LOS ANGELES, USA – What if your closest and dearest friend for many years suddenly tells you one day that he does not want to be friends with you anymore? And he even tells you, “I just don’t like you anymore?”
“But you liked me yesterday,” was how Colin Farrell’s character, surprised and immediately hurt, plaintively reacted to this stunning declaration by Brendan Gleeson’s best buddy character.
That’s the heartbreaking opening of Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, described as this year’s best breakup film. Okay, make it the best non-romantic or platonic break-up movie this year or in recent years.
“The whole point of this, for me, was to get them back together. Because they love each other so much. And they work together so well,” Martin was quoted by Empire magazine as saying about reuniting his 2008 In Bruges actors.
Set in the 1920s on the lush, beautiful West Coast of Ireland, the film is both wickedly funny and darkly sad at the same. Watching Colin’s reaction as Padraic, being told about the end of a lifelong friendship and then being avoided by Brendan’s Colm – with whom he has spent countless hours every day at the pub – is one of this film’s many strengths.
A simple man who is happy walking around the island with Jenny, his donkey, Padraic is content living in a house with his sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), whose only demand is that Jenny, his horse Minnie, and the cows do not go inside.
So when Colm tells Padraic one day that they will no longer sit together in the pub and he is ending their friendship, Colin’s subsequent reactions, from shock, disbelief, sadness, melancholy, and bewilderment to darkness and rage, we are reminded of how truly gifted an actor he is. This is Colin’s career-best performance. His Best Actor award in Venice is well-deserved.
Brendan is equally good as the gruff, blunt, older Colm, a perfect counterpoint to the naïve Padraic.
When Colin pleads to Brendan, “Now, if I’ve done something to you, just tell me what I’ve done to you,” and the latter replies, “Well, you didn’t do anything to me. I just don’t like you anymore,” it’s instantly one of the most unforgettable dialogues and scenes in cinema.
Later, Colm explains why he no longer wants to spend hours making small talk with Padraic every afternoon in the pub: “I have a tremendous sense of time slipping away.” Sensing mortality, Colm would rather compose fiddle music for which people would remember him even after many years, as opposed to just drinking and talking with the “dull” Padraic.
Kerry, Barry Keoghan (Dominic), Sheila Flitton (witchy Mrs. McCormick), Pat Shortt (pub bartender Jonjo), David Pearse (priest), and the menagerie of animals – Jenny, Minnie and Colm’s border collie – comprise this year’s best acting ensemble in a film.
In his first film since the brilliant Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin comes up with a masterpiece. Also the film’s writer, Martin once again displays his mastery of the savagely funny yet bleakly twisted black comedy.
In a Venice press conference for the film, Colin replied, in answer to a question, “As far as breakups, I shan’t answer such a question (laughs) because we’ll be here a very long time. But I will go the route of friendship and say it’s hard to ghost someone on the island.”
“You can’t really just ghost somebody. You have to deal with them. It was a very small island. So, from a vast distance, I commend Brendan’s character, I should say, for being as honest as he is with my character in the way he initiates the breakup but I’m not fully healed yet. I’m not fully healed.”
Brendan chimed in, “For me, the breaking up with friends, I’m glad to see male friendship actually put out there as something valuable at the moment where the readjustment with everybody’s relationships with everybody is under reconsideration.”
“And the valuing of male friendship as against a bro man sort, as against anything of that nature, to me is a very deep and very pertinent thing right now. For my character, I started in the most brutal way possible.”
“By understanding from years ago that trying to break up with somebody easily and letting them down easily, it just turns into absolute torture. It just goes on for months. You appear to be giving the wrong signals because you still feel kindly to somebody.”
“It never ends. And you might as well jump out a window or do something equally drastic. On the other hand, when you get done, and you are the dumpee, it’s horrible. So, there’s no good way to do it is what I’m saying. It helped me start at the beginning of the film in a way that was less judgmental of my own character.”
The actors were asked about their own relationship to conversation, which Colm no longer wants to have with Padraic, and if it’s a lost art.
Kerry answered, “I don’t know if conversation is lost. Perhaps in romantic terms, it is. Most people are meeting up on apps and stuff like that. Or just talking. They’re not actually meeting up. But I don’t necessarily think it’s lost.”
“I think chats are important,” Colin said. “No, seriously. They are though, chats.”
Brendan quipped with a laugh, “But this whole film, you see. Did you actually see it? Because we weren’t talking (laughs again).”
Colin added, “Even those who are living in a sense of saturation by the information age and how quickly we can access sound bites, blurbs, and all this kind of stuff on social media. Absolutely, it takes us away from the intimacy that’s required and the interests that are needed to exist before you can launch into a conversation with someone.”
“But when push comes to shove, we’ll always return to good chats. Always. It’s like a lot of people who don’t believe in God until they’ve overdosed on a drug. Then they’re on their knees going, ‘Please, God, I’ll never do it again, if you just get me out of this one jam.’”
“Conversations, sharing thoughts and feelings with each other. It’s a world that is so quick to pull the trigger of judgment on each other.”
The assembled media cheered when Colin continued with these words, “We’re so quick to cancel now with cancel culture and all these kinds of things that to actually have discourse, to have a conversation, to exchange ideas in a way that’s as open to your opinion being changed as it is to your opinion being shared.”
“That’s a gorgeous thing. I don’t think that will ever die, even if it has been supplanted a little bit by technology and what it offers us.”
Brendan remarked, “Just when Colin was talking about that, when we went back into the time we went to, which is 100 years ago, I don’t think men would talk to each other in that way, necessarily. So, the whole construct again, is part of Martin’s envelope-pushing, which he does in every direction.”
“The idea that these men would talk to each other in this natural way about feelings is debatable whether on an island, at that point, it would’ve transpired. So, it is a very modern film.”
“That it has embraced the traditional and embraced something like male friendship that even now hasn’t really been explored. And airs it out. So, I do think conversation is a very interesting part of the whole conversation.”
“I don’t feel, as a reader, as an actor in the film or as someone who saw a rough cut of the film, that Brendan’s character was trying to change me at all,” Colin responded to another question.
“I felt that if he stayed within my presence, he felt that I would change him or diminish his opportunity to experience the creative expression that he so desperately, for whatever personal reasons, needed to feel in his life.”
As for a journalist’s interpretation that Jenny the donkey is a metaphor for the guileless Padraic, Colin demurred, “Padraic as a human manifestation of a little donkey, it doesn’t feel like that at all. He just has an innocence to him and can’t understand why his friend of all these years is cutting him out so suddenly and so violently.”
“He really can’t understand and he’s shaken to his core. And for me, the whole story, selfishly, just from a singular perspective, was about the loss of innocence. Because when you meet Padraic, he’s so connected to everything.”
“There’s a rainbow behind his head as he walks through the old town. He walks through the cemetery with a smile on his face and such glee. Not many people walk through cemeteries with such glee as Padraic does at the start of the film.”
“So, I don’t know whether he is connected or delusional but he lives a beautiful life. And that beauty is taken away from him by Brendan’s Colm. But I was shocked when I saw the film because I was fighting my corner, of course, as you (turns to Brendan) do when we were making the film.”
“But then when I saw the film, I had a deep sympathy for the struggle and the consequences of his actions. That Colm also pays. And at the end, everyone hurts. The biggest hope for survival, for the potential of accessing and maybe propagating a joy is Siobhan.”
“She’s the bravest character in the whole film as far as I’m concerned. But everyone else is at least touched, if not totally blown away, by the damnation that we all share as a result of one man needing something so deeply that the community couldn’t tolerate, which was aloneness, peace, space, and separation.”
In the transcript we obtained of the Q and A following the film’s screening at the Toronto International Film Festival last September, Martin revealed his inspiration for what he described as “a simple break-up story.” It’s anything but.
Martin recounted, “The starting point was just a sad breakup but a non-romantic breakup. But to treat that as sadly, or almost, as possible. But to show both sides of it, the sadness of being dumped and the tricky position of needing to dump someone.”
“It was the first inspiration. And then the artistic. And mostly, I was on Colin’s side. But then to try and think why Brendan would thoughtfully, I think, have to do that was when all the artistic questions came into it.”
Martin, back at the Venice press conference, also explained, “Mostly, I wanted to get these two guys back together because we had a great time in In Bruges, obviously. We always wanted to do something again, really. But to do something in Ireland was majestic and beautiful. To go back, especially to the West of Ireland was a dream of mine.”
The film is Martin’s first time to shoot in Ireland from where his parents hailed. “The whole area where we filmed is where I used to go back to as a kid to visit relatives and it’s where my dad is from. So that was a major part of it. But to work again with Colin and Brendan was the first germ of the idea, in a good way. Good germ.”
Brendan admitted that he also yearned to work again with his In Bruges costar and director. “Yeah, I hoped. That’s where it lay. We held out the possibility of it. It was a particularly invigorating time, creatively and personally, in In Bruges. And it grew.”
“It’s a movie that increasingly became more and more loved. And Martin had to do the spade work to make sense of us being there and thankfully, he did.”
“Same,” Colin echoed. “I had no expectations. Martin and I had a very mature agreement that was inspired by his initial thought of, if he ever writes something that I wasn’t right for, I should be okay with it. And if he ever offers me something that I don’t want to do, which is the second part we’ve already proven – is less likely than the first – it’s okay for me to pass.”
“I can’t imagine ever passing on anything that Martin writes because he’s such an extraordinary writer. I am always so, apart from invigorated, apart from moved to laughter, deeply moved just emotionally and psychologically by the worlds that he creates and the characters that he designs.”
“So, the idea when it came time to read, and then I knew. We had talked about this. He’d outlined it, thought about it and we talked about it about three years before we went to do it, even a bit more. And when it came time to read the script, it was just extraordinary.”
“The idea of getting to work again with Brendan, whom I missed in my life. Fourteen years ago, In Bruges was, and I saw him periodically through the years but to actually be back on a set and the West of Ireland, and then Kerry, whom I worked with in the first film I ever did, Intermission, by Mark Rowan.”
Brendan immediately asked Kerry, “Was that his (Colin’s) first film?” Kerry answered, “Was it? It wasn’t.”
“Ah, bollocks,” Colin said to laughter. “It felt like the first film I ever did. I remember it as the first unique experience in cinema working with Kerry. But to get back together, it was like we never left each other’s side, really.”
Brendan said, “It feels crazy that it was 14 years ago.”
Colin agreed, “Yeah, it’s mad. It’s just like, man, my mortality is knocking on my door when I think of that one.”
Martin’s start in theater makes him a stickler for rehearsals before filming begins.
“The synergy, similarly to In Bruges, we rehearsed for two or three weeks before we started shooting,” the London native said. “And rehearsals for me is usually just the time to talk about the script and…”
“To tell us what to do,” Colin teased with a laugh.
Martin teased back, “We’ve been through this before, Colin (laughs). Don’t do that s**t. That’s where we learn what the scenes are about, how to play them and where the pauses are. I do write a lot of pauses in but that’s also the time to question why they’re there and what’s that all about.”
“But also, different ways to play scenes. So, fundamentally when we get to shoot it, there’s a lot of room to maneuver when we’re there. But at least we have an outside outline of what we want the scenes to be and how we want the two guys to behave.”
“I don’t know how you guys (turns to Colin and Brendan) feel about the interaction and how that worked and how that was different from In Bruges.”
Colin responded, “It felt like you honored a system that works for you. And even if a system remains the same, of course, it always changes expression based on whom you’re exercising that system with. The cast or what the story is, the tone of the story.”
“I loved that we had two or three weeks. All of us got together in Galway City and we rehearsed in the rehearsal space of Druid Theatre. Was it the first theater to put your plays on?”
“Yeah,” Martin confirmed.
Colin added, “Back in the day, which felt so beautiful to be back where Martin’s plays had initially been performed. It felt like a hallowed space in a way. We had two or three weeks. We just talk about the script, just hash it out, we sit around and read through it.”
“And then eventually, as you can imagine, we end up getting it up on its feet. I’m certainly tentative and a nervous wreck at the start of rehearsal. Then through familiarity there becomes, I don’t know if it’s confidence, but just a greater sense of ease with the material.”
“And you never take it in the rehearsal to the place where it ends up being in front of the camera. It always still feels fresh and there’s room for play and maneuver.”
Brendan said, “ The rehearsal time is critical, really, with Martin. I remember coming away from it in In Bruges and saying, ‘I will never work on a movie that doesn’t have rehearsal time.’”
“I think I immediately worked with somebody like Paul Greengrass who just puts you out there and it happens. And so, there’s no one way to do anything.”
“But with us, because it was Martin’s theatrical background that influenced the beginning of it, the process of rehearsal was possibly the happiest time. Because I remember Colin, for example, as in this movie, had to go into very deep depressive moods that are consistent.”
“And it does bleed in, the longer the shoot goes on. Within the framework of the rehearsal, there was a more cerebral sort of feeling of being able to look at the major implications of how we would interact and where the dynamic was with what was happening within it.”
“And particularly on this one, it allowed Martin to discover new ways in his head of shooting. Isn’t that right? Just because of the way that the interactions happened. So, it’s hugely valuable.”
Martin McDonagh elaborated on the casting: “It was written for Colin, Brendan, Kerry, and Barry. Luckily, they were all free that summer. The script was written pretty quickly, in about three or four weeks.”
“This was about three years ago and we got it rolling really quickly. I wanted to work with them again. I stayed friends with Colin and Brendan since In Bruges days. We always wanted to do something together again.”
“It never quite came about because I was too lazy to do anything. But yeah, three years ago we got the ball rolling and then got Graham Broadbent (producer) involved.”
“Yeah, this time last year, we were shooting on the West coast of Ireland.”
Beautifully photographed by Eigil Bryld, The Banshees of Inisherin shows the serene West Coast of Ireland even as the story turns dark and the Irish Civil War rages on the mainland (explosions are heard occasionally in the film).
“Padraic’s house was in Aran Islands,” Martin pointed out. “And Achill Island, which is where the more mountainous places are, where the beach with Brendan’s house is and the pub. We built the pub and built Padraic’s house but there is a little house that was Brendan’s house above the beach, which is still there to this day.”
Brendan remarkably composed the fiddle song in the film. Martin shared, “Brendan wrote the tune that’s in the movie. He came up with it and we talked about it for maybe a year before. And you (to Brendan) went away and came up with the tune that’s in the film. Brendan’s a brilliant fiddle player and plays around the country and worldwide after this, I hope.”
“No, not particularly,” Brendan reacted with a chuckle. “I play at being a fiddle player. I’ve been doing it for years. But in this, I asked Martin if it would be possible for me to attempt to come up with a tune because I felt that I could play it without over-nervousness about my prowess or lack thereof as a musician if I had come up with it.”
“And he said, ‘Well, Carter Burwell (who scored the film) would be doing the music so may the best tune win.’ But I was absolutely thrilled when he liked it. And it meant then that I felt really rooted in a way in that regard. And it was one less wall.”
“It was very haunting as well, this tune,” Colin said. “For me, it became an incredible tool to use. Do you remember the recording you did in the Druid before we started shooting?”
“They got all the musicians together and they recorded the music that Brendan had written and other tunes as well to play when we were shooting. And I asked Peter (Kohn), the first AD, if he could send me a copy of the tune that Brendan wrote as they played it.”
“I had it on my phone and it became incredibly haunting and kind of talking about a banshee. The tune was also that. It was a harbinger of things to come.”
“And it became distorted as he played it. It started kind of beautiful and somewhat hopeful. And then it became really like a funeral dirge by the end.”
“Martin has a very specific idea,” Brendan cited. “He’s utterly note-perfect in terms of his own musical ear. So, when we did it, he wanted to encourage a certain difference in the third part of the tune.”
“He was very instrumental, literally, in actually coming up with the nature of that. So, it was part of the collaboration in a way that was very seamless, really.”
Martin said. “Yeah, and integral. I think you and the character were doing the same thing and trying to do the same thing and it was yours. That was a lovely aspect of the film.”
Not a few writers quipped about an awards campaign for Jenny, the donkey. On his four-legged cast, Martin shared, “Obviously, Jenny was a central part of the plot and the story, and the dog. But the others, obviously, they’re all written into being in the house at the end. But the more we work with the horse, the beautiful horse, the more scenes we wanted to put her in, weirdly.”
“It was only the morning of the death, the finding of Jenny, that I thought about putting the horse in it. I think the horse makes that scene. Her sadness at Jenny’s death is palpable, I think, weirdly. We filmed that quite early on.”
“That was Minnie – that was the name of the horse. I added Minnie to lots more scenes, by the window, etcetera. I love the aspect that these animals, supposedly brute animals, are almost more thoughtful and caring about the whole situation than the human beings on the island.”
On violence – a staple in his films, including this one – that’s in ironic contrast to the side-spitting humor in his scripts, Martin explained, “It’s funny because I always think of this as my least violent film but then remember what happens halfway through. And yeah, I guess. But yeah, I guess most of my stories sort of end that way.”
“They seldom end with a kiss and a cuddle but I think that will be the next one. But it’s dramatic. But when Brendan’s character came into that bar to make the threat about the fingers, as a writer, I didn’t know that was going to happen.”
About the fingers, Colm threatens to cut his fingers, one by one each time Padraic talks to him again. Yes, the same fingers that Colm use to play and compose fiddle tunes.
Martin added, “And so, I didn’t know what was going to happen between the two of them afterwards. So, for me, it’s more about surprising oneself, more than about violence almost.”
“And just logically what would happen after that threat is made? For me, it’s more interesting to think about that than about putting more violence on screen.”
Colin interjected, “Those thoughts just happened to take him (Martin) to putting more violence on screen.”
On the film’s ending, Martin explained, “I knew it couldn’t be a happy ending. I knew they weren’t going to be meeting down the pub. I think Jenny is a hard one to get over. But I didn’t want it to be completely depressing.”
“And I think in the last line, there’s some degree of hope or something for the future but not a lot. But that’s the best I’m going to be able to give you.” – Rappler.com