Words by Darren TYNAN
Based on Tim Winton’s collection of short stories, The Turning is certainly an ambitious cinematic experience. As a standalone work consisting of 17 short films, each has a different director and various actors play the same characters throughout the narratives.
This may sound confusing but the short films somehow work together. It may be difficult to provide a tangible statement about the film’s purpose as a whole, but it views like a cross section of the collective fears and afflictions of its characters, which overlap through a kaleidoscope of cryptic fragments. That’s not to say there isn’t the occasional light-hearted, optimistic moment, but there’s undoubtedly a sense of melancholy throughout. Winding through confronting, charming and meditative territory, the film operates like a jigsaw puzzle; the directors are careful not to reveal too many clues and you feel compelled to work it all out.
Winton’s strong point is being able to evoke a sense of place, and true to his literary style, many of the chapters are effective in the same sense – a bloodstained abattoir and winding road to liberation is shown in ‘Big World’, while an ominous landscape is depicted in ‘Fog’, where a policeman grapples with some rather unsettling recollections.
The film challenges the audience to piece each chapter together as they interlock and shift. A scene often ends abruptly and with a sense of mystery, which carries over to the next short film, as if each were spliced together to form the same kind of enigmatic, meandering journey that is nostalgically depicted in the Australian countryside.
Audiences will appreciate the diversity of these short films. The pivotal piece, ‘The Turning’, uses religious symbolism to guide a sense of hope and redemption during a confrontational scene, while a charming and playful moment of an Australian Christmas plays out in ‘Family’.
A highlight of The Turning is the chapter ‘Long Clear View’, where we are introduced to a peculiar teenager named Vic Lang, who appears in eight of the short films, played by different actors. He is fascinated by whether he may be able to see particles of matter in things around him, practices ‘not looking over his shoulder’ and wakes up during the night to check that he can still see his hands. In a rather amusing scene, he even stares down one side of his glasses, completely detached from his distant mother’s burbling dialogue. As we grasp with the curious but menacing intentions of the boy, the camera pans outward and through a mirror we see three different reflections of him. Perhaps each symbolises an outcome for his future, which is later revealed. As her debut work, director Mia Wasikowska offers some really unique and artful camera work here, as a variety of interesting angles illustrate the quaint and troublesome character arc of Vic.
The Turning is a unique cinematic initiative. As ambitious as it is, there are so many different themes and directional styles covered that everyone will resonate with a particular chapter in their own way. It’s full of skillful direction and acting, and is ultimately driven by mystery – the puzzle pieces are scattered and you move them into place yourself.