It’s Antagonist April, and all this month, I’ll be doing a deep dive into those characters that give our heroes and main characters opposition to their goals. This week, we’ll analyze the roles of three antagonists in three films. Our final entry is The Banshees of Inisherin.
[SPOILER ALERT: Since this is a new film, I will forewarn you that MAJOR plot elements will be discussed]
ANTAGONIST’S NAME: Colm Doherty
RELATIONSHIP TO PROTAGONIST: Colm is Pádraic’s best friend and drinking buddy.
THE ANTAGONIST’S ARC:
- We first meet Colm as he sits alone in his home; his best friend, Pádraic, comes to get him to go to the pub, and Colm outright ignores him. Despite Pádraic’s pleas through a window, Colm doesn’t respond.
- This is our first inkling of the conflict between these two characters, especially since it’s made clear that these two have a history together and a daily routine that Colm is suddenly disrupting for no apparent reason.
- Colm eventually arrives at the pub. When Pádraic arrives and goes to greet him, Colm greets him with, “Sit somewhere else.” Pádraic has no interest in moving, so Colm exits and sits outside.
- We’re not that far into the story, and our antagonist has already caused quite a disruption to the protagonist’s daily routine. Since an antagonist’s goal is to throw the hero off-balance, Colm has definitely achieved this task.
- Undeterred, Pádraic follows Colm outside and confronts him about his behavior. Colm tells Pádraic: “I just don’t like you no more.”
- Now, the protagonist and antagonist are on the same page regarding why they are at odds. Still, Pádraic is not about to let this statement stop him from inquiring further, which helps increase the conflict between the two throughout the story.
- The next day, Colm is seated on a stone wall with his violin as Pádraic passes him with his livestock. Pádraic – who noticed the previous day was April 1 – asserts that Colm was joking with him the previous day about not liking him anymore. Colm remains silent at the suggestion, and Pádraic interprets the silence as confirmation of his theory.
- Later, at the pub, Pádraic attempts to sit down with Colm, which doesn’t go as Pádraic had planned. The two argue about having better things to do than just sitting together at the pub, “wasting fecking time.” Colm shows Pádraic what he’s been doing instead of wasting time: he’s writing a song to play on his violin. After playing some for him, he tells Pádraic: “Tomorrow, I’ll write the second part of it. And the day after, I’ll write the third part of it. And by Wednesday, there’ll be a new tune in the world, which wouldn’t have been there if I’d spent the week listening to your bollocks.”
- Colm has given us more of his motivation as an antagonist and his opposition to the protagonist: he wants to do something with meaning and creativity, something he feels his friendship with Pádraic has been preventing him from doing. This only causes further conflict – and Pádraic calling it a “shite tune” doesn’t help, either – between the two since it’s clear they are now on disparate life paths.
- Colm decides to talk to Pádraic and clarify things further since it’s clear his former friend isn’t comprehending the new situation clearly. After making it clear that he was too harsh the previous day in telling Pádraic he didn’t like him anymore, Colm says, “I just have this tremendous sense of time slippin’ away on me, Pádraic. And I think I need to spend the time I have left thinking and composing. Just trying not to listen to any more of the dull things that you have to say for yourself.” Pádraic makes a case for “good, normal chatting,” to which Colm says: “So, we’ll keep aimlessly chatting and my life’ll keep dwindling. And in 12 years, I’ll die with nothin’ to show for it but the chats I’ve hat with a limited man, is that it?”
- During this interaction, it becomes quite clear that Colm is making some valid points about life and not wasting it, while Pádraic doesn’t see any problem with how things are.
- Even when Colm gives evidence about Pádraic’s aimless chatting – “two hours you spent talking to me about the things you found in your little donkey’s shite that day” – Pádraic is undeterred, saying, “We’ll just chat about somethin’ else then.” [Pádraic’s donkey, Jenny, is an important part of the story and escalates the conflict later in the story]
- I love this conflict. It’s realistic. It’s relatable. And it’s one where you can connect at some level with both characters and their positions. Pádraic doesn’t want things to change. Colm does, but Pádraic refuses to let go.
- After a church service, Pádraic asks the priest to press Colm about the rift between them while Colm is in the confessional. This only increases Colm’s frustration with Pádraic and his inability to leave him and the situation alone.
- Colm confronts Pádraic at the pub, and here’s where things begin to escalate as Colm makes it clear to Pádraic and the other bar patrons if Pádraic doesn’t leave him alone: “I have a set of shears at home. And each time you bother me from this day on, I’ll take those shears and I’ll take one of me fingers off with them. And I’ll give that finger to ya. A finger from me left hand. Me fiddle hand. And each day you bother me more, another I’ll take off and I’ll give ya until you see sense enough to stop. Or until I have no fingers left…I feel like the drastic is the only option left open to me.”
- This is a major turning point in the story. Colm has now escalated the situation and given Pádraic clear instructions on what not to do and the consequences if he violates them. This also raises the stakes of the story and for both characters to a whole new level.
- The next day, in town, Pádraic has a run-in with a local cop, and Colm witnesses the beatdown. Colm loads Pádraic onto his wagon and proceeds to drive him home. Once Pádraic starts crying, however, Colm hands him the reigns and walks away.
- Colm shows that he still cares and has compassion for Pádraic in this moment, even if he doesn’t want to be friends with him.
- A drunk Pádraic confronts Colm later that night at the pub, doing all he can he not be dull. The next day, Pádraic goes and apologizes to Colm for his behavior, and again, Colm asks him, “why can’t you just leave me alone?”
- Unfortunately, this is the wrong tactic to try when a man has threatened to chop off his fingers if you talk to him…
- Colm arrives later at Pádraic’s home and throws his first sheared finger at the front door, then walks off in silence.
- This is the mid-point of the story and the point of no return. Pádraic’s actions have resulted in something that cannot be reversed.
- Pádraic’s sister, Siobhán, goes to return Colm’s finger. But before she goes, Colm reiterates that ending his friendship with Pádraic is “about one boring man leaving another man alone, that’s all.”
- Pádraic visits Colm at home, to which Colm asks him if he’s “fecking mental.” Once Pádraic leaves and goes to the pub, Colm chops off the remaining fingers on his left hand and tosses them at Pádraic’s front door.
- Unfortunately, Pádraic missed one of the fingers when he picked them up, and his donkey, Jenny, got ahold of one. She chokes on it and dies, which enrages Pádraic.
- This is the next big turning point in the story. Colm has inadvertently killed Pádraic’s favorite pet, and now, with his sister off to work elsewhere and his friendship with Colm over, he has no one. And he’s pissed.
- Pádraic confronts Colm at the pub. Colm tells him, “let’s just call it quits and agree to go our separate ways, for good this time.” Pádraic refuses, telling Colm about his donkey being killed by Colm’s “fat fingers.” Pádraic tells him this is the beginning of things: “I’m going to call up to your house and I’m gonna set fire to it, and hopefully you’ll still be inside it. But I won’t be checkin’ either way.”
- Another escalation, this time from the protagonist’s side. Pádraic, at this point, has nothing and nothing to lose. He even tells Colm: “To our graves we’re taking this.”
- And, true to his word, Pádraic goes to Colm’s house and sets it on fire…with Colm inside.
- We’re at the climax of the story.
- But Colm escapes the fire, and Pádraic sees him later on the beach near his burned-out home. Colm says, “Suppose me house makes us quits.” To which Pádraic replies: “If you’d stayed in your house, that would’ve made us quits.” Colm apologizes for Pádraic’s donkey, but Pádraic doesn’t care, telling Colm, “Some things there’ no movin’ on from. And I think that’s a good thing.” Colm thanks Pádraic for watching after his dog in the wake of the fire, and Pádraic replies, “Any time,” then walks away.
- The story ends in a draw between the protagonist and antagonist, as most real-life scenarios do. While the conflict does escalate, they are both men who care about each other, even if one is determined to move on with his life and end the friendship.
THE ANTAGONIST’S FATE: With all the fingers gone from one hand and his house burned, Colm and Pádraic eventually come to an impasse and appear to go their separate ways for now.
COMMENTS: Despite its period setting, the situation is one that people go through every day around the world today. Most of us have been in Pádraic’s shoes; other times, we’ve been in Colm’s when it comes to the ending of a friendship.
While Colm takes his desire to no longer be friends with Pádraic to the extreme, audiences can still empathize with him and his need for more out of life. Colm’s motivation for creativity and his interests, working on his music, and teaching others is reasonable and justifiable.
Pádraic should have given him space to pursue his endeavors, which might have resulted in a more peaceful resolution and Colm retaining all his fingers.
I think it’s also important to note that just because a character is an antagonist, it doesn’t make them a bad person. Just being in opposition to the main character and creating a conflict with them can cause a character to be seen as the antagonist in a story.
ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE: Could the case be made that Pádraic is the film’s antagonist? Yes. His inability to accept Colm’s life changes and leave him alone can appear oppositional at times. Still, he’s the one whose life is upended by Colm, and he’s the one who has to adapt and change to this new situation throughout the story. That makes him the protagonist, in my view.
What do you think?
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s Case Studies! I’ll be back next week with some Antagonist-related writing exercises as we close out Antagonist April. See you then!