Everything Everywhere All At Once and The Banshees of Inisherin go up against one another in the Best Picture category at the Oscars this weekend, and, though they’ll be facing off on Sunday, I’d like to take a look at something the two films have in common: a central theme of niceness. Please note that this article makes the most sense if you’ve seen both films, and there will be spoilers for both ahead.
Niceness is a small word, in a lot of ways – the kind of thing I would get in trouble for using in an essay in high school – but both these movies elevate it to a vital and fascinating central theme. But both Banshees and Everything Everywhere have very different takes on how kindness works within these stories.
As so many people have observed since the superb Everything Everywhere All At Once came out, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinhart’s masterpiece is a triumph in the power of kindness, acceptance, and love, without any of the cheese or cliché that normally comes with that kind of story. Let’s take a look at one of the climactic moments of the movie, a speech from Waymond Wang (Ke Huy Quan):
“You think I’m weak, don’t you? All of those years ago, when we first fell in love, your father would say I was too sweet for my own good. Maybe he was right. You tell me it’s a cruel world, and we’re all running around in circles. I know that. I’ve been on this earth just as many days as you. When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naïve. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything. I know you see yourself as a fighter. Well, I see myself as one too. This is how I fight.”
This is such an interesting take on kindness, especially kindness coming from a man; instead of being depicted as being too agreeable, a pushover, too nice for his own good, Waymond reclaims his sweetness as his weapon of choice. During the movie, as we see it through leading woman Evelyn’s eyes, Waymond’s niceness often comes across as naïve or even foolish, but it’s not. It is a concentrated choice; Waymond has taken time to wrap his head around the world as he sees it, and his niceness is a decision he’s made to counter what is placed in front of him. His kindness is a scalpel, well-honed and focused and meaningful, a tool he uses to navigate the world around him.
And it’s because of this that kindness wins in Waymond’s life in Everything Everywhere. The movie, though it deals with acceptance, love, and kindness in many plot threads over the course of it’s kaleidoscopic run, uses Waymond’s sweetness as a symbol for the heart of the movie – the silly googly eyes he puts on people’s laundry to make them smile is probably the movie’s most iconic image, and arguably the message captured in a single symbol. His kindness is not accidental or incidental. It’s a decision he makes and continues to make, across all his versions and across the course of his life, because it is his greatest weapon – this is how he fights. This is how he survives, and how he thrives.
The Banshees of Inisherin, however, has a world that reacts very differently to kindness. As in Everything Everywhere, one of the major speeches in the movie revolves around kindness, as Padraic (Colin Farrell) makes a case for the importance of kindness over legacy:
“…And anyway, we’re talkin’ about niceness. Not whatsisname. My mammy, she was nice. I remember her. And my daddy, he was nice. I remember him. And my sister, she’s nice. I’ll remember her. Forever, I’ll remember her.”
But Padraic is soon faced with the realization that his niceness is not enough to get him what he wants – he’s unable to win back to affections of his best friend, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), because Colm doesn’t put the same stock in niceness. In fact, his response to Padraic’s comments on niceness are pretty brutal “[who will] Remember Siobhan and your niceness? No one will.”
Padraic, over the course of Banshees, forgoes his kindness in favour of something with a little more bite – his kindness was not valued by the people around him, at least not in the way he wanted it to be, and it’s swiftly replaced by aggression, cruelty, and, you know, burning people’s houses down (though not leaving their dogs in there to die, which is at least something). Faced with the idea that kindness is not enough of a legacy or a selling point in and of itself, apparently for the first time, he gives up on it. His kindness seems apathetic, a lack of action rather than a considered choice he’s made, and it’s soon replaced by something more dynamic.
Comparing the characters of Waymond and Padraic, and why one succeeds and endures in their kindness while the other turns their back on it and takes revenge, it’s interesting to see the way each of these scripts frame their characters and the way they use their niceness. For Padraic, it seems much more a passive choice, one that he upholds because it’s all he’s known and one that, when challenged, he eventually reneges on – his active choice comes in the form of choosing to make his one-time friend pay for his treatment of him, not in his kindness. But for Waymond, it is an active, knowing decision, and it’s in that decision that he finds the strength that carries a major part of the story’s themes and eventual resolution.
I think both of these movies are absolutely excellent, and both have really fascinating ideas to convey about kindness and how it can function for various people up against various odds; while very different, both as characters and in the stories they inhabit, Padraic and Waymond share compelling insights into the nature and value of niceness.
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By Lou MacGregor
(header image via The Mary Sue)
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