with certain ideals that no longer fit or make realistic sense. Or they are anxious because their relationships don’t reflect their authentic self. I practice person centred therapy, and this means a big focus on congruence: matching our internal experience with how we are in the world. This can also extend to our wider external world (society) and the distress that comes with living at odds with our values (incongruently). As you can imagine, incongruence can create many different kinds of suffering, as well as problems for us as a society as a whole.

So why Banshees? What I love about this film is that it focuses on Pádraic Súilleabháin, a man who is literally described as boring. A man who can talk about his donkey for two hours at a time. He is an ordinary person, not charismatic, not interesting, not living a life of meaning. He is what would usually be a peripheral character in a film, in the background, perhaps comedic relief, not the protagonist. Yet he leads us on a hugely relatable, touching, and deeply painful journey that touches on the themes of rejection, kindness, and society at large.

Padraic challenges a strongly, and perhaps wrongly held idea that our worth as human beings lies in our specialness. A capitalist society focuses heavily on getting ahead, improving, and impressing. We offer up the exciting moments in our lives (social media) and what puts us above our peers (comparing/competing). Day by day living, the everydayness of life, is simply not enough to count as a fulfilling meaningful use of our time on this earth.

Sadly Padriac is also in the unfortunate position where his best friend Colm no longer wants to waste time on being with him, because Colm wants to make music instead. Colm is perhaps living out the ideal of the capitalist dream (with the time he has left) by creating art. He believes leaving something permanent behind after his death, is more important than being with his friend. He is engrossed in his own existential crisis, and a struggle with the potential waste of his opportunities in life. I believe this film is asking us: is this really a better or more important use of our lives than the offering of a small and inconsequential friendship?

For me Banshees is a film about kindness, and how easy it is to take it for granted, and ultimately lose it. The character Dominic Kearney, on hearing of a cruelty of Padraic’s, says ‘I thought you were one of the good ones.’ Early on Padriac is presented as good natured, while slow witted. Initially we think that he is going to accept the rejection of his friend and come to terms with the hurt in his gentle, good natured way. But in order to accept this rejection, he also has to accept something about himself – that his authentic self is boring, and that being boring has made him unlovable. This chimes with many people’s deepest fears: that our real self is fundamentally unlovable. The character Dominic also faces a deep and personal rejection when he asks Siobhán Súilleabháin out for a drink and she says no. Few could catch their breath when he says ‘there goes that dream then.’ Dominic is forced to endure the reality of his life colliding with his hopes.

Padraic has another problem too, that being boring is not acceptable in society, even in a community as quiet and isolated as this (fictional) one. He is therefore being rejected not only by his friend, but by society. Added to this, Colm’s actions mean that he loses his dearest friend, his pet donkey, who chokes to death on Colm’s fingers. Padraic is now burdened by multiple experiences of loss, and the crushing weight of loneliness. In contrast to acceptance of the situation, we see him go in a darker, more disturbing direction. He goes through aspects of the grief cycle (bargaining, rejection) to violence and a desire for retribution.

From a social justice point of view, this film explores what it means to cast out the person who is not a big focus of our community. The person who is always around but doesn’t make a big impact on things. Who we could live without, and sometimes don’t have the patience for. It asks us whether this person is insignificant. Do they only become significant when they begin to rebel and become frightening? Are we then coming full circle and becoming special, albeit in a negative way? I feel this film is asking us to challenge what we think is a good way to invest our time, what the consequences are when reality does not meet our expectations, and how we manage rejection.

Deep and challenging stuff.

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