Yes this contains spoilers but either you’ve seen these movies already or the spoilers really don’t matter that much.
What’s it about?
It’s about the end of a relationship.
It’s about the Irish Civil War.
It’s about wanting to leave a limiting environment.
It’s about pride and the dark places it takes you.
It’s about dank pubs and airy green fields.
It’s about the indigestibility of fingers.
We privilege content over form. We seek the hard kernal that lies at heart of something, under its flesh and flab. But sometimes the kernal is a pearl and sometimes it’s a avocado pit. For fruit, the stone may be the future of the plant but flesh is what we feasters crave. Sometimes the form matters more than the content.
The Banshees of Inisherin is an eerie, well-made movie. The Western Irish scenery is gorgeous, the acting is first class, the dialogue is cutting. But what’s it about? The internet is full of articles that include the above statements. But I find them ultimately unsatisfactory. What Colm does moves into the incomprehensible.
Maybe it’s about nothing. Martin McDonagh was one of those 90s writers who included shocking, absurd violence in their work: Mark Ravenhill, Sarah Kane, Irvine Welsh, Quentin Tarantino, Guy Richie, Damien Hirst. In hindsight, much of this work had less to it than met the eye. Once the initial shock has gone, what is left?
McDonagh’s own early theatrical work is all set in Western Ireland, in communities that are constrained and airless, where the boredom is only alleviated by murder and mutilation – often from a close family member. A constant theme is that of escape – or the failure to escape. Of course, McDonagh’s parents left Ireland. He did escape.
Lots of people liked In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Films with great casts and cracking dialogue. Also with characters trying to escape their limited environments. I found them less than the sum of their parts. There is no heart to them. They were on the screen and then they were not and I felt no different. Banshees lingers. It nags at me. I don’t care whether it’s about art, conflict, pride, etc. It may have no heart but that void is still compelling. The flesh that surrounds it is ripe and rich.
Everything Everywhere All At Once has a heart. A very straightforward emotional core of mothers and daughters and husbands and wives and the immigrant experience (just as Banshees is about the emigrant experience) and love and loss. And it is about that but it’s also not. It’s a psychedelic rush of image and information overload. Dams break under the flow. Fuses blow. It throws so many genres and references at you that you are at risk of being overwhelmed. The story at its heart has been criticized for its simplicity but it needs to be simple. Without that simple core, it would be unwatchable.
What both movies share is a commitment to absurdity and to form. They evade summarization via opposite routes. Banshees is all space and silence. EEAAO is all density and noise. You need to watch them to understand them. Which may seem like a cop out but it’s not. They must be felt.
I wonder if the absurdity is part of their commitment to form. The absurd resists analysis and logic. This is happening. Even if what is happening makes no sense.
In business, we tend to focus on content rather than form. We seek summaries that are unambiguous and simple. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instruction manuals should be able instruct as many people as possible, regardless of their prior knowledge. In fact, the world would be a better place if our instruction manuals were clearer and more immediately useful. But not everything is an instruction manual. Much of the writing that I experience seems to identify the instruction manual as the highest literary goal attainable.
I don’t want to write instruction manuals here (although sometimes that does happen). I have had feedback from readers that they don’t know what to do with my writing – which they see as a problem. Whereas I do not. The uselessness is a feature not a bug. I don’t expect you to do anything with this. A comment, a question, or an insult is fine but so is nothing. I am not really writing this for you.
There is no there there. There is no heart or soul to what I do. There is only the flesh.
I don’t know what to make of your writing it either, but I read it every time I see you publish. Keep doing it. It is always some food for thought, and at times, no thought is required at all. Cheers!