The Nightingale-A Brutal And Beautiful Reflection of Today's Society
It may have been about five years since I was so enamored by a film. I would be remised if "The Nightingale" is not a film we will hear more of not only in the coming months but for years if the Academy plays their cards right. Writer/Director Jennifer Kent borrows inspiration from "Straw Dogs" and "The Revenant," but unlike those two films that display nothing but brutality, Kent delivers a resounding message of hope amongst a crumbling society of bigotry that's tragically relatable to today. Set amidst Tasmania in 1825 where European settlers, mainly the British in this picture, wreak the land of its indigenous people to claim if for themselves. Working more or less as a slave without chains, convict Clare (played masterfully by Aisling Franciosi) does whichever task she must for the settlers primarily under the rule of the hot-headed C.O. Hawkins (Sam Claflin) Clare is continually raped by Hawkins reaching a breaking point in which Clare's husband and infant son are brutally murdered as she's beaten and raped in her cottage. Seeking revenge Clare enlists the help of a black man, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to help her under the pretense of finding her husband amongst the woods where the indigenous people are being hunted down in exchange for two pounds.
With the outline of a revenge story Jennifer Kent delivers a resoundingly methodical piece reflecting the absurdity of violence, the strength that woman possesses, having not only empathy but a mutual understanding for other cultures, the rise of bigotry shutting out all others who do not only share the same pigmentation of the skin but also outlaws any opposing religious ideology. Where a movie like the "Revenant" felt like a visually beautiful yet shallow film "The Nightingale" is blistering with connotation. We aren't watching a movie about a woman seeking revenge amongst the woods; we are viewing a story of a racist white woman during a time of extreme prejudice establish a relationship with a black man where she sees herself in him over time. Their bond doesn't fall within the trappings of a romance but of an empowered duo who wants to take something back from a system that has oppressed them.
Clare is a woman of Ireland who was arrested under unjust pretenses. Her family was killed, her dignity stripped away multiple times. Billy's people have been exterminated, treated like peasants all because they were black. We face a similar situation today with children being locked in cages separated from their families all because they are from Latin descent. Our President labels them as "drug dealers and rapists." Most middle age white men in rural America don't understand Mexican heritage, they don't care for their music, they don't care for their interior designs, and they have absolute disdain for their language. They are now the settlers kicking out the people who helped form our country because they view them as savages. Well, take a good long look at your red hats then look at the men wearing those red coats. You're just as much of a rapist as Hawkins or Trump is.
There is much hateful scorn amongst "The Nightingale" that's unflinchingly brutal but a necessary depiction of a world we still live in today. It's not only a call to action but a plea for empathy. Unlike other movies where a white person progresses with another race, we aren't dealing with some "Dances With Wolves" white savior bull shit. If there is a savior in this film, it's Billy. We don't only get to understand his rituals but are entranced by them. Billy, not Clare is the one who keeps his calm becoming the light at the end of the tunnel. A shoulder for Clare to cry on with a spear to impale on those who have wronged them. Revenge is not at the forefront of the story, at a certain point as we see the ridiculousness of it all through the shock of Clare's blood-soaked hands standing over the body of a British soldier begging for his mother much like the medic Wade did in "Saving Private Ryan." Nothing is satisfying about it; it's just disgusting. I believe if a man were to have directed this film, it would have been exploitative in its rape scenes and pornographic in its violence. With the sentimentality of a woman Jennifer Kent provides such delicate subject matter with the elegance it deserves in countless other films.
I can't depart from typing this review without expressing my praise for Aisling Franciosi. She is an absolute powerhouse. A stunning performance that isn't afraid to hold back not only in terms of rage or tears but in subtleties. Franciosi's eyes say it all. Her reactions of fear, resentment, disgust are contagious. If the Academy overlooks her performance, I'm going to lose it. Despite being a tough film to sit through "The Nightingale" is a resounding achievement that must be seen to get a good sense of where our country has headed. If the average voter can pull himself out of his racist pandering, perhaps he can grow as Clare has with Billy We'd be much better off for it.