I’ve called my kids banshees a few times as the word is just passing parlance in popular culture. Like hyenas, chickens with their heads cut off, holy terrors or league of demons. I’ve never put the effort into finding out the meaning of the word.
In Irish mythology banshees are wailing female spirits that herald death on a family or community. The etymological definition is literally woman of the fairy mound; bean (woman) + sidhe or shee (fairy mound). The fairy mounds are the population of mounds that riddle the landscape of Ireland. The banshees sing mournful lamentations over the dying.
The Banshees of Inisherin is a quiet, simmering, tale about a pair of lifelong friends that have a break up. One friend is a dim-witted, kind, naive fellow (Pádraic) and the other is a seeking, brooding, fellow in an existential crisis (Colm). There is an age gap between the fellows and Colm dwells in his elder years of life. Colm decides, one day, to end his friendship with Pádraic for the simple reason that he doesn’t like him anymore. Or is it that simple of a reason? Is it, rather, that they will not grow so long as they wallow in this friendship? There are other characters on this Island off the coast of Ireland that weave the thick tapestry of this community. An eager young man (Dominic) who is looking for potential, a pair of gossiping bar mates, Pádraic’s sister (Siobhán) who is being stymied in this dead end town, an abusive policeman and father to the eager young man, an irritable priest, a nosy shopkeeper and a demented, old townswoman who is haunting the townsfolk.
The narrative on friendship is a heartbreaking one. We watch the affable Pádraic be told by his hallowed friend that he no longer likes his friend anymore and we watch Pádraic’s face collapse, muscle by muscle, into shame and hurt. Yet Pádraic keeps hope or, rather, he resists letting his friend go and the movie twists and turns like the stone walls meandering the Irish countryside until, mournfully and decisively, the stone ravages any persisting good feelings between the two pals. Meanwhile on the mainland the Irish Civil War of 1923 is playing out.
Pádraic looks on in the direction of the war and says,
“some things there’s no moving on from, and I think that’s a good thing.”
Is it a declaration that he’ll never stop fixating on his friend? Is it a declaration that he’ll never quit seeking revenge? Is it loyalty to one’s roots despite its demise? Is it a philosophical statement that infighting, despite lapses and interludes, will never stop? And why is that good? Is it our mortal struggle to find purpose, to find home?
This movie was written by playwright Martin McDonagh who wrote In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. In the Roger Ebert review of In Bruges he mentions, “every once in a while you find a film like this, that seems to happen as it goes along, driven by the peculiarities of the characters.” I think that is exactly what is happening in Banshees of Inisherin. The character of each man drives his actions rather than logic. And in a review of Three Billboards there are such observations of McDonagh’s script as, “anger is not treated like something to be cured”, “it is more about cause and effect than crime and resolution”, “allowing almost all of his characters to be deeply flawed”, and “the world is more complex than most movies would have you think”. I think those observations apply here as well. McDonagh does a great job writing dark dramedy’s. I feel like the Irish (and the Russians) are good at that. I laughed consistently through the movie but was equally heartbroken and eager to see the drama to its end. I loved Brendan Gleeson in the 2014 movie he was in called Calvary. Once again, like In Bruges, he pairs with Colin Farrell in this movie.
This movie is unique in that you don’t have the gnawing feeling that the shocking calamity should be further attended to, like “why isn’t anyone asking more questions?”, “where are the police?”, “who is going to intervene?”. Instead, McDonagh let’s the character’s choices just be and it isn’t out of place in this insular community where they all seem stuck and their only future is waiting for some news whether or not the news changes anything. I also don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie about adult friendship break up or certainly not one that is treated with this much thought.
In the final scene Colm is left with his last instrument and like a banshee he sings his lamenting song.
It’s July 20th, 2020 and I’m trying to think of a word that encompasses what the last 4 months have been like for me, what it’s been like for everyone in their own way. I haven’t met a person yet that hasn’t had to ride the pandemic wave (or is it a burn?) without some other personal deprivation taking passenger seat in this wreck. Whether it’s not being able to gather for worship or participate in the sacrament of Eucharist, having to postpone your scheduled wedding, having the unmediated care removed from your prenatal care and birth, not being able to have the support of family after suffering a heart attack.
Demon. Maybe that’s the word.
On March 16th I had been back to work for 9 months since giving birth to my son Wyatt and taking maternity leave. 2019 saw a financial setback since I don’t get paid leave but we planned for it so we would be ok with one lagging year. By the beginning of March the US had been growing worried about the coronavirus Covid-19. It had swept China, Italy, more of Europe and was starting to become a tenable fear. March 11th WHO declared Covid a pandemic. March 16th Governor Walz (and Governors of all the other states) announced the closure of 11% of the labor force in Minnesota. In two weeks a record one-third of a million workers filed for unemployment insurance. When I went to work that Monday the language was unclear and I still didn’t know whether my industry was supposed to be furloughed. At 8 pm that night I received word that I am not allowed to go to work anymore. The furlough was in effect until March 27th. I had to scramble to get my personal belongings from my workplace. How was I going to pay for daycare? How could I take my kids out and maintain their spot? It was a two week increment that left things unsteady and unknown, not enough time to make any big decisions because potentially I was back to work March 30th. Little did I know these small increments would expand to just less than 3 months. I immediately applied for UI. I had worked since I was 15 and had never been on UI before. I was a novice. Turns out I ticked a wrong box and was sent into an administrative Bermuda triangle. I was told my employers HR could not help me. I called the UI phone number relentlessly. At this point I have my kids home with me, I took them out of daycare as we all got our bearings. I’ll never forget those phone calls to UI. I would be on hold for 3 hours everyday only to have my call disconnected. My 3 and 1 year olds would be tearing into something or getting hurt or screaming or crying while I’m waiting to have word about the money that will pay our bills which is less than half of ones income if you didn’t know. For 17 days my UI was stalled. I didn’t know if it would ever come. I was hurtling, sanity first, into despair. I could not believe what was yanked out from under me and was still learning what the potency of this virus is. I was a puddle of mixed emotions. Disbelief, despair, fear, anger and I was forced to depend on an institution that was unreachable, that doesn’t know me, for whom I am an abstraction, a number, a case. I’m not even the worst of it though. In Washington State my sister was denied UI for 8 weeks. You see, out there they paid out $650 million in fraud to hackers armed with people’s data from previous breaches. In order to rein in the deficit they halted all eligible claims, income that people desperately needed NOW. It was starting to feel like we’re a cat’s plaything. To their credit, I can’t imagine being the “one in charge” of all of this. Obviously no choices were easy and that’s simply what they were, choices. Choices based on the expert’s best predictions and guesses. I studied the experts findings too. After all, these guys were informing the policy makers. I subscribed to podcasts, I would spend 6 hours a day watching the news, I logged into CIDRAP to study the studies. This is what led to the country boiling over, the experts didn’t agree. Dr. Osterholm disagreed with his colleagues at WHO and the CDC had a different opinion than Osterholm and…Fauci…well, the opinion was evolving and the evolution was impacting peoples lives in substantive ways. Osterholm admits that there is still so much they don’t know about Covid-19. He also admits that the policy makers have to consider the culture with which they’re imposing restrictions. What type of mores and expectations do Americans have? He also admits he saw his grandkids for Fathers Day.
This last point makes me feel really slighted. The last time I saw my dad was Christmas and I regret never getting a picture of him with 9 month old Wyatt. In fact I never got a picture of him with Wyatt at all. I thought I had time.
I didn’t get to see my dad in March for Wyatt’s first birthday because of Covid. I didn’t get to see my dad for Fathers Day because of Covid. I didn’t get to see my dad at the hospital in May after a heart attack because of Covid. I didn’t get to see my dad at home while he was, as I was told, recovering because of Covid. Then in June my mom is hospitalized and I don’t get to support her at the hospital because of Covid. Both my parents NEED advocates. The telephone game is not enough.
I thought my dad was recovering and he was actually dying.
I desperately wanted to see him but was told it is too risky because of Covid. I wish I would have trusted my gut and saw him anyway. My sister from Washington State had come in town to help care for our mom and she made a date to see my dad on Saturday July 11th. I have to admit I was jealous. I had wanted so badly to visit him during this Covid-demon. During their lunch he was in a real bad way. He struggled to catch his breath, he was literally freezing to death. On the drive home he died in the car. The day I was told the news of his passing, I had been running through the sprinkler with my kids and we were just putting kabobs on the grill. At least during the pandemic-demon there was summer and outside. While I was running through a sprinkler my dad was in the throes of losing his life. I got the phone call and was in disbelief again. Four months ago it was the loss of my livelihood. Now it’s the loss of my dad. I picked up my sister and drove an hour up to Cambridge, MN to view him one last time, to view him for the first time since Christmas. He was lying on a hospital bed with his feet relaxed to the side, shoes still on. I scooted a chair across the floor to his bedside and told myself “shh”, he’s only sleeping right? Overwhelming disbelief. I took my mask off and looked down on his face. The Covid-demon didn’t matter anymore. It had infected my life without infecting me and now he’s gone. Not from Covid but from regular sicknesses that have been taking people’s lives since the beginning of time. Death is a sure thing that no amount of safety will prevent. Safety may flatten the curve but what it did for me was keep me from the things I call life. It kept me from doing what I know in my heart is best. We’re all trying to do what is best for each of us and that is an individual thing. Someone else’s Covid story involves losing their dad to the devastating effects of Covid itself. Ironically my dad didn’t die of Covid but he died gasping for breath nonetheless.
Covid didn’t take time off even after my dads death. We were told by the funeral director that we could not publish the date and time of his memorial service for fear of attracting a large number of loved ones which would make impossible social distancing. We had seen a very large, public, indoor funeral for a person that lost his life on May 25th, hundreds, thousands in attendance, and I wondered doesn’t my dad who is also a valuable child of God deserve a memorial with ALL his loved ones who wish to be there? In our grief we pressed our foot down and the funeral home relented. His memorial took place in the Rice St. neighborhood he had carved a life in and at the church he went to school. During the Lords Prayer, with the doors open in the back on a hot sunny day, his biker buddy cranked the throttle on his Harley Davidson and I literally imagined my dad’s soul joining his Maker on the highway to heaven. The day moved me. You always imagine how losing someone will affect you, at least I do, but it’s out of your control. My body just wept and I couldn’t stop it. I think it was the mounting pressures and mixed emotions these last four months had burdened me with. This force, like a herd of bison, trampled over me. It had tarnished friendships, it had deflated my spirit, it had made me question how courageous would I be if everything was taken from me? Would my gaze be toward the Lord? This Covid-demon had shone me for who I really am.
By weak I mean I have the same nature affliction that John Piper describes going to battle with here. Selfishness, self-pity, blame, anger and sullenness. The Covid deprivation made me realize how dependent I am on the things of this world. Niceties, comforts, property, ownership, self-sovereignty, freedom, the company of other people. And how much I failed to lean into the cross. For too long, deprivation ruined me, reduced me, and laid bare my faults. And this was just the deprivation of American freedoms. What if it wasn’t just a deprivation but a brutality? What if I was a number in a concentration camp? Oh how weak I’d be! My mind knows that the things of this world are temporal but my desires cling to them as if life itself is only the things of this world. But life is full of the glories of God. Glory that is attainable even in earthly deprivation. With the loss of my dad under the banner of Covid I am going to battle with my faults again, may my soul prevail over my flesh.
When I think of everything my dad had lived through in his life from 1939-2020 I imagine all the major challenges and frights and losses he had and yet he never despaired. He seized the day as the old trope says. He really did.
May God equip me with courage, resilience and hope when everything is taken from us except our life and even when that last vestige of property is taken from us as well may we find peace in knowing we have our eternal Father who breathed into us the breath of life, found value in our existence and welcomes us back home.
One last immortal post script for my father:
My dad, Dale, was 42 when I was born, the last chance for a boy out of a handful of girls. God gave him one more girl- Teresa Dale. For the formative part of my life he was an excellent provider. Oil changes, boot-strap perseverance, livelihood for the family, a strong blue collar work ethic. I love him for that. But for the last decade he let us glimpse his vulnerability, hugs and “I love you’s” became important, timely. He’s always been so strong but this was a new strength- tenderness, graciousness, calm. The kind of resolve a man gets when he’s focusing his life on what matters. What it made clear to me is that I was just getting to know him. All his life his animated stories had outsized him and now I was meeting the man the legends are about. A man of nine lives. A man who should have written a book. A person, a soul. A father who always loved his daughters, even that one four decades younger than him. A man who dedicated himself to the honor of those he loved. A man who loved life.
He was proud of us four strong women, all girls, which is just what he needed. And even though I was just getting to know him I am assured that he lived a full life and that he loved us.
This is an artistic film. I think the thrilling scenes are enough to carry a mainstream viewer but the artistic pace toward the climax is slow. Or rather concealed. Evil doesn’t start out bombastic and in your face, it starts with little background-noise slights and then more overt wrongs until it scandalizes into grand evil. Film critics have had contrasting reactions from “vile, contemptible, an embarrassment to Paramount Studios” to “riveting, masterpiece, visually striking.” It is downright Aronofsky and should be sealed with his family crest!
This nightmare (is this a dream?) is a Christian allegory. That’s what I see.
‘He’ (Javier Bardem) is the Creator God, the houseguests are depraved mankind, the baby is the expiating Christ given as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, the carbon crystal is the seed of life and the forbidden fruit (the perfect genesis that belongs to God alone).
But who or what is mother?
Some critics have said this is a story about mankind ravaging mother earth, where Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘She’ (there are no names of characters only Him, Her, She and He) is the world. I think that’s too lazy an interpretation. There are too many things that wouldn’t add up. If it’s a lecture on the despicable way we treat the earth then what does the innocent son of man have to do with it? What of God’s taking earth’s love and recreating? It seems God’s preoccupation is with man. He says, for a creator “there is never enough.” Else, there would be no creation. He must bore forth. For the act of creating is out of desire to yield something ‘other’ than thou. God’s constitution is conceiving. He conceived of the earth but his fondness is for humanity. This has me thinking about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity- that perfect relationship, why more, why us? I’m not sure this film presents the relationship between God and His creatures in accord with Christian doctrine but it is an allegory and a work of art. That these themes are even given screen time is groundbreaking to me in an industry that’s void of existential thought beyond ‘I’.
If She isn’t simply mother earth could she be Lucifer? Lucifer after all is a fallen angel who had protected the throne of God just as She protects His writing room and His cherished tree of life- the carbon crystal. There is also great parallel of His poet’s words and the word of God. There is even anointing done with ashes, by God and his priest, of his fan followers, blessing them; “receive his words.” The allegory goes on. Lucifer was exceedingly beautiful. Lucifer grows loathsome of service to God. ‘She’ is a stridently sacrificial yet jealous character. Yearning to have Him to herself, to have His gaze exclusively upon her, to have first priority when viewing His work of art. Then Lucifer is cast out of heaven and upon judgment is burnt by fire and disintegrated into ash. Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘she’ forebodes about the apocalypse. The narrative in mother! displays genesis through the book of revelation.
Or maybe lowercase mother is simply a person. She is the commoner with the womb that carries Jesus. The same person who seeks a word with him on his walk up to Calvary to whom he says “My mother is someone who hears the word of God and does it.” Lawrence’s She is sick of God’s plans for their household. She is the commoner that is enchanted, even moved, by God’s word but doesn’t accept the radical regeneration that’s required. Her idea of service is still prideful. She doesn’t do it 100% for God, she does it for herself. The home is her work, the womb is her work. He receives praise for His work, She wishes for praise for Hers. This isn’t simply a presentation of misogynistic burden shouldered by women. All un-regenerated people are saturated in self-glory, unable to free themselves from that outlook. Unable to abide the leadership of Him.
There are plenty of stories in the bible that have God resetting the course. Outmoding animal sacrifice for the ultimate blood sacrifice Jesus Christ, Noah’s ark and the great flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. Now, whether the recreation in the film means God as a frustrated amateur that just can’t seem to get it right and narcissistically scraps His work so that He can receive more love, more adoration next time or God as the perfect creator that, out of abundance of love, painstakingly gives second chances, there is artistic license with this. Does the creator ‘He’ create out of an absence and a desperation for more or out of an abundance and a selfless choice to share?
This film reminded me a lot of Aronofsky’s earlier works. There were beautiful cinematic scenes that reminded me of several films. There was Requiem For A Dream in the pulsating organic walls and delusional visions. I saw Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist with the opening and closing sequences of nature insidiously consuming civilization with its tentacles. I saw Gone Girl in the scenes of the crazed fans and paparazzi. I saw Children Of Men with the war ravaged trenches and slummed refugee camps. The decent into Hell was almost as if an elevator were taking you through the generations of the earth’s crust with each layer being an egregious era in mankind’s history.
One thing Aronofsky got spot on is the depravity of man. And I’m not talking about the stereotypical political jargon that a bleeding heart (no pun intended) would sentence you with but rather the curse we’re ALL under. One thing that struck me is the brilliant way Lawrence’s She, whether Lucifer or person or planet, is cast as someone you’re sympathetic for. Of course!…the barging in of houseguests should incense her, of course she shouldn’t forgive the ravenous mob, of course she should be paid more attention to for her sacrificial acts of service and steadfast support of her poet-genius. Of course She should have glory! That’s how mysterious, how outside our mortal comprehension, how ugly to our unregenerate souls, God’s plan is. We see Her as painfully taken advantage of and flogged again and again to the point of total annihilation while He coolly forgives. What is justice for Her? It would be too simple to present sin as the mob but the road to Hell is paved with human good intentions that are apart from His plan. God’s plan is so radical, so rebellious, that forgiveness for a murderous mob is among his orchestration. Certainly God’s justice is mysterious to us. Where His radical love and justice leads in the bible versus where it leads in the film are different paths.
There are so many layers to this film I need to see it again. I’m delighted to see such transcendent themes in a star-studded film. It makes you wonder, like Michael Knowles said in the Daily Wire, if Aronofsky hasn’t paid lip service to the Mother Earth interpretation simply to con mainstream audiences into watching the Bible for two hours.