‘The Nightingale’ Theatrical Review
(Warning: Possible spoilers as well as graphic content)
There is a quote by Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg that goes, “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you. My mother told me to be a lady. And for her, that meant be your own person, be independent.” Obviously my mother never taught me to be a lady, but she always told me to follow what I believe and to be my own person.
Those that know me well can attest, my mother is not only is my best friend, but also my hero and my greatest inspiration. In fact, out of all my friends, the women in my life are my greatest influence. Beside my mother there are three or four women in my life whose independence have shaped me to the man I am today. Without them I would not have the courage to say I am a feminist without worry of being laughed at because of being a male. To you, my women of power, I say thank you for your courage. Because of women like this, the idea of equality for the female gender has never felt more real, and although it may feel like a crack, even the smallest one is progress, and soon we will breakthrough the wall of a once male dominant world. Just seeing what some of those I love had to go through to fight for their rights, makes me respect them and every woman even more.
The Nightingale is the most powerful and gripping movie you will see this year. Jennifer Kent’s first film since The Babadook is a revenge film you will not forget. I was drawn to it because of the director and lead actress, but I got more than I expected. Every so often there is a movie that will leave me an emotional wreck, and walking out the theater, it took everything I had to help me regain my balance to make it home. I couldn’t remember the last time I watched a movie and my body could not stop shaking the whole time. The movie has the power to spark a reaction from anyone who sees it. I think part of the reason it affected me the way it did is because of the relationship and respect I have with women. The film itself is a lesson to why must we must take what we know and unlearn it if there is to ever be such thing as humanity in the human race.
The Nightingale is set in Tasmania during the 1920’s when the British ruled the Australian colonies and used the land for laboring their own convicts. Clare Carroll (Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish convict serving the rest of her sentence where she takes care of the British Soldiers every day before going home to a farmstead where she lives with her husband Aidan (Michael Sheasby) and their baby daughter.
Aside from being a maid to the British army, she has a beautiful voice and is asked to sing to the drunken soldiers every night. All of this has caught the eye of Lieutenant Hawkins (Sam Caflin) who has the power to release her from her completed sentence, but won’t because of his own obsession for her while he looks for a promotion, and so she remains an indentured servant. One night after her singing, he takes Claire to the back and rapes her knowing she has no power over him and must allow his rule over her.
There becomes some hope for her as Hawkins is finally promoted and sent to another part of the land. Claire and her husband may finally be able to get their freedom. But the Lieutenant comes to her home that night, and does something that will change her forever. He rapes her again in front of her husband before killing him and their baby daughter right in front of her eyes. The next day a bruised and battered Claire, soaked in the blood of her own family rises hell-bent, scorned and angry as she grabs her husbands gun and horse to seek revenge on the man who has altered her future in one night. Although bloodthirsty, she knows she cannot press charges or seek help from anyone because they would not help her. The only option is to hire the only person she has some type of power over, an aboriginal tracker. She finds one named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr), never telling him her true reason for needing him. Thus starts the road through the wilderness of thieves and low lifers to find the revenge she seeks.
Jennifer Kent could have made another horror film off the success of The Babadook, but instead see decided to make a history lesson for her second film. For those who will say it’s more Hollywood than historical, they should know that Kent was not allowed to shoot until historians in Australia approved everything in her script.
Kent’s attention to historical detail is beyond impressive, from the set design to each word, accent and gesture from all the actors. It certainly helps to enhance the feeling of the film. Kent wants her audience to feel as if they are in this period themselves, not just viewing it onscreen. Viewers gain a sense of how difficult it was for someone to live during that time. It is because of this detail that everything that happens to Claire sinks into your heart as you watch her have to lift herself from the trauma she has endured, and control her rage on her journey through the wilderness of the country.
Once again Kent gets breakthrough performances from everyone, but it’s all about Aisling Franciosi. The journey of Claire takes both mental and physical preparations, and I can’t imagine how exhausted Franciosi felt for each take of each scene. There is a discipline not many can do in playing someone who has already survived one act violence and continues to be stripped as Claire tries to move forward. It is a brilliant performance, portraying a woman who cannot control her rage, as we watch and feel the despair through her eyes. In one scene she has her first chance of revenge, and sees the outlook is not as joyous and there is not relief in it. If Aisling Franciosi doesn’t win the Oscar for best actress it will be a crime, and if she not even nominated it will be an insult.
In Billy, Claire doesn’t just find a guide, but her own lesson that she may not be any better than the men she is seeking revenge. She is a racist and sees him as someone beneath her, but finds he has his own despair as well. Baykali Ganambarr is superb as the other half of a duo who by the end of a film comes to an understanding that results in an unlikely bond. Sam Claflin is perfectly revolting as Lieutenant Hawkins. His smirk is wicked, showing the awful things one can do to abuse their power in that period. Normally used to playing the handsome heroine, it’s hard to imagine playing someone this despicable could be easy for Claflin, but I honestly think it is his best role to date.
The Nightingale is a brutal, angry and unflinching masterpiece. It will leave you feeling uneasy, forcing you to watch the punishment inflicted on its main character. This brutality is necessary for raising questions of just how far are we today from the treatment of others than that point in history. If you leave questioning if you are a good person, then the darkness of this movie has served its purpose.
The Nightingale is as much a History lesson as it is a revenge film. In order to advance in the equality of race and gender we must unlearn everything we have in the past. There is a lot of good that can come out of seeing this The Nightingale, but I caution anyone one seeing it that it is not for everyone. There have already been people who have walked out of the film at festivals and I saw a few do so when I saw it back in May. There is no shame in knowing you can not take the graphic violence against women, but seeing it, I believe can make you a better person.
Set in 1825 Australia, Claire (Aisling Franciosi), a 21-year-old Irish convict, hunts the British Lieutenant in seeking revenge for his violent actions that took everything from her.