Martin Mcdonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin can be looked at as a friendship drama or a revenge dramedy. With repeat viewing, I have come to see it as the coming of age story of Padraic (Colin Farrell). Going by the literal meaning, coming of age is the protagonist’s transition from childhood to adulthood. This transition is many times symbolic and independent of the protagonist’s actual age. It then becomes a function of his emotional age. When we are introduced to Padraic, it is apparent that in his head he is not much more evolved than a teenager. Wake up, herd cattle, drink in the pub, sleep - that's his existence in a loop. Eventually this naivete is the trigger for the film's conflict as his only friend Colm (Brendan Gleeson) cuts off all ties with him (he would proceed to cut other things in graphic detail as the film moves ahead).
There is a childlike spring in Padraic’s steps as he goes to knock on Colm’s door for their daily rendezvous at the village pub. This is also the beginning of reality knocking on Padraic’s door. It is this absence of emotional or intelligence quotient because of which Padraic fails to understand what changed in Colm. But what makes Padraic's coming oof age interesting is that it comes at the cost of his innocence. It is almost like witnessing a child realize the harsh realities of the world. Growing up is a natural step in the evolution process. Growing up also means detaching the umbilical cord of innocence and breathing in the bleakness of the world.
It takes multiple repetitions of the question “Have you been rowing?” for Colm to even consider it as a possibility. To his naïve mind it doesn’t even occur until then. When he first confronts Colm about the change in behavior, he gets the response, “I do not like you no more”. The way Padraic reacts to this tells a lot about his mind. He appears shocked, almost about to break into tears, before pleading ( “But you do like me."). That is pretty much how kids in schools would behave to such a situation. He is blissfully unaware of the reasons behind the ongoing civil war just off the coast. If he knew he would have realized that the core reason behind any civil war is one group telling the other – “I do not like you no more”.
The only other person who is like him is the village bumpkin Dominic, a youngster far removed from him in age. The entire village brushes off their naivete as ‘dull. He sees himself as a “happy lad”. And that is what he probably is. Blissfully ignorant, but in his case, 'bliss' is the key word. Like a child. As the film progresses, he stops being happy. In other words, he stops being a child and is thrown into the deep end of adulthood. A transition that is gradual in most cases happens to Padraic in the blink of an eye. When Colm takes the shear to his fingers, one at a time, he is also hacking at the innocence of Padraic. It is not surprising then that this transition of Padraic into “adulthood” is not inspirational or one of self-actualization, as most films in this genre tend to be. Instead, it turns into a tragedy as Padraic transitions to an extremity. He goes from naïve stubbornness to hateful vengeance without any stop overs.
Seventeen-year-old me would have definitely been on Padraic‘s side in this row, for what is there to life if not friendships, drunken banter and banal laughter. In my 30s, I find myself leaning more towards Colm. There is something more to life or to the pursuit of living beyond being nice. Dull doesn't cut it anymore. A mentally stimulating thought in one’s own head seems infinitely more exciting than hours of conversations about mundane nothings. This perceived change in reaction to the character of Padraic makes me look at it as a coming-of-age tale. Albeit, with tragedy.