In director Martin McDonagh’s comically tragic The Banshees of Inisherin, the filmmaker doesn’t forget to take in the sights of the movie’s Irish setting. A 1920s period piece, we’re often flushed with images of the dim yet sunny skyline, the luscious grass, and garments on clotheslines featuring an array of vivid and warm colors. McDonagh takes a lot of pride in showing us the beauty of the quaint. Yet, this splendor belies a rotten, ugly underbelly. When we meet Pádraic (Colin Farrell), the happy-go-lucky local is just a nice man who wishes his acquaintances would treat him with the same care. He almost comes off as what SpongeBob SquarePants would be like if the latter wasn’t on cocaine. Pádraic’s simple world is thrown for a loop when his longtime friend, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), just stops talking to him out of the blue. It seems like a rib, or is something else going on? Pádraic goes to seemingly everyone for advice on the matter, from loquacious bartenders to his stern sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon). Many of them tell him the same thing: “Maybe he just don’t like you no more.” Will this do-gooder take no for an answer? Have you seen SpongeBob SquarePants?

What follows is a tale of etiquette. The characters in McDonagh’s fable don’t lead terribly taxing lives – they farm animals, they read, they drink at the local pub (EVERYDAY). As a result, their problems aren’t structural, but colloquial. Pádraic yearns for the people in his community to be nicer. Many of them yearn for him to be less dull, one who puts shit-talking ahead of pleasantries. One particular character is like the town snoop – she reads other people’s mail, and badgers Pádraic for whatever gossip he may have. These people don’t care about goodness; gossip is the currency they want out of Pádraic in order to consider him of value. But Pádraic just wants to drink ale and relay stories of his lovely donkey, Jenny. He’s outmatched by the general unpleasantness of the townspeople, as they holler and moan and overuse the word “fecking” throughout the whole fecking movie.

There’s a meta element to the narrative. McDonagh’s feature film debut was In Bruges (2008), starring Farrell and Gleeson as two longtime partners and hitmen. Their on-screen partnership comes full circle as their friendship nears divorce. Gleeson’s portrayal of Colm is aggressively irreverent and nonchalant. His rebuke of Pádraic is handled as if it’s no big deal, only gradually increasing how seriously he handles the matter as it becomes clear that Pádraic won’t go away without a fight. But as the layers begin to peel from Colm’s psyche, we discover his desire to end the friendship isn’t just based on a whim, but an existential crisis on what he’s really done with his life. Colm is a mean old man, rude and callous, but his desires for something more aren’t without merit even if the lengths he goes to achieve it are outrageous.

That’s the secret sauce of McDonagh’s comedy. The characters have understandable goals, but their methods are either rude or absurdly unconventional. Pádraic is stuck in the middle, and tries desperately to hold onto his dignity. His coping mechanism is letting Jenny into his stead to hangout. This angers his sister, who doubles as his housemate. But Pádraic sees Jenny as more than just an animal, granting her a semblance of humanity. But the more the townspeople poke at Pádraic’s persona, with their petty squabbles, the more his sanity remains suspended in air.

Meanwhile, the film’s events occur in concert with the Irish Civil War. In fact, our characters are mere miles away from the battlefield. Is the proximity of the war a metaphor for the in-fighting in the story, or is the trivial nature of our characters disputes being juxtaposed with the severity of war? Not the most subtle of metaphors, but it’s a combination of both. Siobhán even remarks to Pádraic that she feels everything going on is just so fecking stupid, and pales in comparison to real problems. Yet, slowly, the issue between Pádraic and Colm begins to mirror the tragic circumstances of the working men in Ireland fighting for their independence.

The ingenuity of the script, written by McDonagh, is that the events escalate from the mundane to the mythic and, eventually, even the biblical. There’s even an ominous prophecy that hangs over the proceedings, a dark cloud that points to a dire end. But within that prophecy, the movie ends up affording a bit of humanity to one of its farm animals. Is that intentional and McDonagh is making a statement about creatures of lower intelligence and if they should be afforded dignity all the same?

The film, an Academy Awards darling, is an intriguing blend of the literal and the metaphorical. It bolsters one of the best casts of the year, the standouts being Farrell, Gleeson, Condon, and an empathetic Barry Keoghan. It’s narrative conventions are light yet complex, starting out as a story book that graduates to a novel. The characterizations at play are fascinating for just how strange they are. From self-mutilation to assault, to arson, we run the gamut of extreme reactions. These overreactions are evidence of love, but the movie questions whether a world where everyone is nice is even possible, as it is human nature to be impolite. So, can genuine kindness and the joy of rudeness ever co-exist? Conflict happens for many reasons, but often, tragically, originate out of simple friendship. The Banshees of Inisherin thinks there’s something funny about that.