“The Nightingale” is much more than a tale of revenge. It’s about breaking points and the brutality left in a person when you take everything from them.
There is only one way to describe The Nightingale: an unflinchingly brutal film. Jennifer Kent, who blew onto the radar with her massively successful film, The Babadook, thrashes audiences with this anguish-ridden period piece. The Nightingale captures true evil in the face of the British colonization of Tasmania. Kent captures more earth-shattering severity within the first 30 minutes than many films muster in their entirety.
The Nightingale is a hard film to watch, and it’s an even harder one to finish. This doesn’t speak to it being bad; this is a phenomenal film in both story and camera work. Instead, it speaks to the realism and horror of English colonization, a blackened history that has been washed almost clean by the guilty parties.
This movie will make many who watch it highly uncomfortable with its realism. However, this is why it is such an important piece of film.
It creates a genuine, human reaction to events that, while coated in fiction, are most definitely mirrored by facts.
The Nightingale’s dark story, filled with assault, hatred, racism, and fear is paired completely with the dreary backdrop of the sodden Australian countryside. The lands are uncharted and full of death which comes bearing the face of the British. The only people who know of safe travels are the Aboriginal Tasmanian men and women who are abused by the colonizers.
The story follows the victimized Clare (Aisling Franciosi, The Fall) and Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), her Aboriginal guide. Both have lives destroyed by the British and are both are under constant duress. Clare is suffering from her rape and assault while Billy is tormented about the murderous intent and racism of the white people forcefully taking over his homeland. Little kinship exists between the two at the start, just money and a stronger animosity towards the British than each other.
Clare, a white Irish woman, sees only the value in Billy as it is relative to her. Other than that, he is nothing more in her eyes, and undeserving of the land the colonization efforts have taken. Due to their place in each other’s history, there is great distrust between the two, their partnership kept alive for both their gain. It is through their shared trauma and a mixed understanding that the two are bonded. Their ties are ones soaked in blood and sorrow. Happiness is not to be found on the path these two take.
The movie touches on a myriad of topics, but none deeper than that of trauma.
Each character is shown in a deeply personal way, which displays how their trauma affects them. It is used as a driving factor for some and a sickeningly humanizing approach for others. Whenever members of the British group begin to seem human again, Kent sweeps it away with a disgusting reminder of how truly sinister these men are. This creates a feeling of unease within the viewer while displaying Kent’s masterful storytelling.
The film stands as a reminder that the colonization by the British was not one of peaceful exploration; it was one of bloodshed and treachery that is often too willingly forgotten. It was treachery that, to this day, the effects of are still felt by the descendants of those poor souls. This is the villainy that is the colonization of not only the British Empire, but of all Westernized civilizations.
The Nightingale is about the British, but the viewer is still made to think about the evil acts colonizing countries committed and still benefit from to this day.
While it’s not your standard horror film, The Nightingale is terrifying due to its honest portrayal of mankind’s brutality.
It’s a film that definitely serves as a conversation starter. There will be those who avoid it due to how uncomfortable its many themes will make them feel. Even so, there are many who need to watch this film, if only for the channels of conversation that it opens up. This is the kind of film that, years from now, will still be dissected and discussed in film classes or social science areas.
Every single frame is drenched in deep story, keeping the viewer on edge and uneasy. I did not breathe easy until the ending scenes.
The Nightingale gives its viewers a sad, but warm conclusion that sits stinging in your mind and heart.