Alright, my goal here with this post is simple…for this Halloween post – I intend to convince you that the Australian Nightingale is a historical revenge flick you can’t miss. Seems simple enough of a thesis…but wait for it. Generally here at THiNC. we talk about Indie mindjob movies. But I am an individual of eclectic tastes, and occasionally I’ll accidentally slip up and bring you all manner of different kinds of chaos here. Like the time I brought you that movie called Land of Mine, about the Germans that were forced to clear the land mines off the beaches Denmark. (Man I loved that movie. And you’ve never heard of it. So incredibly intense.) Or, how about The 12th Man anyone? Two historical movies you’ve never heard of that will melt the eyebrows off your face.
I meant that as a good thing.
So yeah, we here at THiNC. generally love our time travel mindjob movies. This is not an accusation we will deny. But we also have an extreme weakness for more academically grounded fare, like historically based flicks. And not just of the Christopher Nolan variety either. And today I’ve got a movie for you that will rip your heart out, stomp on it, and then go to the chalkboard in order to teach you a thing or two after you are a bleeding out corpse lying there on the classroom floor.
OK, just because this movie falls within this “historical” tidal swell doesn’t mean that this movie will be an easy watch. Nightingale ranks up there as one of the most disturbing movies I’ve ever watched. And yet, this film is important. Rarely do I get the privilege of being able to simultaneously state a movie is both disturbing and important. But Nightingale is that. An educational tale that will crush you psychically. I literally learned so many things from this film, like geographical details about the Australian island of Tasmania. Literally knew nothing about it. Learned intense details about that geopolitical chaos between the British and the native aborigines. For example, there was a thing called the Van Diemen’s Land’s Black War that was responsible for the murder of almost the whole of the native population of the island? I learned about the horrific living conditions of this penal colony, for both the British people, as well as for the natives. And I learned again, that humans are capable of just horrific atrocities. Not just in this true-to-life fictionalized account, but in the background of the story, just sliding by, across the movie lens frame as we go about our business of the telling of this story.
Quick Nightingale Walkthrough
(I always type Quick walkthrough and always have to go back and delete the word “quick” from the heading. But not today dangit! Not today!) Our tale begins with the Irish convict Clare (played by the gloriously talented Aisling Franciosi), in the middle of the Van Diemen’s (Tasmanian) Black War. When we join Clare we quickly learn that Lieutenant Hawkins (played by the scary Peaky Blinders season 5 actor Sam Claflin), who has gotten her released from prison under his care, has been habitually raping her since she came under his charge. And during a visit to check his readiness for a promotion, Clare and her husband Aiden (played by Michael Sheasby – but don’t get too attached) make a stink, demanding their papers proving that they are not prisoners anymore. The scuffle between Aiden and Hawkins keeps Hawkins from getting his promotion. Hawkins then decides he and a few of his men will bushwhack to the town of Launceston.
Before they do though, Hawkins and his men intercept Clare and Aiden attempting to flee. Hawkins taunts Aiden about all the times he has slept with his wife – which spirals into chaos. Leading to Hawkins raping Clare in front of her husband. Hawkins then kills Aiden, and then Ruse also rapes Clare while Jago kills Clare’s baby. And at the end of it all – they attempt to kill her by cracking her in the head with the butt of a rifle.
Horrific really. If this isn’t the most horrific origin story for a movie, I don’t know what is.
Obviously no one takes the word of a female convict over a Lieutenant and so Clare is left to take her vengeance herself. Hiring the Aboriginal tracker named Billy, the two head out together. And at the start of it, Billy hates Clare, like he hates all white people who murdered his family. But eventually, slowly, over time, Billy begins to team up as he learns of Clare’s similarly tragic story.
On their way, Ruse kidnaps an Aboriginal woman in order to use her as a sex slave. In an attempted rescue, Aborigines kill one of Hawkins’ crew, but are ultimately rebuffed by the Lieutenant. Jago, the man who killed Clare’s baby, is injured and flees, only to be found by Clare who mercilessly murders the man. Billy, completely abashed by the violence, was planning to leave her to the wilds, but ultimately chooses to help her get her bloody revenge.
Ruse kills their tracker after their tracker gets his revenge on them for their brutal murdering and raping of his Aboriginal people. Without a guide, Hawkins is helpless at getting out of the bush alive, but is able to capture Billy and force him to help them get to town. And thankfully, Billy is able to make a break for it, and get away once they had arrived at the outskirts of of Launceston. Oh, and did I mention, there was a boy vagabond that Hawkins had picked up halfway through the movie – but he ends up murdering the boy for not shooting Billy and allowing him to escape. So this Hawkins fellow is not exactly someone you would bring home to your mother on the holidays.
Soon after, in the world’s worst logical screenplay leap, Clare and Billy reunite on the road in to Launceston. Clare, having lost her taste for blood, decides to try confronting Hawkins, in front of his peers, about his horrific war crimes, but then retreated after saying her peace. (I think I lost another handful of Aboriginals dying in here somewhere. Can you just round the number of deaths to the nearest significant digit?) Billy though, our caped crusader, dons war paint and slips into Hawkins’ hostel and murders both Hawkins and Ruse. But, unfortunately, Billy is mortally wounded with a musket ball to his belly. Clare and Billy ride to the beach and then watch as the sun rises over the ocean.
The Messed Up History of Australia
Yes, the United States is in no position to smack talk about Australian history. I acknowledge the Trail of Tears, and the grand scale land nabbing that occurred throughout our own history. But outside of a few Dollop podcasts, I really haven’t had much exposure to the gonzo history that litters Australia’s past. Well, I probably should have mentioned this off the top – but Jennifer Kent, the mind behind Babadook, brought us The Nightingale, and she is the one that dove into the deep end of Australian history in order to bring us a different kind of horror. But Kent worked extraordinarily hard to be as respectful and realistic to the Aboriginal past as possible. She even worked to find a Aboriginal consultant to guide her from the start:
“It was of absolute importance to me. And when I couldn’t initially, in very early stages, pre-first draft, find that person, I decided I couldn’t make the film. Because I can’t go in and abuse people who’ve [already] been so badly abused by not respecting their culture and allowing them to have a voice in the story.”
Apparently the consultant was there from beginning to end. From costumes, to casting, to the screenplay. Not only that, but Kent also chose to film in the wilds of Australia. Shooting from 6 AM to midnight every day, it was a rigorous shoot – and the gorgeousness of the environs just scream out on every frame of the film. Australia is the one last places on earth I have not figured out a way to get to yet and I was beside myself, just transfixed as I watched this horrific, and yet beautiful film. As we trek through the bush, there is a hanged native. And over there, is a burning house. And inside, are the remains of the couple that once lived there. Chain gangs. Fleeing British people. It’s as if the world had turned upside down. If there is anything negative to be said about this film is that it might actually be overly scandalized. Maybe a bit too blown out. And yet, at the same time, we know that Kent is attempting to communicate an overall, and general, truth about the horrors that happened in Australia. And at the end of the end of the day? The entirety of the local population was wiped out. At the end of the day? The local Aboriginal language was changed indefinitely. It was a very sad period of human history.
Oh, and Happy Happy Halloween everyone!!! Cough.
Edited by: CY