Writer/director Jennifer Kent is rocking critics and audiences alike with her second feature-length film The Nightingale. The Nightingale follows Clare, a young Irish convict, and her rampant quest for revenge against a British Colonial Officer in 1825 Tasmania.
This period-thriller has already drawn some major attention at film festivals, including winning the special jury prize at the 2018 Venice Film Festival.
Here are three things you need to know before you head to your local theater:
Kent’s 2014 debut in the film making world was the sensational horror flick The Babadook.
The Babadook, ostensibly about a mother’s repressed grief and trauma after the violent death of her husband, was inspired by a story Kent’s friend told her.
Kent’s friend described that her own son was plagued with the belief that he was being stalked by a bogeyman. Kent’s friend then went on to say that she would pretend to talk to the creature in order to quell her son’s nerves.
Kent, who couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of befriending the monster under the bed, then went on to make her 2005 short film Monster, which is essentially a shortened concept for her first feature The Babadook. (The name Babadook comes from the word babaroga, a hag from Serbian folklore).
The short is filmed in black and white and follows a mother mourning the loss of her husband while also dealing with her sons (seemingly delusional) fear of a disturbing rag doll that eventually invokes the lanky, bloodless creature that haunts both the mother and son alike.
However, Monster and The Babadook both have endings that are metaphorically the same. In Monster, the mother places a glass of milk in front of the door where the creature lurks.
The Babadook’s closing scene is of Amelia and Sam gathering earthworms in a bowl and bringing it into the basement for the creature to eat. While the Babadook attempts to overwhelm Amelia, she calms it down and it retreats into a corner to begin its meal.
The universal message here is clear: grief is something that we are all forced to accept and satiate, in order not to be consumed wholly by its everlasting presence in our lives.
While The Nightingale does deal with the effects of loss as a major theme, Kent was clear from the onset production for the film that she would not be returning to the horror genre any time soon.
Kent told Rolling Stone:
“I’m naturally drawn to scary stories but I probably need a break from them after this.”
Kent collaborated with Aboriginal elders in Australia to present a truthful depiction of how colonial violence affected their history
A film about colonial atrocities being written/directed by a white person should undoubtedly leave a bad taste in your mouth. The “who has the right to tell/profit from this story” conversation is an incredibly important one to be having here.
While the film’s main character is an Irish woman, Kent thereby avoiding the hateful trend of “white people claiming trauma that does not belong to them,” Aboriginal and fellow Indigenous critics have yet to comment on the film.
Kent did do extensive research for this period piece and prioritized the voices of aboriginal elders in Australia in order to present an “honest and necessary depiction of their history,” according to an interview with the BBC. Kent elaborated on this further in her interview with Birth Movies Death, saying:
“Aboriginal people… still suffer under colonial thought. And the violent mind that created colonialism is the same violent minds that exist in the world today that are creating problems for us all.”
The Nightingale has already prompted multiple walkouts because of the hard-core violence depicted
The Nightingale has already provided controversy, with walkouts occurring due to scenes of extreme violence and rape at festival showings in Sydney and Utah. However, for most critics, a film exploring an ongoing legacy of violence against women have a more apt connotation when explored by a female director.
Nevertheless, this did not stop an Italian film critic from heckling Kent during her panel at the end of the screening at the Venice Film Festival. The critic shouted: “Shame on you, whore, you’re disgusting,” according to ABC News. Kind of darkly ironic in the context of a film about women’s oppression.
While walkouts at film festivals in recent years have occurred for similar reasons, the sentiments behind this act of protest in this particular case seem to be misplaced. David Edelstein wrote for Vulture, “The implication [in The Nightingale] is that even to look away from the atrocities on screen would be an act of historical cowardice.”
In an interview with Deadline, Kent responded to the walkouts.
“I’m more interested in what [film] can do to hopefully wake people up or reach them, move them in some way to provoke thought and feeling and that’s why I’m interested in cinema.”