2019 | Jennifer Kent | Australia | English | 136 min | R
THE NIGHTINGALE is a meditation on the consequences of violence and the price of seeking vengeance. Set during the colonization of Australia in 1825, the film follows Clare (AISLING FRANCIOSI), a 21-year-old Irish convict. Having served her 7-year sentence, she is desperate to be free of her abusive master, Lieutenant Hawkins (SAM CLAFLIN) who refuses to release her from his charge. Clare’s husband Aidan (MICHAEL SHEASBY) retaliates and she becomes the victim of a harrowing crime at the hands of the lieutenant and his cronies. When British authorities fail to deliver justice, Clare decides to pursue Hawkins, who leaves his post suddenly to secure a captaincy up north. Unable to find compatriots for her journey, she is forced to enlist the help of a young Aboriginal tracker Billy (BAYKALI GANAMBARR) who grudgingly takes her through the rugged wilderness to track down Hawkins. The terrain and the prevailing hostilities are frightening, as fighting between the original inhabitants of the land and its colonisers plays out in what is now known as ‘The Black War.’ Clare and Billy are hostile towards each other from the outset, both suffering their own traumas and mutual distrust, but as their journey leads them deeper into the wilderness, they must learn to find empathy for one another, while weighing the true cost of revenge.
Note from the filmmakers: “THE NIGHTINGALE features potentially triggering acts of sexual violence towards women, violence towards children, and violence motivated by racism. This film presents complex issues and does not attempt to offer neat solutions to systemic issues of race, misogyny, sexual violence, or classism. While the film’s narrative is fictional, it is inspired by historical events. The film presents the opportunity to open up an honest dialogue about cycles of violence, the repercussions of colonialism, and the value of experiencing challenging, troubling works of art. While art can make viewers uncomfortable, it can also inspire reflection on the importance of empathy for our survival.”
“Just as she did in “The Babadook,” Kent maintains tension for so long at a stretch that you do not notice you have forgotten to breathe until it finally eases up.” — Carla Meyer, San Francisco Chronicle
“It’s clear that [Kent] seeks to turn her gaze not just on the subjects of the past but the audience of the present, turning our own desires – at their most coarsely visceral and crassly sentimental – back on ourselves.” — Ann Hornaday, Washington Post
“Yes, the film is grim, but it builds a space where that darkness can serve a purpose.” — Andrew Lapin, NPR
“[A] profound and difficult film, an attempt to grapple with the existence and mindless perpetuation of evil, and to suggest both the fleeting satisfaction and the eternal futility of vengeance. Nothing about it is easy, and everything it shows us matters.” — Justin Chang, Los Angeles Times