What if, one day, your best friend decided they didn’t want to be friends anymore? Not because of something that happened like a fight or an offense. You didn’t say something stupid when drunk. It’s not something you can apologize for or make amends for. It is much worse than that. It’s just you.
Ask someone who has happened – aside from the death of a loved one, there are few things that devastating. Not even the end of a romantic relationship can be compared. Those, we mostly understand, can come and go. But a friend who doesn’t want to be near you anymore? It may seem like a problem on the playground, but whether it happens when you’re 8 or 80, it’s a wound that never heals.
Yet neither is it a topic that has been extensively explored in great plays, films and literature. Maybe that’s partly why it’s such a hit when it really happens: the art wasn’t there to warn us.
And who better than the great playwright Martin McDonagh to stare at this awkward well? In “The Banshees of Inisherin” he and a small group of wonderful actors have carved a painful fantasy of friendship and fulfillment that is one of the best films of the year.
It is 1923 on a small island off the west coast of Ireland when we meet Colin Farrell’s Pádraic, a happy and kindhearted boy who is content with his life there by living with his sister, the bookseller Siobhan (a brilliantly sharp Kerry Condon ), who takes care of his favorite ass, Jenny, and meets his best friend Colm (a quiet and soulful Brendan Gleeson) in the pub every day at 2pm But on this day Pádraic’s routine is upset when he knocks at Colm’s window to fetch their daily pint and Colm ignores him. As Pádraic finds out, Colm has decided he doesn’t like him anymore and would like to spend the rest of his days doing anything but talking to him. For Pádraic, this is only the beginning of an agonizing spiral of insecurity that turns into a nightmare and leaves no one unaffected.
Colm’s decision, everyone agrees, is bad. Really, really mean. It’s something you don’t do to a person, especially someone like Pádraic who values kindness above all else. But Colm has moved and is not moving.
People also seem to agree that Pádraic and Colm have always made an odd couple. Pádraic is affable and kind and perhaps a little boring. Colm is a more tortured soul, a musician, artist and reader who feels his enlightenment being stifled by boring chatter. Bad, but also true, at least for Colm who in millenary terms has chosen boundaries and self-care at the expense of the feelings of others.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” presents an impossible puzzle and there is no solution that will make everyone (or anyone) happy. It’s a McDonagh venue after all, and Carter Burwell’s melancholy soundtrack and Ben Davis’ haunting photography add to the spiritual solemnity.
Farrell is as heartbreaking as Pádraic has ever been, whom we watch in horror as he slips into a more cruel version of himself. A sweet and tragic local boy, Dominic (a perfect Barry Keoghan role), steps in and for a minute it seems like a glimmer of hope for Pádraic. He’s also likely repeating the cycle of how Pádraic and Colm became friends in the first place: a combination of closeness and lack of options on a small island.
This is the nature of life on an island island and it is a problem for more than Colm. He is starting to gnaw on Siobhan too.
The movie may leave you in pieces, but it will also make you laugh, quote jokes with a bad Irish accent, and think about your life and relationships. At first, it seems clear that Colm is the unreasonable one, but as the story goes on, you begin to accept and perhaps even admire his determination. Somewhere along the way you may find yourself praying that Pádraic will accept it too and let Colm live in peace and quiet.
“The Banshees of Inisherin” is a rich and soulful journey filled with agony, dry Irish wit and big creepy questions. If these are the answers you are looking for, however, you will not find them on Inisherin.
“The Banshees of Inisherin,” a Searchlight Pictures theatrical release on Friday, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association for “language throughout, some violent content, and brief graphic nudity.” Duration: 109 minutes. Four out of four stars.
MPA Definition of R: Limited. Children under 17 require an accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Follow AP Film writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr.