In his frustration with Padhraic, Colm cuts off each of the fingers of his left hand. The Banshees of Inisherin is a profound psychological insight.
Colm wishes to leave a cultural legacy, to create something that will outlive him, and Padhraic becomes a source of annoyance, a distraction from the music writing that has become Colm’s purpose.
To harm himself in frustration seems a strange choice. What would be achieved through such brutal violence? Yet there seemed something universal in his behaviour.
In university days, there was a student who enjoyed playing the penny whistle. Yet the aptitude for tunes that could change the mood of a place did not prevent moments when his mood became very dark and he would take his whistles and deliberately break each into two pieces.
Perhaps causing harm to oneself, in whatever manner, expresses frustration in such a way that no-one else has cause for complaint. The old Scottish song The Parting Glass celebrates the capacity for doing damage to no-one but oneself:
Oh, of all the money that e’er I spent,
I spent it in good company,
and of all the harm that e’er I’ve done,
alas, it was to none but me
and all I’ve done for want of wit
to mem’ry now I can’t recall,
so fill to me the parting glass.
Good night and joy be with you all.
To cut off one’s fingers seems a rather extreme response to the tribulations of daily life, yet it is not hard to recall times when there was a temptation toward self-abnegnation.
Being averse to pain, there was never an inclination toward physical self-harm, but, in retrospect, there seem too many moments of declining opportunities, and invitations, and kindnesses, for no reason other than to accept a chance of enjoyment would require allowing light into the frequent dark moods.
It is hard to find a rational explanation for a disposition that set in during teenage years. It was certainly not rooted in the sort of creativity attributed to the character of Colm, sitting in his beachside cottage looking out at the Atlantic. Instead, it was more an existential unease, although it was hard to discern its source.
The passage of the years has at least brought a hesitation before acts of destructiveness. Taking out my phone on the bus this morning, there was a moment of temptation to delete my Instagram pictures. There was no logical reason for the impulse, just a desire to do something negative. I put the phone back in my pocket and watched the passing traffic.