Life is hard enough to manage with work, but the grind never ends at 5. Whether it’s family, chores, or exercise, there’s always something to do—and then, room is needed for rest as an essential practice to restore our souls and replenish our energy. We also spend much of our time with friends, but what becomes of our passion projects and hobbies? So often, beautiful things we want to create get shelved because of how much space the aforementioned parts of life take up. With this in purview, director and writer Martin McDonagh asks the question with his film Banshees of Inisherin: How do we balance our social life with our personal goals? How do friends fit into our lives?

Pádraic and Colm’s bond was not founded in common interest until Colm decided it was.

Colm (Brendan Gleeson) cuts off his best friend Pádraic (Colin Farrell) without warning. The two Irish men live on a quaint island off the coast of Ireland where the most excitement happens in a dingy pub. After Pádraic exhausts every conceivable reason for his distance, Colm says, “I just don’t like you no more.” It’s “aimless chatting” with a “limited” and “dull” man that makes Colm put up an impenetrable wall so he can focus on “thinking and composing.” Pádraic soon confronts Colm in a drunken rage, telling him he saw their conversation as “good, normal chattin’” characterized by “niceness.” He says he will always remember the people that were nice to him, like his parents and sister. Colm protests that people remember great works of art; Pádraic is of no use to that end. “You used to be nice,” Pádraic says, pausing as his eyes light up in dawning horror. “Or did you never used to be?”

Colm’s midlife crisis turns him utilitarian. To be fair, there’s an inherent selectiveness to friendship in whom we’re drawn to because of common interests. C.S. Lewis agrees in The Four Loves, writing that friendship occurs when people “have in common some insight or interest.” We should feel good connecting with people who share our passions and truths because they serve as mediums through which friendships are sparked and shaped. Lewis is often celebrated for his circle of close companions known as The Inklings, notably with J.R.R. Tolkien, who was instrumental in Lewis’s conversion to Christianity, whereas Lewis’s influence gave Tolkien the encouragement to finish The Lord of the Rings But when we look at Lewis’s actual ponderings on ideal friendship, a more complicated—even disconcerting—picture is painted.

He stresses twice that friends are shoulder to shoulder and side to side, adding he does not “want the image pressed” but expresses discomfort over emotional intimacy, despite defending it elsewhere. “You will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher, or the Christian by staring in his eyes as if he were your mistress ….” Occasions to help friends are expected but “a distraction, an anomaly. It was a horrible waste of the time, always too short, that we had together.” God forbid one express unprompted interest in a friend’s personal life. “For of course we do not want to know our Friend’s affairs at all. Friendship, unlike Eros, is uninquisitive. . . . This love (essentially) ignores not only our physical bodies but that whole embodiment which consists of our family, job, past, and connections. . . . It is an affair of disentangled, or stripped, minds.” He further defines friendship by its “exquisite arbitrariness and irresponsibility,” advising that “People who bore one another should meet seldom; people who interest one another, often.” Colm would raise a pint to Lewis.

William L. Isley Jr. takes Lewis to task. “But what if the telos [ultimate goal] of friendship is the mutual responsibility and the character transformation brought about by the initial shared interest or insight? Does not the final cause of something have a part to play in its definition?” Lewis implies that obligations, character formation, personability, and affection are essential byproducts of friendship, but somehow not essential to its core as conversation about interests. Hanging out in a public space for the sake of an event or activity only takes you so far, which Lewis attempts to set apart from friendship as “Companionship.” Lewis understands the former as something “more inward” yet ironically limits it to another sort of Companionship that resembles something between a Burkean Parlor and hobby club.

This is a tale of two Irish friendships.

Whereas Lewis disregards personal investment, Drew Hunter in Made for Friendship presents a stark contrast where friends are like family, deeply invested in the “joys and sorrows” of our whole lives. “Our problems are their problems. Our future is their future. They are bound to us in a way that others are not.” He believes that “Friendship-love often feels effortless. We selflessly serve friends with a sense of of-course-ness. ‘It’s nothing,’ we say.” On the other hand, Lewis interprets this common refrain in a completely different light. “Even gratitude is no enrichment to this love. The stereotyped ‘Don’t mention it’ here expresses what we really feel.”

Pádraic and Colm’s bond was not founded in common interest until Colm decided it was. The bartenders tell Pádraic that he and Colm were always “a funny pairing” because the latter was “a thinker.” When Pádraic sees Colm smiling and chatting away with musicians in the corner of the pub, he questions whether niceness is any good at all. It begins to send him down a dark path, starting when he sends one of Colm’s new “friends” away with a terrible lie. When another character learns of this, he tells Pádraic, “I used to think you were the nicest of ’em. Turns out you’re just the same as them.”

Lewis was right when he said that “Friendship (as the ancients saw) can be a school of virtue; but also (as they did not see) a school of vice.” Colm’s cold shoulder shoves the niceness out of Pádraic until nothing but mutual resentment remains. So much so that Colm sacrifices his pursuit of music—what he shut out Pádraic for in the first place—by cutting off his fingers, all to spurn Pádraic’s steadfast devotion. This is not to ignore Colm’s depression, which he hints at throughout the film. Mental illnesses can make us act contrary to who we really are, but his actions are no less cruel. While his church and friends could have pressed further, Colm’s stubbornness gets in the way of his own healing, and he is culpable for that in believing that he’s guilty of “A bit of pride, I suppose. Although I never really saw that as a sin, but sure I’m here now.”

Proverbs 27:17 is commonly understood as the wisdom and maturity of two friends being “sharpened” when put together, but Ronald L. Giese, Jr. argues that surrounding verses and common Hebrew meaning reveal that iron and “sharpened” body parts are negative metaphors of harm, meaning that this particular verse suggests that careless friends can incite one another to mutual harm. A positive and negative interpretation, side by side, are both truthful of what friends can be for each other: a mutual collaboration of building up, or a mutual war of cutting down.

Lewis says there is little compelling theological imagery of friendship used to symbolize “the love between God and Man,” much like parental affection with God as father and us as children, or marital love with Christ as bridegroom and us as bride. But the entire Bible is a saga of friendship. Adam and Eve, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Moses walked and spoke “face to face” with God; Proverbs is replete with the interpersonal and spiritual value in friendship; Paul had his Timothy, and Jesus had his John, Peter, and Lazarus; the Golden Rule itself is exemplified through an act of friendship (John 15:12-16) that Jesus saw through with the crucifixion. Hunter writes, “History, it turns out, is nothing less than the story of how the triune God welcomes us into eternal friendship with himself. To be a Christian is to know Jesus—and to be known by him—as a dear friend.”

If we are to regard Christ as a dear friend, are not friends—made in imago Dei—to be regarded as sacred? If we serve our friends, are we not also doing this unto Jesus? If our bodies are temples, are we not in a magnified sense of God’s presence among others? Viewing friendship as divine makes it a fertile ground for ministry, edification, and community cohesion. Lewis wasn’t as convinced, who saw friendship—important as it was—as “the least instinctive, organic, biological, gregarious, and necessary” of loves because “we can live and breed without Friendship. The species, biologically considered, has no need of it.” On the other hand, Charles Spurgeon wrote decades beforehand that “Friendship seems as necessary an element of a comfortable existence in this world as fire or water, or even air itself. A man may drag along a miserable existence in proud solitary dignity, but his life is scarce life, it is nothing but an existence.”

When we don’t center the whole selves of others in friendships, we fall prey to the allure of using them for worldly success, status, or for our own emotional or social needs. When Colm says the world won’t remember niceness, he forgets not only the immediate people around him, but also how God remembers all, especially the justice in small and secret kindnesses. To remove people from our lives for the sake of legacy is to forget the point of art as inspired and driven by humanity; even then, great works immortal pale in contrast to kindness forgotten. The true treasures of eternity will not be buried forever.

While Lewis conceptualized friendship as an intellectual enterprise, he knew its power, perhaps more than he was able to articulate consistently. He had his smart, sharp Inklings, but there was a long-distance friend he kept from childhood until death, whom he considered “after my brother, my oldest and most intimate friend.” This is how Lewis regarded his gay Christian friend Arthur Greeves.

He was not a clever boy, he was even a dull boy; I was a scholar. He had no “ideas.” I bubbled over with them. It might seem that I had much to give him, and that he had nothing to give me. But this is not the truth. I could give concepts, logic, facts, arguments, but he had feelings to offer, feelings which most mysteriously—for he was always very inarticulate—he taught me to share. Hence, in our commerce, I dealt in superficies, but he in solids. I learned charity from him and failed, for all my efforts, to teach him arrogance in return.

This is a tale of two Irish friendships. Colm sank deeper into his despair and brought Pádraic along with him. But Lewis and Greeves reveal that some of the most beautiful friendships are the most unexpected. The dullest can be the sharpest in glimpses of the upside-down kingdom on Earth where “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise.”

Wesley Hill observes that Lewis and Greeves’s “letters are filled with the sort of intimate exchanges that, in the terms set by The Four Loves, could only be described as ‘entangled,’ not ‘stripped.’ . . . If Lewis wanted friendship to be defined solely in terms of shared interests and never in terms of an emotional enmeshment of personalities, he didn’t succeed with Greeves.” If this is failure, may we fall into it with such friendships that look like what Lewis and Greeves had—and what Colm and Pádraic could have had.

1 Comment

  1. Well worth the read through. I believe there are friendships that are more “unnecessary”, and those we can hardly do without.

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