How precious is song? That thread that binds any person, even the poorest and smallest, to the infinite? In the dungeons of time, in the deepest of muck, to sing is to bring a beauty anywhere. What is a song but a scream turned beautiful? It's an act of faith -- not necessarily of the spiritual sort; it's faith in our individual presence. I am here, I matter. I have something to give to the world. Kindness, uplift, or even a profound sad wail to turn our profound sadness manifest. It's our inner self expressed, impressed onto the sky itself.
Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale begins and ends with song, bridged by screams and terrible mean whispers. Song knots its many characters together -- a song sung from mother to child, a song song to drunken men in a forced foreign tongue, a drunken song spat into the night, and the music made from birds across an infinite mud-spattered no place. Mournful songs and dances; songs smack like the back of a fist and the tip of a sweet finger. Everyone sings, and the world listens or it more likely doesn't listen, but the singer at the least will never be the same, turned, as it is, inside out.
Clare (an astonishing Aisling Franciosi) is called "Nightingale" by her boss, although "boss" is too kind a word for it -- he is the man (Sam Claflin) who bought her, out of kindness he says and he makes her say, but we see none of that. She's his plaything, his music box and slave, and she's coming to the end of her usefulness just as Kent's film begins -- more trouble than she's worth. Her newly acquired husband and baby are stealing her music; complicating its sweetness. An edge in everyone's voice sets hold.
Horrors like car horns, brained on walls -- screams stopped mid-scream are so much worse than the continued sound. Who can find anything to sing about in a world of nightmares? Of waltzes waltzed with unspeakable things, shirt fronts soaked through with what's left of their ruined faces? Spun off into purgatory and madness, a landscape of hanging moss, trees stuffed with corpses, flat stone that stretches gray to the gray sky -- songs seem out of the question. And yet songs come; they come like clockwork, defiant to men's endless atrocity.
The Nightingale is bleak and hard and it's as hopeful as they come -- true hope, the sort of sinking through the earth itself and feeling something still of yourself tickling sharp at your toes. We hurt, we hurt bad, men make pain and pain makes men. And somebody somewhere, maybe somebody makes a movie or makes a song, one high and pitched right that cuts through the violence, hard fought and barely, but barely, hanging on. Honest and true, this one. A scream turned beautiful.
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