Based on a 2005 short story collection by Australian author Tim Winton, The Turning (2013) arrives in UK cinemas in heavily truncated form; nearly half of the three-hour running time has been lopped off. While by no means a disaster, it does mean that seventeen chapters have been cleaved down to nine. So, while the poetic tone and thematic kernels remain, the context and raison d’être of the anthology – once pitched as a ‘unique cinema event’ – loses its essence. This latest cut is also different from the one shown on Australian television back in early 2014. So why the meddling? Wasn’t the point all along to make a major artistic statement?
Given the names involved in the making of The Turning, it‘s the cinematic equivalent of a music supergroup. Surely further editing and rearranging constitutes a further weakening of the original vision? The whittled down beast is now a more palatable and less arse-numbing experience akin to a taster session. Bookended by a sepia-toned animated sequence of a great white shark slain by a hunting party (titled ‘Ash Wednesday’ and quoting in voiceover the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem), the stories and their themes are depicted as Joycean- style epiphanies or meditations on being and time. The Turning – both as a collection of short stories and short films – is centred on the figure of Vic Lang at various stages of his life (seen first in ‘Reunion’ and played by Richard Roxburgh).
This is all rendered a bit vague by the new cut. If the overall shape has been affected by the rearranging, there is still a lot to praise. Rose Byrne as an abused wife befriending a pair of middle-class born again Christians deserves a feature-length film of its own. Claire McCarthy’s titular short packs a punch and Byrne, an actress not known for such electric performances, rightly bagged a gong at the AATCA awards (the Aussie Oscars). Another highlight is Justin Kurzel’s ‘Boner McPharlin’s Moll’, a short presented as a faux documentary, in which wild tales are recounted by those whom knew the absent figure/myth under discussion. The Turning is noticeable, too, for providing thesps David Wenham and Mia Wasikowska with their directorial debuts. Wenham‘s ‘Commission’ benefits from the presence of Hugo Weaving as Vic’s father, Bob, a policeman who left home to live as a semi-hermit in the outback. Wasikowska’s offering, ‘Long, Clear View’, bears a youthful hungry-to-impress aesthetic (think: Wes Anderson crossed with Marty Scorsese) that strikes a tonal imbalance with the other segments.