Naughty Perfection in Banshees Of Inisherin

A few years ago, during a discussion about Inside Llewyn Davis, a friend of mine raved “every movie should have a magical cat”. Those words, oddly enough, have stuck with me almost as long as the movie itself (which is one of my all-time favorites).

“Magical cat” is one of the most succinct summaries I’ve ever heard, of something that pretty much all my favorite movies (and really all types of art as a whole) have. Llewyn Davis’s cat (actually the Gorfeins’ cat, if you want to get technical) exists in the physical and metaphysical realms simultaneously. Yes, he’s a literal cat, doing believable cat things, like pacing down the fire escape and running off at night, but it also allows for a broader interpretation, like maybe this cat. It is not just a cat, but an agent of chaos, a message from the universe.

The magical cat is a kind of non-prescriptive symbolism, a script element that becomes self-aware. Unlike, say, the suitcase in pulp fiction, who shouts “I am the symbolic element!” the magic of the magical cat is simply there if you want to see it, as is probably all the signs in the universe. It’s not necessarily religious, but rather a recognition that the universe has, or could have, a logic beyond what the narrator can adequately explain or control.

In other words, Stephen King wrote in his memoirs that he knew he was on the right track when his characters started talking to him, acting almost on their own. The best fiction always has characters like that, who seem to exist beyond the limits of the texts. That’s why people (read: me) can discuss The sopranos for hours; the characters seem to have personalities, likes and dislikes, inner lives beyond what their creator prescribes for them. I know David Chase had something he wanted to say, but in the process of creating such great characters, his interactions took on a kind of life of their own beyond the initial inspiration.

All of this is a very long way of saying that Barry Keoghan, formerly of the green knight and recently from The Banshees of Inisherin (and yes, also Druig of eternal) has become something of a magical cat unto itself. He plays very similar characters in all three — all variations on the “hedgehog-esque wild-eyed Irish rogue” — so it’s not like he’s a chameleon in Daniel Day-Lewis mode. It’s more that it has a natural savagery to it that seems to transcend the boundaries of the story. There is an element of natural unpredictability in Keoghan (who was raised partly in foster homes) which makes it a wild card whose unpredictability cannot be limited even within a predictable script. Keoghan seems to define the Irish scoundrel in the same way that Ben Mendelsohn defines the Australian scoundrel, or Walton Goggins for the American scoundrel. (We may need a second post for each country’s respective national scoundrel.)

Keoghan’s chaotic energy is especially highlighted in The Banshees of Inisherin, perhaps because it feels like such a prescriptive film. Of many ways, Banshees is a showcase for what Martin McDonagh does best, which is presenting stage versions of New Yorker pastoral cartoons. Two characters have a funny interplay with a visual gag, cyclical dialogue, and perfect button.

Bansheeswhich is much better than McDonagh’s two previous efforts, three billboards Y seven psychopathsHe’s very clever, but the only time it feels like the characters are talking to the creator and not the creator talking through the characters is when Keoghan is on screen. Which is kind of embarrassing considering Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, the two leads in Bansheesthey are generally quite scoundrels themselves.

Set on the fictional island of Inisherin during the irish civil war, from which the island is peculiarly isolated, Colin Farrell stars as Padraic (pronounced “PAR-ick,” sort of), who recently discovered that his best and only friend, Colm (Gleeson) doesn’t want to be friends with him anymore. Not because of a specific fight, but simply because Colm finds Padraic boring, and doesn’t want to waste his last few years on Earth listening to Padraic’s boring nonsense. He would rather spend it practicing the Irish national pastime, gazing morosely at sea-lashed shores and composing music to play on his fiddle.

Being nice and making small talk is irrelevant, Colm explains, because when we’re dead and gone, no one will remember who was nice. Only art endures. Colm is so focused on his position that he promises Padraic that whenever Padraic tries to talk to Colm, Colm will cut off one of his fingers and give it to Padraic. An inveterate self-plagiarist (luckily no little people get karate chopped this time), McDonagh appears to have borrowed these images from his 2010 game of severed hands. A delivery in Spokane. In such a way that I could not help but give Banshees the alternate title of A friend removal in Land’s End.

Unlike that play, McDonagh at least chose his setting here for more important reasons than “it sounded cool in the title.” To his credit, McDonagh even makes fun of himself here. “The Banshees Of Inisherin” is a piece of music Colm is composing, and when Padraic asks him why he calls it that, Colm says it’s because he’s always liked those double S-haiche sounds.

Banshees it’s always smart and you can see it in the way each scene is its own standalone New Yorker cartoon. All of which are pretty good, with sight gags including an adorable little donkey and a passed out naked guy with his hat still on (McDonagh apparently evolved from little people as sight gags to little donkeys – progress!).

However, Padraic and Colm, as well as the rest of the characters, including Dominic’s alcoholic cop father played by Gary Lydon and Padraic’s sister Siobhan played by Kerry Condon, never get to the point of feeling like they’re speaking for themselves. themselves. Right until the end of the credits, Padraic and Colm feel like competing points of view: McDonagh’s instinct to value friendship and family as the meaning of life (Padraic) versus his instinct to elevate art above of all interpersonal relationships (Colm).

McDonagh seems to retain something of the star pupil in him, seeking endings that are provocative and intentional and reflect the competing poles of human nature, the kind of stories an art school teacher would have no choice but to rate with a A, but doing so at the cost of not completely leaving the characters breathe.

That’s why Barry Keoghan stands out, playing the widely recognized local criminal as the only resident of Inisherin demonstrably duller than Padraic. he is the only one Banshees character that inspires you to speculate about his inner life, to think of him as something more than a tool of the creator, who seems to have been endowed with free will. And I think that’s due to both Keoghan’s energy as an actor/person and the way McDonagh has written the character (with full credit due to the way McDonagh, the director, has directed Keoghan).

Keoghan is simply too much of a scoundrel to be constrained by a script, even by a rigidly prescriptive writer like McDonagh. He’s a human magical cat who, with his every nervous mannerism and stare, inspires us to dream, to consider the infinite unpredictability of the cosmos. Every movie needs a magical cat. Every country needs a national knave. Each Banshees of Inisherin needs a Barry Keoghan.

‘The Banshees Of Inisherin’ is currently in select theaters. Vince Mancini is in Twitter. You can read more of their reviews. here.

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