This doesn’t mean that Ray and Colm are one-to-one clones of each other or Ken and Pádraic for that matter. While they face similar struggles, it often comes from a different place.
Ray and Colm both struggle to live. With the latter, it’s because he can’t bear living a long life knowing what he’s done. Colm, though, is having a mid-life crisis and has decided to be stingy with his time because he has little of it left. Both characters explore depression, but Ray’s is a youthful strain while Colm’s is aged. Ken and Pádraic have ulterior motives, too. Ken is hoping for a vicarious redemption if he can set Ray on the right path. Pádraic, meanwhile, has few friends and doesn’t want to lose one of them.
Both films end in uncertainty, though “In Bruges” is the more optimistic. Ray is loaded into an ambulance and narrates, “I really, really hoped I wouldn’t die.” He may not get his wish, but his character arc is complete. “The Banshees of Inisherin,” though, lacks any resolution at all. Pádraic and Colm have done irreparable harm to themselves and now have to live with it, and each other.
Martin McDonagh acknowledged the comparative darkness of “The Banshees of Inisherin” on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” saying:
“We also wanted to do something that was different, that wouldn’t displease an ‘In Bruges’ fan, to have the humor and all of that stuff, but to go to a slightly stranger and maybe sadder place. ‘In Bruges’ is pretty sad, too, but just to be completely free to take an ‘In Bruges’ audience to a different sort of place.
Sequels don’t have to be carbon copies. Brave artists explore even similar territory with a new lens. Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell, and Martin McDonagh did just that going from “In Bruges” to “The Banshees of Inisherin.”