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Review The spirits of the island, an Oscar allegory

We offer you our review of The Spirits of the Island, a complicated but meaningful film, recently available on the Disney + catalog

ORIGINAL TITLE: The Banshees of Inisherin. TYPE: Drama. NATION: Ireland, UK, USA. REGIA: Martin McDonagh. CAST: Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Kerry Condon, Barry Keoghan, Pat Shortt, Gary Lydon, Sheila Flitton, Jon Kenny, David Pearse, Aaron Monaghan. DURATION: 114 minutes. DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney Studios. OUT TO THE CINEMA: 21/10/2022.

If you have seen The Spirits of the Island you will agree that it is a complicated film, and therefore in this review we will try to shed some light and suggest interpretations of the allegories from which the screening is studded. The amazing new work of Martin McDonagh in fact follows the great success of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and marks the return of the award-winning British-Irish playwright, director and screenwriter to the big screen with another film of excellent quality. It is no coincidence that the film, presented at the Venice Film Festival, was nominated for 9 Academy Awards (although left dry-mouthed during the ceremony) and won well 3 Golden Globe. In the cast the pair of actors Colin Farrell (The Batman) e Brendan Gleeson (the Harry Potter saga), who had already met the director McDonagh in the grotesque In Bruges in 2008. Likewise The spirits of the island is a grotesque drama with veins of comedy, which from the premise of a story of broken friendship lets flow a long series of symbols and metaphors that span Ireland at the beginning of the twentieth century.

On the Italian market Gli spiriti dell’isola was released in cinemas from 2 February 2023 and was subsequently made available to stream on Disney+ from the end of March. Before going into the review of The Spirits of the Island we want to give you a little advice: seeing the film in the original language, perhaps with subtitles, will allow you to immerse yourself even more in this bizarre story.

Plot and Trailer | Review The spirits of the island

We are in 1923, on the imaginary island of Inisherin (literally “Irish island”) off the west coast of Ireland. Meek rancher Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) is shocked when he learns that his best friend, the troubled Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson), has decided out of the blue that he doesn’t want to hear from him anymore. Pádraic, confused and devastated, clumsily tries to mend a relationship around which he revolves practically his entire life, but Colm is adamant.

There doesn’t seem to be any logical explanation behind the hostility: the man tells his former friend that he simply doesn’t like him anymore, and that he would like to dedicate his life to something other than their chats. In particular to music, his great passion that he cultivates by playing (and teaching) the violin. Siobhan’s attempts at reconciliation are useless (Kerry Condon), sister of Pádraic, and of Dominic (Barry Keoghan), a simple boy and son of the village policeman. The seemingly insignificant decision actually causes chaos in the small community, especially when Colm decides to threaten Pádraic with a a shocking ultimatum: every time she annoys him or even tries to talk to him, he will cut off a finger from the hand with which he plays the violin.

A theatrical construction | Review the spirits of the island

The narrative architecture of Gli Spiriti dell’Isola shows a construction in acts according to the typical theatrical scheme of the tragedy. A tragedy in which a sort of non-sense of actions and intentions always survives. The extremely simple and linear premise, which yes gives an idea of ​​rupture in a person’s life but does not seem destined to be taken seriously and to have lasting effects. A plot that however shows that even a minor event can lead to catastrophic consequences in the right context. An increasingly dramatic yet incredibly grotesque conclusion.

Review The spirits of the island, an Oscar allegory

The film has actually been in McDonagh’s mind for thirty years, when it is no coincidence that the acclaimed director was a playwright who had not yet known cinema. Which is seen not only in the characterization of the characters, all extraordinary, but also in the same premise which hinges on one of the four types of love that a person can feel for another, i.e. friendship, in what could be a Greek representation. Of course The Spirits of the Island is much more than an existential drama about broken intimacy. Rather, it is a universal manifesto on human archetypes, with painful parallels between two simple men (by education and social background) and of entire peoples, and with numerous questions about the genesis of the conflict. All surrounded by an immense symbolism which, once again, recalls traditional theatrical representations.

The Origins of Chaos | Review The spirits of the island

The focal point of The Spirits of the Island, i.e. Colm’s decision to end his friendship with Pádraic, has consequences not only for the latter but is an extraordinary event that breaks the balance of the entire island, as if all the preconceived roles were thrown out of place. In fact, two other characters also have to deal with the broken friendship. The “village idiot” Dominic, who learn to seek your own independence thanks to the confrontations with Pádraic, and the latter’s sister Siobhán, who finds herself having to look after a brother whose world has fallen on him, reflecting on giving up his dream of emancipating himself through his passion for books and literature and that in the end he will be the only character to leave the scene positively, even if he has to do so by literally meeting the gruerra.

The Irish Civil War is in fact the background that permeates the entire projection. Strangely, it never involves the small island with its little problems, even though it lies just across a small sea spit. The civil war is clearly visible, it can be seen and heard from the island, yet it does not frighten the fellow citizens of the small village who continue with their normal lives. However, the parallelism between the unbridled and totally self-destructive struggle of the two friends and the conflict between peoples of the same nation fighting a war of others cannot escape. «Why is this happening? Wasn’t it better when we fought together?» ask two bystanders in the pub in Inisherin as they read a newspaper with the latest news from Ireland slaughtered by the conflict. The break between Colm and Pádraic, as sudden as it is irrational, stages just this nonsense that divides those who had an apparently insoluble bond.

Review The spirits of the island, an Oscar allegory


Noteworthy, at the end of this review of Island Spirits, is the way in which the director decides to graphically transpose the theme of the profoundly self-defeating nature of a fratricidal conflict. The paradox of cut off fingers is the picture of this game where everyone loses: By cutting off his fingers, Colm will deprive himself of the opportunity to devote himself to the violin in order to keep away the friend who distracted him from playing, while Pádraic will end up irreparably damaging the man he only wanted to love. Colm’s self-evidently unrealistic motive, i.e. to make music that survives him, is an allegory of the bombastic promises that the powerful have always exploited to bring peoples to kill each other in war. And furthermore the people and animals that pay the price, innocent victims of a conflict wanted by others. Finally, in this film there is not even a reference to magic and folklore linked to the origins of the director, that of the banshee mentioned in the title that roam the desolate Irish landscapes presaging fate and death with their laments.

Plus points

  • Beautiful Irish scenery
  • The excellent plot, dramatic and grotesque

Points against

  • Slow pace, although inevitably

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