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Evan C

The Nightingale

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Has anyone seen Jennifer Kent's newest film? Watching this on the heels of Once Upon a Time ... In Hollywood made a stark contrast on two very different approaches to violence against women. And while this film is probably even more brutal, I also think there's more of a conscience on display here.

I wrote up these first impressions for Letterboxd.

 

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As a white man, I imagine this is the closest I will come to feeling the visceral horror of a woman being raped, as Jennifer Kent makes the audience suffer through the repeated assaults: five (5!) rape scenes, two child killings, and multiple other murders, from the perspective of Clare (Aisling Franciosi). The scenes are brutal and relentless (less frightening but unquestionably more intense than The Babadook, which remains my favorite horror film of this century, fwiw - so decide whether to watch this with extreme caution). The rape-revenge narrative conditions us to root for bloody, Tarantino-style retaliation against the sadistic British officers, and we get one such scene against the "nice" or more accurately "less bad" officer, but given the anticlimactic nature of that scene and the film's genre shift as it deliberately frustrates the revenge it hinted at, it is clear Kent is too skilled an artist to allow the film to degenerate into a celebration of violence, even if the corruption of law in 19th Century Tasmania could debatably make vigilantism a form of justice.

As Clare treks across the wilderness in pursuit of her rapists, her partnering with an Aboriginal guide Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) in order to survive opens her eyes to the horrific injustices colonization inflicted not only on women, but on natives and all people of color. Kent draws the parallels beautifully, making it clear that justice for the wrongs inflicted upon one group necessitates justice for the other as well. However, in a society where immigrants, blacks, convicts, and women are all seen as second or fifth class citizens, the futility of responding to violence with violence becomes clearer.

An anachronistically woke elderly farmer is admittedly a bit of a distraction, but as a reprieve from the horror and as an example of how much work and trend-smashing it takes to achieve progress, the character is more than welcome.

 

 

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Yes, I thought this was very well done.  As I was watching, I mentally compared it to Tarantino as well; unlike almost any recent Tarantino film, Clare doesn't relish the prospect of violence but is striking out as a cornered creature out of options.  (In this sense, Nightingale picks up the thread of traumatic grief from Babadook.)

My full review: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularcinephile/2019/08/the-nightingale-rape-and-extermination-in-the-british-colonies/

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