Ohhhh where to begin with this film!
(If you’re not sure where to begin either, try ruminating while playing the 8-bit game – but only after watching the film, as it contains spoilers.)
So many themes have been pinballing around my mind after watching this film, but the first thing that comes to mind now that I’m putting fingers to keys is the idea of legacy. Since I’m in my early 50s now, and I recently experienced the untimely death of a very pivotal friend who was the same age, the concept of legacy has been gaining traction for me.
In reading the IMDB User Reviews for this film (of which there are 932 at the time of this post), it’s incredible how many people haaaated it. Or just didn’t “get it” – their words, not mine, and I don’t hold that against anyone. I do wonder about the average age of most of these reviewers, and how many of the (scant) favorable reviews might have come from middle-agers like me, who were struck by Colm’s misguided and desperate attempt to secure some sort of legacy. Just to level set, very few of the reviews I read mentioned the word legacy, so I’m not sure how much that theme resonated with everyone.
Anyway, even if most of those who bothered to post an IMDB review were compelled to do so because they were so hated and repulsed by it, this film obviously made a lot of people feel strongly. Which is a win, right, since the point of art is to make you feel something? To that point, the debate for most of these reviewers seems to be that a film shouldn’t just make you feel something for the sake of feeling, it has to make “sense” as well. A film can’t be just a piece of abstract art, because when it approaches those levels, people go ballistic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this film is the Jackson Pollack or Vassily Kandinsky of films, but these themes come to mind because people really seem to hate when a film doesn’t have a sewn-up conclusion and leaves things open to interpretation. I know because I used to be like that about stories (especially short stories!), abstract art, and films when I was much younger. Like, school-age.
Now that I’m an older (more seasoned?) consumer of media and stories, I appreciate these kinds of stories more and more. Maybe it first really clicked when I read about Hitchcock’s filmmaking philosophies in Hitchcock/Truffaut back in college; Hitchcock’s argument was that it doesn’t serve the audience, or filmmaking, to spoon-feed everything to the viewer. People get more out of a film if they are “forced” to engage with it by being drawn into the mystery and having to do a little bit of work to unpack the story. This philosophy evolved from his starting out during the silent film era; visual storytelling was part of Hitchcock’s DNA, and it continued throughout his career in the sound era.
The point is, with the kind of film this is, being simple and sparse, yet rich thematically, you can take what you want from the story. For me at the moment, it is legacy (and lunacy). In Banshees, the character of Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) is perhaps depressed, but as it is defined between him and his priest, Colm is possessed of intermittent “despair.” This despair / depression may be what drives Colm to do what he does, although there could be additional mental issues going on as well.
Either way, Colm is so desperate to secure a legacy that he is driven to extremes. Why does he suddenly become concerned with this so late in life, and decide that he needs to go to extreme measures to be able to write a piece of music that he thinks (hopes?) will live after him? I don’t know that the “why” really matters here, but when people become (suddenly?) obsessed with legacy, I think there’s typically either a triggering event that causes a panic, or something internal just “switches on.” In this story, Colm offers the following “rationale”:
I just… I just have this tremendous sense of time slipping away on me, Padraic. And I think I need to spend the time I have left thinking and composing. Just trying not to listen to any more of the dull things you have to say for yourself. But I am sorry about it. I am, like.Colm Doherty, The Banshees of Inisherin
However, nothing in the film indicates that there was any kind of triggering event or dramatic agonizing shift that caused this; it seems to have just occurred to Colm one day. It was certainly painful for him to decide to cut off contact with his (alleged) best friend Pádraic Súilleabháin, but he’d made his peace with it. Of course, it’s quite selfish of Colm, and not so simple a thing to do as he imagines.
I think Colm is probably mentally a bit off, due to depression/despair/other issues, because he ultimately shows he’s not acting logically or rationally by threatening to self-mutilate himself to get the thing he says he wants, which would then prevent him from getting the thing he says he wants. That said, he does indicate later in the film that maybe he is just “entertaining” himself “while staving off the inevitable.” As a result, I think Colm is possessed of self-loathing as well, so he has conflicting desires between wanting to secure a legacy and preventing himself from doing so because deep down he feels he is not “worthy.” Luckily, Colm completes the tune he intends for his legacy, which he calls The Banshees of Inisherin, before he ends up completing his self-mutilation. So I guess all comes out well in terms of his legacy. Right? Yikes!
In the end, Colm actually ends up externalizing the war within himself to include his poor ex-friend Pádraic, who is now his sworn mortal enemy. Colm has written his legacy-making tune, so now he is free to concentrate on hastening own end by degrees – today it’s five fingers, maybe tomorrow it’s murder by Pádraic, or possibly committing suicide. Now I’m getting depressed…LOL?! Either way, I really don’t hold out much hope for these two by the end of the film.
To end this on a hopeful note, the only moral of the story I can think of regarding legacy is…don’t worry too much about it, and don’t force it. In the immortal words of Coach Morris Buttermaker in The Bad News Bears, just “get out there do the best you can!!”
Pádraic’s sister Siobhán ends up doing just that in The Banshees of Inisherin, and her character arc is the only note of hope in this film. So, in a world of Colms and Pádraics, be a Siobhán!
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