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Why The Banshees of Inisherin ought to win the very best image Oscar

There’s something about The Banshees of Inisherin that feels a bit unreal. Maybe not just something; a lot, perhaps all of it. It starts from the moment you see dull old Padraic marching across the green hills of his unspoilt home with an enormously gormless look on his face. From that point, you know something is up.

Pádraic is played by Colin Farrell, someone who can try to cover himself in as many layers of tediousness as he likes but will still exude hot sex. The backdrop, too, an Ireland that may never have existed and certainly annoys some who live in the actual version, is just too bucolic for its own good. Every single Inisherian, meanwhile, appears to be both dumb as a rock and possessed of lightning-quick wit. And that’s before we get to the bloke who is so desperate to be left alone to the play the fiddle that he starts hacking off his playing fingers.

So much of the Banshees hits you right in the face as being phoney and yet the film has become an arthouse hit (in the small way these things account for themselves nowadays), a streaming anchor, a source of many memes and a good old wfh virtual water-cooler talking point. Finally, after a strong sweep across the Golden Globes – taking best movie, best actor and screenplay in the bifurcated awards show – it is now second favourite to win the big one at the Dolby theatre.

It appears that this patently artificial construction has connected with people. It helps that it is an entertaining, crafted piece of cinema. Martin McDonagh, the former enfant terrible of the West End back when everyone was in bootcut jeans, is now an auteur on his fourth movie. There is more show to match the ceaseless telling, striking performances from actors with whom he has longstanding relationships and there is both structure and a sense of pace. Sorry to mention the fingers again, but the way in which the first chop is delivered – despite being prefigured on umpteen occasions – both catches you off guard and re-energises the drama after some scenes of emotional heavy lifting. The film is made well enough that the artifice is only intermittently detaining; rolling alongside like so much scenery on a journey.

The performances are worth mentioning: Farrell channelling Saturday Night and Sunday Morning via Dumb and Dumber; Kerry Condon, as Siobhán, providing emotional acuity and personal ambition in equal measure; Barry Keoghan as Dominic unsettling the bejesus out of everybody, and Brendan Gleeson as Colm projecting the tranquility of revelation and desolate crankishness. They are all preposterous people but, as such, big on the screen.

Not to be taken for granted is the rhythm and punch of McDonagh’s script, a skill he has long mastered. Or the cinematography of Ben Davis, a man who alternates working with McDonagh with turning out for Marvel and conjures an Inisherin that’s a kind of a muddy Wakanda. There’s also the way a light is cast on the murky nature of male friendships, which I’m not sure it does all that much – though I have enjoyed sending jpegs of Colm and Pádraic to the group chat on the odd occasion when one friend has given short shrift to another.

What I think this movie does do, though, is say something original about the relationships we have with ourselves. Both Colm and Pádraic interpret the fracture they are experiencing through the prism of their own identities. For Colm, his actions are a necessity. He’s grown, a musician now, an artist aware of his mortality, and it is incumbent on him to tend to his muse. For Pádraic, none of this is of any interest. Even Colm’s abrupt rudeness is sort of beside the point. For Pádraic, the problem is the direct assault on his self-identification as a nice guy. He’s not stupid, not dull, just nice, and everything he does derives from that. Challenge this idea and he might just go all Travis Bickle on you.

These ideas of self are as contrived as anything else in this film but yet the characters remain convinced of their veracity. We, the audience, in turn laugh at their caricaturish stupidity, their inability to see the obvious truth. But we then stand up, go about our business and perform exactly the same elaborate acts of deception on ourselves.

I would argue that one of the reasons Banshees has become part of the popular culture is because we recognise how much we have in common with the characters, however outlandish they may be. Colm and Pádraic’s delusions are clear but we know that Dominic, too, is kidding himself (in thinking he has a chance with Siobhán) and that Siobhán might not be guaranteed satisfaction simply by upping sticks for the mainland (“no one ever leaves …”).

The Banshees of Inisherin is a ridiculous film because it’s about people as stupid as they are smart and as ridiculous as they are compelling. Unsophisticated, but profound, and both entertaining and attractive to watch, this film should win best picture.

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