Movie Review - The Nightingale
The war was prompted when British colonists started invading the land and trying to convert it for livestock and farming. This disrupted how the Aboriginal people hunted for food. The Aboriginal people started starving. They began resisting and fighting back. The British launched atrocities like kidnapping, raping and murdering Aboriginal women and girls. The Aboriginal people only had spears as weapons. The British had guns and other firearms, so the Aboriginal people were ultimately more than decimated. A lot of the violence and horror were motivated due to desperation and revenge. This film, written and directed by Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), is a glimpse into that desperation and that revenge.
She tries to get her papers from the British officer, but he refuses to do so. In fact, the British officer rapes her instead and threatens to keep her subjugated indefinitely. Things escalate when the British officer not only rapes her again but murders her entire family in front of her, including her baby. Clare then is filled with rage and goes after the British officer and the two men that were with him at the time. The rest of the film becomes a journey for her revenge.
It's unfortunate that Billy as a character is borderline close to being what's been described as a Magical Negro, a trope where a black person is used as a narrative device to assist a white character without the black person having much of an inner life or independence of the white person. Kent knowingly or not tries to avoid that trope and that racist trapping, but it's still borderline here and a little too close for total comfort. What happens is that Clare is able to trick Billy into helping her. He's resistant and he's defiant, not afraid to talk back to her and even ditch her in the wilderness, but his role at times comes close to that Magical Negro archetype, even from visual standpoints when he's seen performing a healing ritual.
He's simply the embodiment of the evil that has occurred in this area during this time period. Specifically, he's meant to be the embodiment of the English occupiers. There is a distinction here made between the English and the Irish where we're supposed to be clear that the English are worse than the Irish, even though the Aboriginal people don't know the difference. Yet, it seems as though the Irish are the only convicts or prisoners in this penal colony, which can't be solely the case, but, historically speaking there did seem to be a kinship between the Irish and Aboriginal people that Kent is trying to reconcile. This revenge story seems to be an extreme way of doing that.
Nevertheless, there have been revenge stories that have been more compelling than the one here. Recently, for example, there was a French film called Revenge (2018) by Coralie Fargeat. That film did a better job of being this thrilling adventure of a woman fighting against men who raped her and try to kill her. This movie isn't as thrilling as it's comprised of Clare and Billy traipsing through the jungle, chasing after Hawkins and spending the better part of the film not catching him. Essentially, the bulk of the film is just surviving the wilderness, finding food and whatnot. In that, it becomes a lesser and more female-driven version of The Revenant (2015).
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
Rated R for strong violent content, including rape, language and brief sexuality.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 16 mins.
Available on VOD, including Hulu.