This is an extremely funny dark comedy that takes a turn for the tragic. It was introduced to us as a fable, and I think it has to be viewed that way given the basically inexplicable behaviour of Brendan Gleeson’s character.
For most of its runtime, this is a film that is extremely funny. It gets a little dark as it goes on, but it’s still full of laughs. And then, well, something happens (escalates, really), and the film becomes a tragedy with basically zero laughs for its last 1/4 or 1/5. It’s a massive tonal shift that I had a hard time accepting. I was sort of frustrated by it for a while.
But then I realized what the film really is: it’s an allegory. My guess is that Inisherin is actually Ireland and that Padraic and Colm are meant to represent the Irish (which one is Catholic and which one is Protestant doesn’t really matter) and Siobhan is the Irish who have fled to the US, the UK and Australia over the centuries. Through that lens, Colm’s insanity makes a lot more sense, I think. And what he does, and what he causes to happen in the movie’s drastic left turn into tragedy make so much more sense than if you just few him as a frustrated artist deciding he doesn’t want to waste his life any more. [Editor’s note: I was slightly off the mark, here. It’s actually about the Catholic internecine violence going on at the time, so neither is Protestant for that reason.]
I think this view of the film makes me like it more but I remain not entirely convinced by the descent. Tonal shifts of this kind are very hard to pull off, very hard to bring the audience along with you. Certainly, by the eavesdropping I did on my way out of the theatre, a lot of people were on board with it. But I’m still on the fence.
But, for most of its runtime, it’s an extremely funny portrait of a decaying friendship.