The Quiet Girl, Colm Bairéad

What ‘The Quiet Girl’ Can Tell Us About the ‘Incel’ of Inisherin

Ireland-set dramas The Quiet Girl and The Banshees of Inisherin share character types that suffer similar neglect yet tragically divergent fates.

The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin)
Colm Bairéad
Break Out
12 May 2022 (IE)
The Banshees of Inisherin
Martin McDonagh
21 October 2022 (US)

Two distinct Irelands at two distinct historic moments provide Colm Bairéad’s The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin) and Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin with their respective frames and esthetics. Yet, both 2022 films tell tales that rise above time and place. Things deeply, foundationally human resonate from within them, challenging viewers on the nature of all our common formative bonds; friendship, companionship, nurturing, parenthood, and belonging. 

Along these lines, there is a deep sense in which Cáit, the eponymous quiet girl (beautifully portrayed by Catherine Clinch), travels a narrative arc paralleling that of The Banshees of Inisherin‘s Dominic (played by well-deserving Oscar nominee Barry Keoghan), only son of Inisherin’s repugnant bullyboy policeman. The divergence in their respective tragic arcs, sending one toward hope and salvation, the other to despair and nothingness, arises from the very experiences of nurturing, companionship, and belonging each undergoes over the course of their young lives. Only some of these experiences are presented to viewers, with the rest gathered through loaded references and hints to events not portrayed on screen. [Spoiler ahead.]

Though not one of the two characters responsible for the absurd and brutal feud Inisherin becomes scene to in McDonagh’s film, Dominic nevertheless represents something more ultimately tragic than either Pádraic (Colin Farrell) or Colm (Brendan Gleeson): the youth, the future of the island itself and fruit of the paltry, tainted care it has invested in its living posterity. Indeed, fatally for Dominic and the island, that posterity has already been extinguished by the time a pale shadow of hope passes over the embers of Colm and Pádraic’s hostility, and the viewer’s window onto Inisherin closes. 

At the film’s end, the question of Dominic’s life remains where his community had long since put it, swept under the carpet. Yet their historically characteristic avoidance of the fact of suicide invites us, the modern viewer, to ask; who was this young maligned man, sadly not quite ‘dim’ enough to escape the mental anguish whose hooks finally pull him into the waters? Who should ultimately bear responsibility for his death? By holding up Cáit’s quiet girl character development as a mirror, we find it is not only Dominic’s tragedy we see reflected but that of all too many young people in our present and recent history.

The Banshees of Inisherin‘s Dominic is a social outcast, unwanted by everyone on the island and lacking any experience of genuine companionship. The reasons depicted to explain why the other islanders reject him are his apparent dimness, his clear lack of social education, and his sexual frustration-driven incapacity to behave appropriately and respectfully towards women. It is only throughout the events portrayed within the timeframe of Pádraic and Colm’s story that we learn he has also long been the victim of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of his father, the community policeman. His father should have a double duty of guardianship over him, all the more so still given the unexplained absence of Dominic’s mother.

Cáit, too, we see and are further led to suspect, has been a victim of sinister abuse and intimidation at the hands of an unloving father, potentially explaining her particular social difficulties. She, too, finds herself outcast by those who should cherish her. But whereas Cáit will eventually experience affection and belonging, to such an extent that she becomes aware of the true meaning of family, Dominic is never so fortunate.

As opportunities for warmer human interactions present themselves to her, we see that Cáit’s initial apparent simpleness is not something inherent to her character but rather a manifestation of her parental neglect. From Dominic, too, despite never receiving any such opportunities for warmth and despite his being written off as the dimmest individual on the island, there are also glimmers to show us he is similarly not lacking in natural intelligence. Over his supper with Pádraic and Siobhán (Kerry Condon), our focus is drawn to Pádraic feeling bad about himself when he doesn’t know the expression “touché” that Dominic comes out with. The underlying premise of this exchange is not so much that Pádraic is dimmer than he should be – since why should it be expected of any rural Irish islander in 1923 to know the French word “touché”? – but rather that Dominic is smarter than anyone has ever cared to recognize.

We witness such unacknowledged flashes of wit elsewhere, by his use of “faint heart” in allusion to “faint heart never won fair lady”, or when he infantilizes Colm’s newfound animosity towards Pádraic by scoffing, “What is he, 12?” Overall both The Quiet Girl and The Banshees of Inisherin seem intent on showing viewers that, though awkward misfits they surely appear to be within their birthplace environments, neither Dominic nor Cáit are simple by nature but rather damaged and lonely through neglect.

The final social interaction we witness Dominic participating in before we learn of his suicide is his doomed declaration of love to Siobhán, Pádraic’s sister. It is easy, in light of this, for the viewer to identify this rejection as the immanent cause of his subsequent suicide. But for the viewer who does so, Dominic’s character becomes reduced to the station of what would in our present world be called an “involuntary celibate”, or incel, shifting the essential explanation of his action onto a supposed dimension of his nature.

Rather than reduce the character to a type, however, The Banshees of Inisherin allows viewers to expand their understanding of what often lies behind and beneath that particular label in the real world. By accounting for all we can gather about Dominic’s life from the story, it becomes painfully clear that Siobhán’s rejection of amorous intent is not even constitutive of Dominic’s final act. The involuntariness of Dominic’s celibacy is not due to Siobhán nor any other young woman on the island but rather to Dominic’s tragic, seemingly lifelong lack of nurturing.

Cáit, we’ve seen, does eventually experience nurturing, and it is from beyond the confines of her flesh and blood that this comes to her in its deepest and most poignant form. These experiences culminate for her in a sublime epiphany that it is love and nurture, not blood, that thicken and quicken the bonds between us. The viewer is offered the opportunity to gain this profound understanding synchronously with Cáit herself when in a climactic scene, she emotionally repeats the same vocal sign. When first exclaimed, the word points toward ‘blood’ yet fear, in the form of her abusive father; when repeated, it designates ‘water’ yet also, for the first time in her life, love in the embrace of a man who has chosen to nurture her: “Daddy! Daddy,” she says. The moment is sublime yet all the more heartbreaking when we recognize that encapsulated in that same simple semantic transition is the very experience Dominic is still deprived of when he dies.

Nobody within Inisherin’s community attempts to provide Dominic with such experiences of
nurturing, belonging, and companionship. For example, for all his grand existentialist talk of remembrance beyond death, Colm does nothing to take care of the posterity of the island. His obsession with being remembered tends toward solipsism, focused on the eternizing through art of individual selves, such as Mozart, a reference he chooses. Childless as he is, had he a deeper humanistic sense of things, Colm might have realized that by taking an unfortunate like Dominic under his wing, his essence could indeed live on beyond his mortal flesh and in a more vital because less self-centered


Cáit’s salvation comes when the bond of nurturing is fostered by someone with no duty of blood toward her. Dominic’s suicide, like that of so many tragic real-world suicides, is a function of the entire community that neglected him. We come away from watching The Quiet Girl and The Banshees of Inisherin, asking ourselves, who around us is deprived of nurturing? Who among our community’s offspring may be waiting for someone to shift their focus away from the absurdly self-centered hostilities that can so easily distract us from love and nurture, the most essential dimensions of vital posterity?