Gritty and authentic, The Nightingale is an intense western exploring subjects that were taboo for quite some time. The horrific violence towards not only women but also indigenous people of Australia and Tasmania, where this movie takes place, is something that should not be forgotten. Colonialism destroyed not only the lives of so many people but also their history. The violence and suffering spread like a plague anywhere whitefella went. Here, we see people acting like shit towards everyone around them, women, children, it really doesn’t matter because they are gods. Gods who live without consequences under the whip of greedy monarchies always hungry for more lands and riches. And before my blood starts to really boil, we need to get back to the movie.
Same as some of the other, modern western movies, The Nightingale opts for the raw and emotionally impactful presentation of life on the frontier. The visceral and foreboding atmosphere never subsides, keeping your eyes peeled on the screen. We get to know our characters pretty well and they feel like real people, with all their faults and virtues. Nobody’s perfect. They stumble and pick themselves up, one foot in front of the other. The story takes place during the Black War and it shows how it affected everyone involved.
It is the year of our lord Satan 1825 and Clare, an Irish convict serving her term in Van Diemen’s Land (present-day Tasmania), is about to sing for the Colonial unit there. This is a harsh land made even harsher by the men that inhabit and rule it, oppressing and killing the indigenous population. Clare is hoping that she’ll be soon released to live freely along with her husband Aiden their baby. What will actually happen is far from it…
While the first half of the movie is truly engaging and compelling, towards the end, The Nightingale starts becoming a little bit too artistic. Especially when you consider how it began. This does add a bit of unpredictability to the story and I liked their general thinking of not wrapping it up neatly for the viewer, but still. I was really hoping for something else. Not that I’m disappointed or anything, #justsaying.
I guess I’m too used to the classic revenge movie formula. Aisling Franciosi performance here was truly compelling but the real star to me was Baykali Ganambarr as Billy in his debut role. And I also have to mention Sam Claflin, with such a quintessentially British face that I totally forgot he was in Hunger Games and Pirates of the Caribbean.
The Nightingale can be a truly harrowing and traumatic experience with scenes of intense and raw violence and all kinds of abuse, but it’s a necessary experience. And if you think we’ve outgrown these problems, you’re sorely mistaken. If the circumstances changed, a large portion of the population would revert to their default settings. Something confirmed by all the atrocities happening in war zones around the world in the last thirty years. The Rwandan genocide is sadly a perfect example. All this is brought on by humanity’s constant refusal to reject the tribal system of values and this babyproofed world we live in. Finally, today, like right now, rape and sexual abuse is happening all over the world in astounding numbers. We just don’t talk about it…
If you’re looking for movies somewhat similar to The Nightingale, I recommend you first check out The Salvation, a phenomenal western starring Mads Mikkelsen. Next up, we have more horror than a thriller Bone Tomahawk with Kurt Russell and finally, an Australian movie The Proposition.
Director: Jennifer Kent
Writer: Jennifer Kent
Cast: Aisling Franciosi, Baykali Ganambarr, Sam Claflin, Damon Herriman, Charlie Jampijinpa Brown, Harry Greenwood, Michael Sheasby
Fun Facts: “I’ve always had a fascination with Tasmania,” writer-director Jennifer Kent said. It was considered the most brutal of the Australian colonies, known as ‘hell on earth’ through the western world at the time. Repeat offenders were sent there; the rapists, murderers, hardened criminals. And severe punishments were devised for them to strike fear in the hearts of those back in Britain, to deter them from crime. Women on the other hand, who’d often committed minor crimes, were sent to Tasmania to even the gender balance. They were outnumbered eight to one. You can imagine what kind of an environment that would set up for women. It was not a good place or time for them. And in terms of the Aboriginal invasion, what happened in Tasmania is often considered the worst attempted annihilation by the British of the Aboriginal people and everything they hold dear.”