Tim Winton’s The Turning (2013)

A Unique Cinema Event

Adapting Tim Winton’s The Turning from page to screen was always going to be a difficult undertaking as Winton’s book features a collection of individual short stories exploring turning points in people’s lives; all the stories interweave in their respective narratives creating an absorbing and twisting central plot-line that often centres around the character of Vic Lang, a man consumed and obsessed with his past.

Australian Producer Robert Connolly has masterfully chosen to tackle the material in a very unique way, instead of following familiar film conventions, Connolly has decided to focus on the project one chapter at a time. With seventeen different stories (one for each chapter of the book) each with a different director, writer, cast, vision and interpretation, Tim Winton’s The Turning is an unusual but bold cinematic experience, a collaboration between filmmakers, producers, cinematographers, designers and more, a collaboration that has never before been attempted in Australian film.

'This is such a better gig than those Insidious films'
‘This is such a better gig than those Insidious films’

There are several recurring characters in Tim Winton’s The Turning, these characters appear in various shorts throughout the film; central character Vic Lang is present in eight narratives, however Vic is played by eight actors (he is essentially a different person in each segment), as every director and writer has interpreted the character in their own way. Vic’s mother Carol Lang, father, police officer Bob Lang and wife Gail Lang also show up in several shorts, as do brothers Max and Frank, and much like Vic, each character is depicted by a different actor. As a whole, there are seventeen stories in Tim Winton’s The Turning and each ‘episode’ exists as an individual tale, yet once the film has concluded, audiences are free to either investigate the connections, threads and time-lines of events in the character’s lives or just take each short as a separate, unrelated scenario, either way, this allows viewers to experience the film in their own manner, as they can discuss it and ultimately, create their own meaning to it.

The film itself opens strikingly with the short T.S. Eliot poem titled Ash Wednesday which prefaces Winton’s story and is narrated by Colin Friels, and then leads onto seventeen different shorts. While every segment is decent enough, there are several stand-outs, most of which are directed by women. On Her Knees is a simple but effective piece about Vic’s rage at injustice, modestly directed by Ashlee Page and featuring fine performances by its leads, Harrison Gilbertson and Susie Porter, it’s sure to strike a chord with most viewers, while young actor-turned-director Mia Wasikowska, Stoker (2013), has demonstrated impressive skills with her directorial debut Long, Clear View, an unusual portrait of Vic Lang’s peculiar habits and social anxieties in his younger years. But the film’s highlight is the headlining short The Turning, a powerful tale about a troubled young woman, Rae (a superb performance by Rose Byrne) who befriends a couple of born-again Christians and later begins to wonder whether Jesus might be the answer to all her problems. Stunningly shot, acted and choreographed, director Claire McCarthy has evidentially handled this short with care, as this compelling piece is sure to leave a lasting impact. Other notable mentions go to director Anthony Lucas’ Damaged Goods, presented in an unorthodox three-shot split-screen and Rhys Graham’s Small Mercies, an honest tale about two damaged individuals who are searching for solace.

Still on Middle-Earth!
Still on Middle-Earth!

With strong images such as oceans, rivers and swamps being used to symbolise pain and secrets, and fires to illustrate rebirth and resurrection, Tim Winton’s The Turning makes use of its Australian landscape with fantastic cinematography, yet the outback and the Australian way of life almost become characters in the piece, as footy ovals, empty roads, scrubby bush land and big skies consume several frames in the picture.

With so much to offer, Tim Winton’s The Turning does have some drawbacks, predominantly its mammoth 180 minute running time, as sitting in a theatre for three-plus hours is a big ask for most casual movie-goers, while Tim Winton fans might tire from sitting through story after story, with segments in the film’s latter half suffering slightly by the picture’s running time. Others might deem some of the film’s content as being ‘too pretentious,’ so Tim Winton’s The Turning won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but those who know the author’s work will certainly appreciate what’s on offer.

A large number of creative minds have been brought together to produce Tim Winton’s The Turning, a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience, it may not be to everyone’s taste, but those who welcome and delve into the picture will find that it has a lot to offer. As humans, we are all haunted by our past, have regrets and know that a seemingly random incident can change the shape of our lives, that is what Tim Winton’s film is ultimately suggesting, as stated in the short Aquifer, “… the past is in us, and not behind us. Things are never over.”

4 / 5 – Recommended

Reviewed by Mr. Movie

Tim Winton’s The Turning is released through Madman Entertainment Australia