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Film / The Nightingale (2019)

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A 2019 Australian Western directed by Jennifer Kent, following up her previous film The Babadook.

Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is an Irish indentured servant at a British military outpost in 1825 Tasmania. She is forced to endure the murders of her husband and baby, as well as her own brutal rape, by an officer named Hawkins (Sam Claflin) and his henchmen. Unable to find justice, Clare enlists the help of an Aboriginal tracker named Billy (Baykali Ganambarr) to guide her through the harsh Australian wilderness as she seeks revenge against Hawkins's band. Things do not get better from here.


Tropes include:

  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg:
    • Private Jago, upon seeing a very, very angry, and very armed Clare, begs for mercy from her, claiming he never meant to hurt her child or her.
    • When cornered by Billy, Ruse begs for his life to no avail.
  • Ambiguous Ending: A lot is left up in the air when the film ends. Billy is presumably dying of his wounds, but we last see him sitting on the beach looking at the sunrise. It's anyone guess as to what happens to Clare next. She has no papers, no job prospects and no cash, though she does have a horse. She might be wanted for accessory to murder.
  • Animal Motif: Clare is a nightingale, while Billy is a blackbird. They both sing throughout the film.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: Lieutenant Hawkins' unit are petty, racist, morally loose and perpetually drunk. You'd think it's just by chance that most of them aren't convicts themselves. Hawkins calls them "the sorriest unit ever" but doesn't do anything to discipline them, and it bites him in the arse when the visiting officer who should promote him isn't remotely impressed with them.
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  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted. Clare is bruised from where she gets hit by Hawkins and Jago.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Clare gets her revenge but her family is still dead and Billy is now mortally wounded.
  • Character Development: Clare's racism towards the Aboriginals softens as a result of bonding with Billy.
  • Crapsack World: Van Diemen's Land-era Tasmania is a penal colony where racism and genocide against Aboriginals happens regularly.
  • Crusading Widow: It's not just Rape and Revenge, but poor Clare has also a family to avenge by tracking down her assaulters.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Billy saw English soldiers killing his family members and got separated from his mother.
  • Death of a Child: Hawkins and his men kill Clare's baby and Eddie for not shooting Billy.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Clare gradually warms up to Billy over the course of the film.
  • The Dog Bites Back: After watching Hawkins and company repeatedly abusing aboriginals, Charlie leads them to the middle of nowhere and abandons them.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: At least not without a Native Guide. And when Clare is separated from Billy it shows that she wouldn't have last long without him.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Private Jago, despite being idiotic and cruel, didn't mean to kill Clare's baby, didn't rape her or poor Lowanna and is clearly haunted by his actions. Still did quite deserve his death.
  • Extreme Mêlée Revenge: Jago is already injured when he gets first shot by Clare, but when the rifle fails to function (a Running Gag), he gets repeatedly stabbed with his own knife and then his face beaten to a pulp with said rifle. It's not a pretty sight.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Mortally wounded at the end, Billy can only celebrate joyously as the Last of His Kind at having struck a blow against the English.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Clare starts off treating Billy contemptuously, and Billy clearly thinks little of her in turn. After all they go through together, they develop a deep friendship and caring bond.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Hawkins' three years in Tasmania have worn his patience to nothing, and he's prone to rages at the slightest provocation. He can't stand noise.
  • Happily Married: Clare and her husband are happy together, and she conceals her rapes at Hawkins' hands to keep him from getting himself killed over it.
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Horrific example. A native woman named Lowanna is snatched from the woods by Ruse simply because he's never slept with "one of them" before. Hawkins goes along with it when Ruse offers to allow him to go first.
  • Heroic BSoD: Happens to Clare after her daughter is killed.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Billy puts a spear through Hawkins' heart and then another through Ruse's throat, quite gruesomely in both cases.
  • In the Back: Hawkins spitefully shoots Lowanna in the back when her husband offers to negotiate for her return.
  • Karmic Death: Jago bashed Clare's baby's head against a wall and clubbed her with the butt of a rifle. She kills him by bashing his head in with the butt of a rifle.
  • Kick the Dog: Hawkins is already a rapist and scumbag, but when little Eddie can't shoot a man, Hawkins abandons him, after having seemingly treated him with kindness, threatening to add five years to Eddie's prison sentence just out of callous spite.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Jerk: Hawkins tries to present as having a kinder side, gently offering Clare a token...and when she is more concerned with her freedom, he snaps and rapes her on the spot. Every time he presents as having a trace of humanity, he promptly reveals how hollow it is.
  • Last of His Kind: Billy/Mangana later learns from Portmairremener people in chain that he is the last of Linetemairrener people.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Billy, unable to allow Hawkins and Ruse to escape justice, gears up to kill them, both as revenge for his people and for what happened to Clare. He does this by donning ceremonial warpaint and embracing his heritage.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: When Clare is lost in the woods, an actual blackbird shows up and appears to guide her to the road, saving her life.
  • Native Guide:
    • Billy, an aboriginal, guides Clare through the woods, as there is no way she can make it by herself.
    • Uncle Charlie serves as one to Hawkins. But Hawkins' repeated abuse of those around him, particularly the native population, isn't lost on him, and he betrays Hawkins.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Clare starts off treating Billy like he's barely above an animal, while he (quite accurately at that point) thinks she's no different than any other white person. After their first Friendship Moment when Billy calls Clare "English", they realise they have far more in common than they thought, including the fact that English is neither's first language.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: The ending pans up to a dawning sun meaning a new beginning for the protagonist.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Hawkins and his men are vehemently racist and sexist, none of them thinking anything of brutalizing the natives.
  • Rape and Revenge: Viciously deconstructed. Everything about Clare's rape(s) are seen and experienced from her point of view, and there is nothing cathartic in how her quest for vengeance is resolved. The entire cycle of violence — both against Clare and against the Indigenous Australians during the colonial period — has a ring of senseless brutality to it, as it would in real life.
    • Of the three soldiers, Jago is probably the most moral and the least guilty for what happened to Aidan (although he is the one who kills the baby, although he is remorseful). Of the three, his death is by far the most brutal and drawn out (because Clare's gun fails her and she has to resort to beating him with the butt, then stabbing him with his own knife). Doing this also causes Clare to have nightmares where Jago chases her around the woods with a bloody mutilated face.
  • Rape as Drama: Clare is raped three separate times in the first half hour of the film, providing a lot of her motivation for the rest of the film.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure:
    • The visiting officer who inspecting Hawkins' post can plainly see how petty and corrupt his unit is and how he's abusing his indentured servants. He tells Hawkins plainly that he's not going to recommend him for a promotion, though he does nothing else to stop Hawkins' current activities.
    • When Clare calls Hawkins out in front of a roomful of British officers, none of them interrupt her. They soberly listen to her entire speech and don't acknowledge any of Hawkins' attempts to brush her aside.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Australia in the 19th century might as well be Antarctica. Clare and her husband are former criminals who are sent there for forced labor. It's an undesirable post for the English soldiers stationed there as well. Hawkins is enraged that he's been stuck there for three years.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Clare delivers a scathing and brutal verbal beatdown of Hawkins at the interview for his captaincy, calling him out for all he's done and what an empty, awful man he truly is. "What's wrong, little soldier boy? Didn't your mammy love you?"
  • Reliably Unreliable Guns: Clare's gun misfires as often as it fires.
  • Road Trip Plot: The action happens as Hawkins and a group of men are travelling north to Launceston so he can buy his promotion, directly through Tasmania's interior.
  • Scenery Porn: Both played straight and averted. The movie was filmed in the Tazmanian wilderness, so there's a lot of striking plant life around, but it was also shot in the unusual 4:3 aspect ratio, which tends to focus the eye on the characters and their (frequently very brutal) actions rather than the world around them.
  • Small Name, Big Ego: Hawkins fancies himself a war hero worthy for command. In truth, he's a jumped up thug who's achieved nothing save to terrorize those weaker than him.
  • Sympathetic Criminal: Clare is a convict, despite being a far more decent person than the officers she serves. Her backstory is one of extreme poverty where she resorted to steal whatever she could to survive, but she is punished for it.
  • Undignified Death: Hawkins is caught by Billy in a brothel and impaled on the spot. Ruse fares little better.
  • Violence Is Disturbing: We are not spared from the goriest sights. The plainest example is when Clare kills Jago the viewer would expect it to be a cathartic moment, but it becomes a messy, gruesome sight more similar to Rasputinian Death.
  • Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: A couple who assist Clare and Billy expect Billy to be much more grateful than is warranted just for letting him eat at their table, prompting him to tearfully exclaim that they're in his country.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Hawkins eventually shoots little Eddie for begging him for a second chance, simply snarling he "can't stand the fucking noise of it."
  • You Killed My Father: Most of Billy's friends and family were killed by English soldiers. What makes him decide to help Clare get their final revenge is when he learns that he is now the last of his entire people.