How Jennifer Kent Addressed Toxic Masculinity and Modern Misogyny in “The Nightingale”

Kent calls “The Nightingale” a modern story

When Jennifer Kent’s first feature film, The Babadook, created a new iconic horror monster, fans couldn’t wait to see what she’d come up with next.

That wait turned out to be five years, or four if if you caught her second film The Nightingale at the Venice Film Festival last year.

Set in 1825 Tasmania, Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is just trying to take care of her husband and child. But she’s also the kept woman of Hawkins (Sam Claflin), an abusive British officer who rapes her repeatedly and makes life hell for her family. Since this is a Jennifer Kent film, you know Clare isn’t going to stand for it, but The Nightingale is about more than just revenge. Kent explores what actually makes Hawkins so abusive.

Kent calls her film a modern story, despite it being set nearly 200 years ago. Popdust got to have a conversation with Kent to explore those modern themes. The Nightingale is in theaters Friday, August 2.

Aisling Franciosi as “Clare” in Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale.

I agree with you that this is a modern story. I saw so many relatable things in it, one being here’s this authority figure who does a bad job and still feels entitled to a promotion. Sound familiar?
Jennifer Kent: Yes, [Laughs], yes. And has a terrible history with women. I finished writing it and then all this happened in America.

The election?

JK: Yeah. I finished writing it, we were in early preproduction and we were just like, “Oh my God. Unbelievable.”

And they always find reasons not to believe women, don’t they? They say she’s an ex-con, so she can’t be telling the truth.

JK: Yeah, she’s a whore, so she’s unreliable. I mean, it’s sadly familiar, because it’s pretty ubiquitous. It’s a world phenomenon. It’s not just down to one or two people here or there.

And she chooses to stay in the situation with a rapist because she fears the alternative is even worse. How many people, especially women, decide to suffer in an unjust situation thinking it’ll be better if they just keep quiet?

JK: I think so and people misunderstand that, because they don’t understand how hard it is when you have nothing—to leave a situation. She has everything to lose in making that public or even in telling her husband. There’s nothing to gain there.

Or even not telling him, but running away. Being on the run is scarier to her.

JK: She’d be a wanted criminal, so yeah. It was a lose-lose situation there.

Staying with a rapist is extreme, although there are probably women in modern corporate situations who deal with close to that.
JK: Yeah, or in domestic situations. It’s not just about go and walk out the door. There are so many things to consider. I feel for her situation. I think it’s very believable, even in the modern context.

So she makes some sort of peace with herself that she can live with this and let him keep raping her, thinking that will appease him. Does she learn it’s never enough? They keep taking more.

JK: Yeah, I think for her, her biggest concern is her child and her husband and protecting them, and I think a lot of women do that. They put themselves last in order to hold what’s dear to them. That’s what’s so tragic about the situation.

I hope it might be a productive lesson that putting yourself through that to appease an abuser is not going to work, so we should put a stop to it before it gets that bad.
JK: But she can’t put a stop to it. It’s really about examining the man, the man’s behavior as well. She did what she could. I really do feel that. She did what she could in that situation.

I meant I’m asking all of us to put a stop to men like that, not the women they abuse.

JK: That’s why with the character of Hawkins, I really wanted to show the damage in him. Other than he’s just an evil person, it’s like he’s more human than we care to believe. If we can look at how it is that people like that end up in the world, how do we create a society that allows that behavior to exist? And not just in isolation, in relative abundance. How do we raise our boys? How are we socializing people to feel that that’s okay.

It’s what we’re now calling toxic masculinity, right?

JK: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but I have a lot of compassion for that. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not condoning any kind of abusive behavior, but I think the key to evolution lies in some kind of understanding of it.

Does it happen in families and society?

JK: It’s a very deep, deep problem, I guess is my point, and it’s been around. It’s not a new problem, and I think ultimately it comes from a lack of understanding and a disrespect for the feminine. So we’ve got to work on it.

It destroys him, too, but not before he destroys everything else in his path.

JK: He destroys everything that he encounters. I feel for him because it’s pathetic. It’s not a life. It’s not any kind of life, and I think it also comes from what we hold dear. If we hold power and those kinds of things like power and status, if we only value those things, we become morally bereft. As a culture, we lose our way, and I think that we are. We are in that place to a certain extent.

How do we heal those people without letting them destroy us along the way?

JK: I think we have to look first and foremost at ourselves. I think we can only look at ourselves and how we behave and how we move through the world. That’s why I wanted to tell the story. How can we love even in really dark times? How can we do that? I think Clare and Billy offer some [hope]. Their story explores that.

In a society like that, is revenge even satisfying?
JK: I think that’s for the audience. I wouldn’t want to spoon feed a response. I think that’s for the audience to decide. I feel I have my thoughts and feelings on that, which were very strongly running through the film. Some people don’t like that idea, that revenge isn’t sweet. It’s not up to me to convince them, either. The story is there, and they can take what they want from it.

What will be your next film?

JK: The one that I’m doing this year is Alice + Freda Forever. That’s based on a true story. It’s a romance of sorts. It’s a love story between two young women in Memphis, two teenage girls and it goes all horribly pear shaped.

 

This interview was published on Pop Dust

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *