THE TURNING (Cert. 15) consists of nine out of the 17
short stories that constitute the distinguished Australian novelist
Tim Winton's book of the same name. The characters and the
directors are different for each episode. Memory plays a key part
in most pieces; remembering that which has been dis-membered in our
The film's various turnings owe something to a word frequently
used in the New Testament: crisis (κρίσις) - pivotal
moments, often implying judgement leading to some amendment of
life. The film begins and ends with lines from T. S. Eliot's
Ash Wednesday: "Let these words answer For what is done,
not to be done again."
There is no turning back our histories, but people in these
cameos illuminate ways of redeeming misspent moments past, of
In "Reunion", Gail, Cate Blanchett as a housewife (not as in the
book), dreads her mother-in-law Carol's Christmas visit. The
introduction of this anxiety transforms the film into a tale of
conversion and reconciliation. The two of them fall hilariously
into what turns out to be a stranger's swimming pool. They rise as
if from waters of baptism to develop a new relationship with one
another, generously celebrated with champagne.
Alcohol and/or water figure in several episodes, including "The
Turning". We learn that drink drove an affluent couple to be
born-again Christians. When a hard-up pal decides to do the same,
she is battered by her husband. In a visionary sequence, she tries
walking across waves towards the rescuing arms of Jesus, free at
In "Commission", Bob (Hugo Weaving), a recovering alcoholic of
15 years, lives alone in the outback. His son's visit provides the
opportunity to explain how through work he lost his way. Turning
sober and becoming a trustworthy neighbour has brought Bob some
restoration. "Had this feeling the world was inviting me in." Even
so, the film version concludes more tentatively than the book.
"Aquifer" (subterranean material, such as sand, which secretes
water) metaphorically describes the plight of a seemingly
well-adjusted man. Beneath the surface, he is flooded with regrets
over walking away from the school bully who was drowning. If only
he had turned back.
The biblical ambiguities of fraternal love (Jacob and Esau, the
Prodigal and Elder Brother) are there in "Sand", bringing new
insights to the siblings. This wordless piece portrays one brother
as almost suffocating the other in the dunes. It is a moment of
revelation. The offending brother will never be seen in the same
The Australian landscape shapes many of the characters. It is A.
E. Housman's land of lost content that they will never walk again.
In "Cockleshell", a 15-year-old boy misreads a situation, making a
move on a girl only to be rebuffed. An all-consuming fire destroys
the girl's home and with it, one senses, any future hope of
It is also hard to see in "Long, Clear View" anything changing
the mind of a somewhat obsessive-compulsive boy. He perceives God
as a celestial newscaster with whom humanity must passively
acquiesce: a world of no choices, no change of direction.
Fortunately, "Boner McPharlin's Moll", which follows, offers
hope. Various contemporaries recall the young tearaway Boner. It
may have been a short life but, oh boy! he'd certainly lived. Peers
implicitly regret not having followed their own bliss in the way
There is still a lot of living to do in "Big World". A
school-leaver, Davo, and Biggie, his rather backward friend, set
out in an old camper van, have adventures, and experience
misfortunes; and yet the world is so big that they are lost in
wonder, love, and praise of it.
I have spent much time pondering the links between the stories
in this portmanteau film. It took some doing, which makes me wonder
who the distributors think will want to. When the film was
originally transmitted on television, there were 18 episodes. With
further discrete stories, spaced over time, they may cumulatively
have brought audiences more obvious spiritual rewards than, alas,
this present format seems likely to.
On current release