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The New Boy

New Boy, The (Warwick Thornton, 2023) wr. dp Warwick Thornton, prod. Andrew Upton, Cate Blanchett et al.; Aswan Reid, Cate Blanchett, Deborah Mailman, Wayne Blair, Shane Brady, Tyrique Brady, Laiken Woolmington, Kailem Miller, Kyle Miller, Tyzailin Roderick, Tyler Spencer; SA

The Aboriginal boy, played wonderfully by Aswan Davies, has supernatural powers, shown symbolically by his ability to generate a tiny ball of light from his hands, and also to assist people who are unwell. A statue of Jesus Christ features in the story, and the boy is identified with Him. The statue is also supernatural, bleeding from its stigmata.
When, near the end of the narrative, the boy is baptised a Christian, he immediately loses all power. His appearance is changed, and he leaves the mission.
The message of the parable is simple: assimilating a person into a different spiritual culture risks the complete loss of the person's original culture.

Travis Johnson:
Set in the 1940s, The New Boy follows a nine-year-old Aboriginal orphan boy (Aswan Reid) who turns up in the middle of the night at a remote monastery run by a renegade nun (Cate Blanchett, who is also producing), upsetting the delicately balanced world therein. A story of spiritual conflict by one of our best filmmakers, starring one of our finest thesps? We’re in. Deborah Mailman and Wayne Blair co-star., 3 January 2023.

Peter Bradshaw:
After some robust storytelling at the start; the film drifts into a series of images and moods which perhaps don’t deliver as much impact as intended. Cate Blanchett herself naturally has an imperious control of any scene she’s in but we don’t gain access to her inner life and backstory in the way I was hoping. A minor film from Thornton. Guardian.

Luke Buckmaster:
There’s nothing wrong with enigmatic films, like this one, that move like cloud formations in the sky, shifting patterns offering infinite scope for interpretation. And especially when those clouds are crafted by Thornton, a consummate stylist whose own superpower is conjuring ravishing cinematic images, as if by second nature. Such films can be thrillingly open-ended. But where these films can go wrong is when their images start to feel like they’re eclipsing the control of the creator, like the dancing brooms in Fantasia, or when provocation and abstruseness start to feel like the point. And there’s an element of that in The New Boy. Guardian.

Brian Tallerico:
Blanchett gives an expectedly great performance, never resorting to the potential caricature inherent in an evil nun, playing Eileen as a woman who seems fragile in her quiet moments, aware that she’s struggling to maintain a grip on the monastery and even in her own belief.
When the new boy starts showing signs of miraculous powers, it challenges Sister Eileen’s concept of faith. Is he a Christ figure? Not directly, but there’s something embedded in Thornton’s story that’s fascinating—the idea that we are potentially destroying magic by destroying these cultures. What if Christ was converted? The second hour of The New Boy truly frustrated me, given the strength of the set-up, but there’s enough quality filmmaking here and conversation starters to justify a look. RogerEbert.

References and Links

Keast, Jackie 2022, 'New faces join Blanchett, Mailman and Blair in Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy', IF, 7 December.

Slatter, Sean 2022, 'Cate Blanchett to star in and produce Warwick Thornton’s The New Boy', IF, 11 February.

Garry Gillard | New: 11 February, 2022 | Now: 26 September, 2023