An Abstract Hunt for the Meaning of life – The Top Layer Philosophy of “The Banshees of Inisherin”

by Anushree Ghosh

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers

Dir/Wri: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon

The film raises some pertinent questions on life and friendship – if you keep friendship at the center of a circle and make the friends stand on the edge of the radius. They will be equidistant in the literal sense from the emotional relationship called “friendship” but unlike in true mensuration problems, their sense of perceiving and outlook towards this friendship can be totally different. They are looking in different directions, they are affected by multiple external factors, and react to the centrally placed friendship with a dissimilar attitude.

In the film “The Banshees of Inisherin” where two friends standing at two different spots but equidistant from a specific center are re-evaluating the essence of ‘friendship’ via the lens of their individualities that are shaped by external factors. In the lovely cinematic universe of Inisherin (a remote island off the coast of Ireland), Padraic, played by Collin Ferrel and Colm played Brendan Gleeson, are friends on this secluded island against the backdrop of the Irish civil war. We know that war changes life and traps people in the vicious circle of mortality; however, being many miles away from the center of war, the island is not particularly affected, at least not with the visuals of torn human bodies and sabotaged property. But one fine day, Colm decides to take charge of his life and wants to leave a legacy for generations to remember him. Padraic on the other hand lives his life from one moment to the other and believes in the power of kindness.

A still from The Banshees of Inisherin

Unable to comprehend the sudden change in Colm’s behaviour Padraic tries to convince Colm in every possible way, but their outlook towards life is so different at this point that they are holding the delicate thread of friendship, probably at the weakest point. Now, it is pointless to conclude when the answers are subjective. ‘Meaning of life’ which has been at the center of every philosopher’s work has yet to find a concrete answer. In the case of Padraic and Collin, they belong to the same secluded island and are facing the same circumstances but their way of finding an answer to this universal question of finding life’s meaning is poles apart.

Drawing parallels with Camu’s Myth of Sisyphus – the story of Sisyphus who was punished by Gods to do the same mundane task of rolling a boulder on the top of a hill every day, only to witness it roll down repeatedly. This takes place till eternity. Camus links it to the everyday tasks we perform – school, work, and household chores which have no end. Camus suggests the only solution is to find happiness in the mundanity. Creating meaning in our existence without being bothered about the ultimate purpose of one’s life. In the film, Padraic finds meaning in drinking beer with Colm, talking to his dwarf donkey and being happy in just performing the tasks of a milk farmer.

For Colm, the sudden realisation of carrying the weights of mundanity every day drags him away from Padraic who he thinks is boring and makes no sense. Spending time with Padraic would only lead to a waste of time which he feels is not his purpose in life. Something that we find in “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett where no definitive purpose takes the center of the story, rather a sense of longing for the purpose to hit the protagonists fills the story from the beginning till the end.

A still from The Banshees of Inisherin

In the film, this change of perspective takes a violent turn from Colm threatening to cut his fingers if Padraic ever tries to talk to him or Padraic trying everything in his power to have Colm back in his daily schedule. All in the backdrop of the Irish civil war, rooted in the contrasting views of the Irish nationalists, the film with its dialogues and expressions asks existentialist questions many a time.

The film is set in 1923 when there were no means to entertain oneself, whether to find meaning in Camus’s monotony or just pass time while you wait for Godot, everything presented a paradox in itself. Fast forward to today’s era, with 24*7 internet and influences of all kinds, data tracking and analysing – in which direction are we moving to comprehend the meaning of life – aligning ourselves with the monotony of online socialising? Perhaps, the abstract hunt for the meaning of life will go on for eternity, but the film leaves us with several questions. Is it okay to just abandon your friends because you have a different purpose in life now? Is it okay to persuade someone to be in your life even if that person is not willing to be a part of your life again? If yes, then to what extent one can pursue it? If not, then should the person look for a new meaning in life?