Brandon’s Angle: ‘The Nightingale’ will stun, shock and leave you breathless

Illustration by Meg Rogers

Brandon Shillingford, Contributing Writer

Colonization is one of the greatest evils — it has the potential to rip apart the very fabric of a nation and decimate its faith, economy and most importantly, its people. 

In “The Nightingale,” Jennifer Kent’s sophomore effort following 2014’s “The Babadook,” she explores its effects on family, and in particular, a young mother named Clare, played by Aisling Franciosi. After facing a tragedy at the hands of British colonizers in 19th century Australia, Clare embarks on a grueling quest through the Tasmanian wilderness to find the men who took everything from her.

The thesis of the film could be described as a study of how white men and their quest to colonize in the 1800s have a detrimental effect on the well-being of women and people of color. Kent focuses on this struggle of Clare and her aboriginal guide, Billy (Baykali Ganambarr). 

A fulfilling aspect of the film is the relationship between Billy and Clare, who at first hate each other due to the inherent contempt the Austrialian Aborigines and white colonizers have for each other. But a companionship forms built on loss and shared trauma. 

Franciosi and Ganambarr give revelatory performances centered around rage and hatred, and blossoming into compassion and forgiveness. Franciosi shines by sinking her teeth into exceptionally strong material. The audience sees Clare experience grief through increasingly disturbing dream sequences laced throughout the film. Franciosi’s commanding screen presence works well with Ganambarr, another standout. 

A powerful scene in the film takes place towards the end, where Billy and Clare take shelter in an old white couple’s cottage. The husband invites Billy to eat dinner at the table, going against the wife’s original demand to eat on the floor.

It’s the degrading scene we’ve watched repeatedly, in which the white captor shows “compassion” by displaying general human decency. But just when you expect Billy to thank the husband, he breaks down in tears and says, “This is my land, this is my home.” 

It’s one of the toughest scenes I’ve ever had to watch, but also among the richest and most rewarding.

Going into “The Nightingale,” I heard a lot of warnings about its brutal depiction of sexual assault. The film contains some of the most gruesome representations of rape and violence I’ve ever seen. 

Throughout the film, the audience is subject to these horrific acts repeatedly, and I wouldn’t blame anyone compelled to walk out of “The Nightingale.” With that being said, I think there’s a lot to say about why these scenes were included and their purpose in the film. 

The Black War was a point in Australian history when acts of appalling violence were committed against women and people of color. With Kent being a white artist, she could’ve easily swept this part of history to the side. But she wanted the audience to sit and witness the horrors unfold. 

I normally don’t like calling films “brave,” but Kent’s direction is relentless, clinical and unforgiving. She combines spectacular artistry with a willingness to delve into a side of her country’s history that’s absolutely reprehensible. Because of that, we got one of the most disturbingly brilliant and bold pieces of cinema this century. 

“The Nightingale” is a stone-cold Tasmanian gothic horror-thriller masterpiece that will leave you speechless long after you leave the theater. 

Rating: 5/5

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