A collection of short films marking the turning points in interconnected lives, The Turning is a dark celebration of Australia and its frustrated people.
Boyhoodby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
A celebration of Australian talent both in front of and behind the camera, The Turning is an anthology of shorts based on the bestselling collection of interlinked short stories by Tim Winton. With not only a stellar cast of Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto and Hugo Weaving (among others), but also an impressive roster of directors including Warwick Thornton, Mia Wasikowska and David Wenham, The Turning is a kaleidoscope of dirt tracks, suburban estates and poignant moments of teenage indecision. And while its theatrical release has been cut down from its full 17 chapters and a three-hour running time, there’s still something undeniably Australian about The Turning, as each episode marks a turning point in the life of its protagonist against a unique background of father-and-son relationships, adolescence, Christianity and guilt.
Reunion. It’s Christmas Day and Vic Lang (Richard Roxburgh) and his wife Gail (Cate Blanchett) are getting ready for his mother Carol’s visit. But when Carol suggests visiting a neglected relative and she and Gail end up taking a dip in someone else’s pool, Gail experiences a lightness she’s not felt since adolescence. Commission. Driving into the outback to find his father Bob (Hugo Weaving), Vic (Josh McConville) is forced to confront the drunk who walked out on him and his mother, just as Bob is forced to give up his hole-in-the-bush life and face the woman he left behind. The Turning. Abused wife Rae (Rose Byrne) meets Sherry (Miranda Otto) in the trailer-park launderette, and after giving up darts night to get to know her and her husband better, she discovers they’re Christians. As she’s raped by husband Max (Matt Nable), she prays to her snow-storm Jesus and finds a moment of burning release. Sand. Aborigine boy Rank (Jakory Blanco) spends the day at the beach with his brother Max (Jarli-Russell Blanco) while their dad and his mates are fishing. But when Max digs a cove in a sand bank and tries to collapse the dune on top of Rank, it’s clear their relationship won’t ever be the same again.
Opening with an animation short set to TS Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, The Turning foregrounds the metaphor of sand. It’s an image that recurs in the titles that slowly disintegrate as if blown by desert winds, as well as the strikingly lyrical scene in which the two brothers are rained on with sand in a dark, blue, extra-diegetic space. It’s a metaphor however that remains elusive, never explained but that hints at the passage of time, the winds of change and the erosion of past lives. And just as the character of Vic Lang reappears time and again, in different shorts and played by different actors, so too does the spectre of alcoholism. After Marieka Walsh’s Ash Wednesday Lang’s opening line sets the pace – “Is it too early for a drink?” It’s a spectre that haunts all the characters in The Turning one way or another – as Gail knocks back a sneaky, nervous glass of wine or as Vic’s father Bob becomes the community’s linchpin thanks to his unholy “clean” status.
What makes The Turning all the more interesting though is the portrait that emerges – at once of a boy’s life story told in kaleidoscope and an unwitting portrait of Australia, in all its beauty and grime. There’s Mia Wasikowska’s section Long, Clear View – a playful look at the awkwardness and isolation of adolescence, but the strongest sequences are Warwick Thornton’s atmospheric Big World – a beautiful if claustrophobic world of self-destructive adolescent loyalty (narrated by Tim Winton) and Justin Kurzel’s Boner McPharlin’s Moll – an almost documentary roster of talking heads, describing in glorious Aussie fashion the impact on their lives of one unseen man.
There are some great performances from The Turning‘s illustrious cast – particularly from Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving – and it’s a great opportunity for would-be actor-directors to cut their teeth on making a film. But despite the problems inherent to the anthology film (changing characters, changing tone, changing ideas) The Turning really works – creating a life, a work, an atmosphere out of unconnected but interconnected stories. More than just a who’s who of Australian talent, The Turning, like Todd Solondz’s groundbreaking Palindromes or Gia Coppola’s more recent Palo Alto, is more than just the sum of its parts. It’s a true and haunting taste of Australia, and this time, as a collection of short films, it’s more than just one man’s vision.
The Turning is released on 6th February 2015 in the UK