The Banshees of Inisherin (2022), written by Martin McDonagh, gathered a long list of award nominations. How’s the screenplay? Let’s analyze it.
- Draft Read: June 29th, 2021
- Type: Shooting
- Page Count: 94
- Reading Speed: Medium
- Setting(s): 1923 Inisherin, Ireland
- Plot Structure: Linear, Spanning multiple days
- Genre(s): Comedy, Tragedy
- Theme(s): Toxic Relationships, Depression, Suicide, Perspective, Abuse, Irish Civil War, Irish folklore
- Protagonist Change: Moderate
Have you ever felt totally alone? Sure, the protagonist in Banshees felt this way. But I’m talking about myself. Because I seem to be the only guy who doesn’t understand the appeal of this script.
Some people seem to think the script serves as an allegory for the Irish Civil War. Other people suggest just taking this script at face value. In other words, it’s a story about two friends who have a falling out.
But if this script is to be taken at face value, then what’s it all about? Is there any substance here? For what it’s worth, I couldn’t stand Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2018), but it’s probably worth a rewatch (or read of the script) five years later as I learn more about screenwriting.
Anyways, I’ll leave it at this: This wasn’t my cup of tea.
This is a very readable script. Sure, many of the characters make odd decisions that add to their unnecessary suffering, but there’s drama in virtually every scene. And as the reader, we visualize this conflict knowing some of the inner feelings and wants of each character. For example, when Colm goes to confession, we learn that he struggles with despair, among other issues.
This script is relatable to people familiar with Irish culture. But the problems, such as depression and loneliness, faced by the characters, are human problems that cross cultures, and therefore I presume many who liked this film felt a connection to this screenplay and its characters.
Does every script about the Irish/English countryside (heck we can expand that to small-town USA) have to center around general hopelessness and depression? Surely some people like living in quieter areas, yet off the top of my head I can’t recall a movie where rural life is displayed positively. I guess it would be hard to inject conflict in such stories.
That gets to my fundamental issue with The Banshees of Inisherin: It doesn’t feel unique. To me, it reads like a stage play with somewhat witty dialogue that’s 60 pages too long. And the Depressed locals, witch-like old woman, corrupt cop and nosy general store owner, only add to the cliché problems. However, does a script need to be unique to be good? Surely not. But it probably should have some elements that make it stand out to be considered for Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, and I just don’t see them here.
I could share more thoughts about this screenplay, but it’s ultimately something you will love or not love.
Friend 1 stops speaking to Friend 2. All good, except they live on a small island and see each other all day every day. Friend 2 makes a number of attempts to reestablish the friendship, which only further strains the relationship (think of one of those Chinese Finger Traps). Then there are the supporting characters that make up the subplots, which are generally speaking a mix of doom and gloom.
The two friends are Pádraic and Colm. Pádraic is not the brightest bulb, but is proudly smarter than village idiot Dominic, who unfortunately also is on the receiving end of a lot of abuse. Then there’s Siobhán, Pádraic’s sister, who just can’t take living on the island any more.
Some would call the characters deep. I wouldn’t call them necessarily deep i.e. intellectual characters, but they are certainly complex. Many, perhaps all of them have strong internal dreams and wishes, yet are stuck, some on the island and others in their heads. And as we learn more about the characters, that keeps the script moving.
Dialogue & Pacing
Poor Dominic. After asking Siobhán if she would, “fall in love,” with him and being rejected, he says this (Page 70):
Well I’d best go over there and do whatever that thing over there I was going to do was.
Brutal. Talk about both a hopelessly sad yet funny line in one. It’s hard not to view some of the deeper lines as pure comedy due to the somewhat outlandish nature of many of the scenes. The script relies on actors delivering lines exceptionally well. Worth noting, I have yet to see the movie.
Some lines contain quite a bit of exposition too. For example, we learn about Cohm’s inner feelings about life on Page 21:
So we’ll keep aimlessly chatting. will we? And me life’ll keep dwindling and in twelve years I’ll die with nothing to show for it bar the chats I’ve had with a limited man. Is that it?
As shared above, the script moves. Sure, some, actually many, parts could be cut down, but no scenes are exceptionally long and there is enough tension to keep them interesting.
This script is designed to have a powerful effect and its ability to do that is what will make or break the movie. I didn’t quite relate to any of the characters. With that said, it’s obvious from reviews that many people did. And many of the themes are universal. And… while I didn’t relate to the characters, I certainly emphasized with many of them, particularly Dominic.
Best Part of The Script
As noted, the exchange between Dominic and Siobhán is worth a read (starts on Page 69). It may have ended badly for Dom, but he started off strong:
Jesus Christ, Dominic! Would you ever stop creeping up on people! You almost gave me a fecking heart attack!
I wasn’t creeping up on ya. I was sliding up on ya.
Also worth a read are any of the scenes in the local pub. I didn’t take page numbers down, but there is some great writing there, particularly in the setup; so that the reader (and ultimately the viewer) can quickly visualize how awkward and conflict-filled the situations are.