The Turning

THE TURNING. Starring Cate Blanchett, Robyn Nevin, Richard Roxburgh, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto, Hugo Weaving, and others. Directed by Robert Connolly, Mia Wasikowska, David Wenham, Marieka Walsh, and others. MA15+. Restricted. (Strong coarse language). 180 min. 

This movie is based on Tim Winton’s 2004 set of best-selling short-stories, “The Turning”. Winton’s 17 stories interweave, creating a twisting plot-line built around a person by the name of Vic Lang, but it is more landscapes and settings that form the links between them. Several recurring emotional themes characterise the film, including frustration and regret, fascination with the sea, jealousy and envy, love and companionship, facing and recovering from the secrets of the past,  adolescent growth pains and sexual awakening, and the search for God. The stories are linked tenuously by being set in and around a small coastal town in Western Australia called “Angelus”. The character of Vic Lang turns up in eight stories first as a child, then as a teenager and an older man, and several incidents involving him re-appear in the film in different contexts. He is played by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous actors.

The movie is an unique, home-grown experiment. It is the project of its creator, Robert Connolly (“Balibo”, 2009) who co-produces and co-directs the film. It has a different Director for each of the stories in Winton’s collection, and Connolly sets out not to enforce any style choices among them and some of them show a style that is distinct from the book. The movie is long (three hours, plus an interval) and interprets Winton’s stories with the help of professional artists and collaborators drawn from the worlds of theatre, cinema, photography, visual arts, and dance. Mia Wasikowska makes an impressive directorial debut in her stylish segment, “Long Clear View”; and David Wenham’s debut segment, “The Commission,” is intensely dramatic, and has a wonderful acting performance by Hugo Weaving. 

The stories are autobiographical, spanning Winton’s childhood up to the time of his adolescence and beyond. The stories in the film are in the same order as they appear in the book, but one additional segment, “Ash Wednesday”, directed by Marieka Walsh, has been added. Walsh’s segment aims to reflect the spirit of T.S. Eliot, whose poetic words Winton quotes in the prologue to his book.

The real test of quality for this film is how much it avoids the impression of being the cinematic equivalent of a smorgasbord of tasty side-dishes. Despite the obvious stylistic differences and the ambitions of its team of directors, the movie tries to maintain a partial thread and engages the viewer. The different approaches of the 18 directors make the film about Winton’s book stimulating and interesting. Although the plot-line is confusing at times (as in the book), the film’s images have multiple interpretations that keep the viewer involved and searching for links.

The photography in the film is excellent and captures in detail the atmosphere of the  coastal scenery and hinterlands of Winton’s home. The film crosses class from one section of society to another, and deals with dark themes such as alcoholism, drug addiction, suicide, depression, lust, and corruption. Often, the same characters are played by different actors, and the medium changes type. One segment (“Ash Wednesday”) is animated, for example, and another (“Immunity”) is expressed entirely through the medium of modern dance.

The movie has some of the finest actors in Australian cinema. Cate Blanchett teams up with Richard Roxburgh and Robyn Nevin in “Reunion” which tells the story of a strained relationship between Vic Lang’s wife and his mother, and what happens to change it. And Rose Byrne stars with Miranda Otto to give a particularly compelling performance of a woman, who ponders Christianity for the first time, in Claire McCarthy’s thoroughly absorbing segment, “The Turning”. 

This is a film very much about the shadowy side of Australia’s landscapes which Winton has captured so well in his book. The movie is beautiful to watch, makes compelling use of split-screen techniques, and is surprisingly individual in the way it paints its characters. It has moments of laughter, darkness, sadness and joy, and it is full of humanity. Relying strongly on Winton’s words, it transmits evocatively and distinctively the power of his imagery, and demonstrates the courage  to be boldly different.

Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Madman Entertainment.

Out September 26th 2013. 


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