Talent is often innate but doesn’t get far without training and one other key ingredient, passion. The story of Nocturne starts oddly as a young student is seen playing the violin shortly before she willingly falls off of a balcony to her death. There are several movies out there that have shown the nature and result of obsession when it comes to the arts, and this one isn’t exactly that different as it shows twin sisters that have entered their final year at an upscale prep school, each of them working diligently to be accepted into yet another prestigious school upon their graduation as the music they love so much continually sets them against each other despite being siblings. Vivian and Juliet have a great deal in common but are still miles apart when it comes to their music as Juliet lacks the energy and passion that Vivian exudes, as the music she plays is every bit as good as her sister’s from a technical standpoint, but seriously lacks the verve that their teachers want to see.
Being compared to a sibling is often tough, but being told without a doubt that one isn’t as good as their sibling is a serious blow to the ego that a lot of people can’t or don’t want to take. The fact that Vivian has already been accepted to Juilliard, as is revealed earlier in the movie, and that Juliet is thinking of taking a gap year, is yet another blow to the latter’s ego that one can only imagine is like a shot to Juliet’s pride. But upon finding the notebook of the deceased student that’s the initial focus of the movie, Juliet’s music begins to take on a haunting change as she not only switches the song she uses to audition for the open spot left behind by the deceased student, thereby stepping over her sister, but she begins a chain reaction of events that begins to open her up while at the same time unraveling the life that she’d already built over the previous years.
It’s fair to say that jealousy and envy drive a great deal of this movie and it’s seen in the dynamic between Vivian and Juliet as Vivian is the more vibrant sister, the more outgoing, and yet still the more talented, while Juliet languishes in the shadow her sister’s praise. While their parents state that they’re proud of both of them, there’s no denying that Vivian is the favored of many while Juliet is the shy wallflower that many don’t often notice. This begins to change however as Juliet not only fights with her own mentor, who is a bit rundown and worn out compared to the esteemed mentor her sister trains with, but she gets him suspended after he strikes her following her verbal dressing down of his life and his career. It’s not hard to see the manipulative streak that develops in Juliet as she’s then assigned to her sister’s mentor as well, where it’s still revealed that as skilled as she is, she still doesn’t have the same musical qualities as her sister, and is bound to remain mediocre.
When circumstances shift in her favor once again though, and Vivian breaks her arm during a fall, perhaps ruining the possibility of a music career, Juliet then has a moment to shine as she’s selected for the spot that would have been her sister’s. The only problem with this is that at this point in the movie she’s already been unraveling for a while, and her downward spiral is beginning to speed up as she finds herself growing increasingly unstable. One might think it’s a ghost story as the idea that Moira, the student that falls to her death at the beginning of the movie, might have been just as unbalanced as Juliet and was driven to a bad end, but the truth is that the face of obsession is such that, even if there is a slight supernatural element, it doesn’t feel as though Juliet needed much of a push to finally reach that edge. The competition she had with her sister was likely enough to have brought her there, and ironically enough, it was gaining success that pushed her over.
Needless to say, Vivian did confront her sister concerning her role in the concert that she would play near the end, and as though being nervous wasn’t enough, Vivian decided to twist the metaphorical screws a little tighter by telling her sister that she’d only ever been mediocre. Anyone that’s ever been about to do something that would test the limit of their resolve and what nerve they have left knows that words can destroy any shred of confidence that one has, and it’s apparent that Vivian knows what she’s doing when she smiles as her sister leaves the stage, apparently suffering a panic attack. Instead of going back, however, Juliet eventually finds her way to the roof of the auditorium, where things get a bit odd just before the end.
At some point she finds herself back in the auditorium, having finished her piece, and the sound of the audience cheering as she accepts the adulation. In reality, she’s fallen off the roof, onto a piece of art in front of the auditorium, going unnoticed by the busy students that pass by. The sense of irony is quite strong in this movie, but it makes a point by the time the credits begin to roll.