The Banshees of Inisherin review – is legacy more important than kindness? 

By Shannon Pendleton

Spoilers ahead for The Banshees of Inisherin

The Banshees of Inisherin, directed and written by Martin McDonagh, is a 2022 tragicomedy set on a fictional island off the coast of Ireland in 1923. The story, following the breakdown of Pádraic Súilleabháin and Colm Doherty’s friendship, is writhe with symbolism regarding the Irish Civil War, during which the film is set.

This year, the film won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor (awarded to Colin Farrell who played the film’s central character, Pádraic Súilleabháin).

However, what is most poignant was the film’s discussion around legacy and ‘niceness’, and questions which is more powerful.  

Bored of his life, plagued with recurring bouts of ‘despair’, and haunted by the anxiety that he hasn’t achieved anything and never will, Colm decides to dedicate the rest of his life to his music, composing songs and playing them on his fiddle.

To fully commit to this, he declares to his long-time friend, dairy farmer Pádraic, that he doesn’t want to talk to him anymore – he doesn’t want to waste his days on ‘aimless chatting’ with a ‘boring’ and ‘limited’ man.

photo credit: Condé Nast Traveller

In one drunken conversation, Pádraic demands to be heard by Colm. Wobbling on his feet, Pádraic declares, ‘You used to be nice, […] and now, you know what you are? Not nice’. Colm replies, ‘I suppose niceness doesn’t last then’, before proceeding to explain that music, paintings, and poetry do – everyone knows Mozart’s music centuries on after his death.

Like a child approaching a school friend in the playground, Pádraic then pleas, ‘My mammy, she was nice. I remember her. And my daddy, he was nice. I remember him. And my sister, she’s nice. I’ll remember her – forever, I’ll remember her’. Then, at perhaps the most tragic point in the film, Pádraic mumbles, ‘You used to be nice… or did you never used to be? Oh god, maybe you never used to be’, before stumbling away, with his sister, Siobhán, by his side.

McDonaugh’s emphasis on niceness is a recurring theme throughout the film. When Colm seeks confession in church, his priest enquires as to how he’s been treating Pádraic, stating that, although it isn’t a sin to ignore someone, ‘it’s not very nice’.

Later, when Pádraic recalls to his usually high-spirited friend, Dominic, that he attempted to break up a budding friendship between Colm and a newcomer, Declan, Dominic replies with heart-breaking earnest, ‘That sounds like the meanest thing I’ve ever heard. […] I used to think you were the nicest of them. Turns out you’re just the same as them’.

And so, in the struggle to win Colm back, Pádraic has stooped to Colm’s level of being ‘not nice’.  

Damien Chazelle’s ‘Whiplash’, a 2015 film following aspiring drummer, Andrew Nieman, explores a similar debate. While Andrew is having dinner one night with his family, the topic of success is discussed, with Andrew’s dad declaring that he wouldn’t count musician, Charlie Parker, as successful due to his drug abuse and financial ruin.

Andrew rebuts, ‘I’d rather die drunk and broke at 34 and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remember who I was’. A family friend then counters, rather sincerely, ‘but your friends will remember you, that’s the point’, to which Andrew concludes, ‘none of us were friends with Charlie Parker, that’s the point’.

And so, it is made clear that Andrew, just like Colm, prioritises legacy and musical achievement over friendship and niceness. 

photo credit: google

In today’s world, the debate of ‘legacy v niceness’ becomes more complicated. The media’s obsession with the private lives of celebrities has made it clear to the public who is nice and who is not nice. This means that a person’s legacy can become tarnished by their lack of niceness. 

Kanye West is a musician obsessed with his musical legacy, stating in a 2013 interview, ‘I am the number one most impactful artist of our generation. I am Shakespeare in the flesh’.

However, his public harassment of ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, exposes how he chooses to treat people. Since the couple’s separation, West has spread private text conversations between him and Kim across social media, produced a music video for his new song “Eazy” wherein West was depicted burying Pete Davidson alive (Kim’s boyfriend at the time), and even refused to cooperate with divorce proceedings, extending the process by a year.

Professor of criminology at the University of Roehampton, Aisha K Gill, explained that his actions contribute to ‘a culture of violence that inevitably makes women vulnerable to violence from their partners’.

Additionally, due to a series of antisemitic comments made by West, many brands have cut ties with him, including Adidas, Gap, Balenciaga, Foot Locker, and more. 

Therefore, in an age where a famous person’s niceness or lack thereof quickly becomes public knowledge, their legacy not only comprises their professional achievements, but also who they were in life. What were they like? How did they treat people? Were they nice? 

R Kelly was a globally successful R&B artist of the 1990s but he is also a convicted sex offender and sex trafficker of teen girls. Michael Jackson the King of Pop, and also a man indicted of child molestation, false imprisonment, and extortion. Johnny Depp is a world-famous actor, but was also convicted for domestic abuse.

I believe that the very act of trying to be remembered, is an arrogant one.

People are born and people die, and before they die, they live and become important to others because they were nice to them, because they were loving, because they cared. And then when they die, they are remembered by their friends who lay flowers by their grave.

And when their friends die, their grave may become lonely – but I don’t believe that makes them less important than the Kanye Wests of the world who will be remembered for longer.

People like Colm and Andrew diminish the quiet intricacies of human interaction that I think makes life meaningful, and instead champion the ethos that what’s important is being remembered by people who never met you – that achieving legacy makes you more important than all the people who held doors for strangers and smiled at people as they walked by.

By the end of the ‘Banshees of Inisherin’, it becomes clear that Colm’s pursuit for legacy was a fruitless one. In the process of dedicating himself to his music, Colm threatens to Pádraic that every time he attempts to talk to him, he will cut off one of his own fingers. By the time the credits roll, Colm has cut off all fingers on one hand.

This act of self-mutilation means that he can no longer play the fiddle and make music. And so, just as the hateful men of the world, like Kanye West who have tarnished their own artistic legacies, Colm thwarted his attempt at achieving legacy through his own senseless meanness.

Just like Pádraic, Colm won’t become a Mozart or a Beethoven, remembered by all. But unlike Pádraic, Colm wasn’t even nice. 

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