The Banshees of Inisherin

Zhang Sanjian is back  2023-06-02 11:06 
      Recently, I watched a very interesting movie, ‘The Banshees of Inisherin,’ and poured myself half a glass of red wine, savoring the undulating emotions in the world of light and shadow.
     It is absurd, crazy, and nonsensical enough. Unlike the documentaries and films based on true stories I’ve seen before, this movie goes in the opposite direction, deliberately creating extreme contradictions, and showing off skills by polishing the unexpected arrangements in fate. The more bizarre reality is, the more possibilities there are in the movie. This undercurrent beneath the volcano seems out of place yet fitting on the vast and magnificent Irish island.I think the reason for this opposition and extreme contrast largely stems from different choices. The subject of choice can be nature, the world, or the self. With different mediums and components, they naturally drift in various directions like water currents.
War and Peace
The story takes place on the western Irish island of Inisherin. There are cottages with smoke rising from the hearth by the sea, lush green valleys offering sweeping views, the melodious sounds of an organ floating in the wind, and waves in a corner of the azure bay carrying the long daylight. The tepid evening glow settles every day between the sky and interpersonal relationships. Indeed, in such an idyllic and desirable dwelling place, when people stand by the sea, with the breeze caressing their cheeks, what do they hear? Gunshots from across the shore.
      On one side lies a utopia, on the other, war; the organ accompanies the sound of artillery; the peace of mind on this side contrasts with the displacement on the other; the white walls and red doors of the island are dazzling, as much as the bloodshed on the other side is heart-wrenching.
      Regarding the political metaphor for the British Isles, embedding the real historical events of the Irish Civil War, it speaks of internal conflict, and societal division, from coexistence to mutual slaughter, with the struggle shattering harmony…
Division and Questioning

Regarding the main storyline, the two protagonists, Padraic and Colm, were originally close friends who shared everything. Then, one day, Colm inexplicably cuts off their friendship. Faced with Padraic’s relentless pursuit for an explanation, Colm escalates the situation by cutting off his own five fingers as a way of coercion. In handling their interpersonal relationships, they make different choices, leading to different outcomes.

The film begins with a series of questions that quickly immerse the audience into the plot: ‘Did you have a fight? Did we have a fight? Why won’t he open the door for me, did we have a fight?’ The director’s portrayal of the relationship between the two male leads, Padraic and Colm, is quite interesting. Instead of introducing their past friendship through flashbacks or memories, he uses the reactions of bystanders – the protagonist’s reaction, his sister’s reaction, the reaction of people in the bar… He uses repeated actions to demonstrate their previous relationship.
      I remember in a performance training class I took at school, a teacher asked one student to sit while others tried to make them laugh through their performances. Some succeeded, some didn’t. The teacher later told us a method: just keep repeating a seemingly silly and nonsensical action, and it will deepen the memory and make people laugh. I think if I had kept repeating ‘Did we have a fight, let’s have a fight,’ I might have made that student laugh ?
      As for the reason behind the breakup, Colm suddenly feels the passage of life and realizes he has achieved nothing. He decides to cut off his time-wasting interactions with Padraic and focus on his music creation. However, from the audience’s reaction to his performance and his uncertainty about which century Mozart is from, it is apparent that he may not have the talent and ability to become an outstanding musician, both theoretically and practically. And why cut off his fingers? The fingers of the left hand are crucial for playing the violin. The fingers represent music, his dreams of art. Facing the bleak reality, he chooses self-harm to cut off his inner discontent, severing the anxiety born from mediocrity. In fact, it’s also a way of giving up on his dreams and aspirations, finally granting himself relief and release, but this choice also imposes regret and pain on his best friend.     
      When asked about the name of the song he composed, Colm tries to find a meaningful answer but ends up saying, ‘Just call it The Banshees of Inisherin.’ ‘Does it mean anything?’ ‘No, it just sounds impressive.’ When an ‘artist’ himself cannot clarify the meaning and value of his work, can it still be considered a good piece? Of course not. The director extends this absurd irony beyond the film, choosing this name for the movie itself, a double entendre of existentialism and nihilism.       
      At the same time, I wonder, what is the core of completing a work? A grand-sounding theme? No. An eye-catching form of expression? Also no. Good content comes from solid basics and daily repetitive practice. Build the path under your feet while creating the great beyond, so there’s no need to embellish its meaning to others; its essence is the meaning.
      What about Padraic’s choice? When their relationship wasn’t broken, Padraic would call Colm to the bar for a drink at two o’clock as usual. But now, at two o’clock, he goes to burn down Colm’s house, his way of avenging his donkey.
       When the flame of anger ignites the deep-seated crisis and loneliness in the heart of a kind person, the director uses a seemingly non-confrontational approach to express the subtle and simple interpersonal relationships in the film. Each character has their distinct personality, using the simplest narrative to convey the message, without excessive flamboyant flair or overly conflicting plotlines, yet it provokes deep thought.Both male leads have their own obsessions and make their choices. The calm island flows with wild days and nights, not to prove right or wrong, grandiose or petty, just as the end of the story says, ‘None of this is concluded.’

Island and Journey

After witnessing all this, Padraic’s sister resolutely decides to leave this place. She leaves behind the neighbors’ intrusive prying and gossip, the torturous and mentally distorted desolate civilization. This island seems like an independent paradise, a tranquil haven from the world, but it is also a microcosm of society. There are violent police officers with twisted ethics, cunning priests who are bold in words but cowardly in deeds, and a gossip-loving grocery store owner. When a person and the environment cannot achieve a harmonious balance, she decides to leave. The island and the journey away are also a choice.

         People cannot dwell on bridges, so we build bridges through struggle, development, wandering, and searching to reach the other shore we desire, each bridge being a representation of our choices. Initiating the grand project of bridge-building, encountering turbulent streams is like facing thorns on the road. Each inch we chisel forward is like paving our own lush path of destiny.     
      You can choose to follow a fixed trajectory, like a star in the sky, focused and unwavering as you traverse the human world.
       You can choose to burn in bread and jewels, indulging in wine to forget worries amidst luxuries and flowers.
       You can opt for appreciating the moon in Liang Garden or  the peonies in Luoyang; these are the forms and values of crossing each bridge. 
      But bridges have basic standards of width, height, length, and load-bearing capacity. So what is the standard for choice? With freedom and equality as the upper limit and moral standards as the baseline, the criteria and principles for our choices generally revolve around respecting others’ sorrow and not harming others as a premise. Sturdy ideal bridges can connect isolated islands to establish a civilized form. However, if we selfishly pile up lavish bridges without hesitation to seize others’ foundations, engaging in close combat to compete in height and width, each shining with a blinding golden light, the flat lake surface cannot bear such an absurd landscape. In the end, we might all fail to reach the shore.
(note:  “Moon in Liang Garden and the peonies in Luoyang”  comes from an ancient poem of China written by Zhang Mingshan, which was used as a metaphor for the beautiful things of the world)
(Image source: Internet)

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