The New Boy Review – Warwick Thornton’s Latest is a Beautiful Tale of Identity and Spirituality

The New Boy, written and directed by Australian powerhouse Warwick Thornton, tells the story of the unnamed New Boy (Aswan Reid) as he is delivered in a sack to a remote monastery in the dead of night, where he is cared for by Sister Eileen (Cate Blanchett) and her associates; Sister Mum (Deborah Mailman) and George (Wayne Blair). While here, the New Boy navigates his new life as he learns to adapt and survive in this unfamiliar new world.

That is about as simple put as The New Boy can be described. Warwick Thornton’s latest film is a mesmerising tale that takes a near fantastical look at the impacts of religion on First Nations people in Australia. Rich in its themes and imagery, Thornton brings a personal touch to the film, having gone to school in a monastic town himself. This experience comes across upfront and clear throughout the film.

Lensed by Thornton, the film has an almost warming welcome to it, despite the themes that are so evidently and deeply explored throughout. Guiding the viewer through its immaculately designed frame, Thornton’s imagery delivers an equal level of substance as can be found in the film’s text. Whether during its quieter moments spent with the New Boy and his journey of survival in the regimented world he finds himself in, or in the more direct iconography of religion and its varying stories, Thornton continually provides the audience with something to consider.

Throughout the film, the audience is given one true constant to latch onto and connect with; the New Boy himself, Aswan Reid. Delivering a revelatory performance in his first outing on screen, Reid provides the audience with so much insight into the New Boy’s experience while only uttering a handful of words. With a face full of fear, confusion and wonder, Reid is able to convey the New Boy’s thoughts at any given moment. Whether trying to understand how to get to the front of the food line or why Jesus is hung up and left to be tortured in the chapel, Reid provides the audience with direct insight into the New Boy’s feelings.

Reid physically displays the New Boy’s powerful connection to his spirituality with moments of fantastical realism. Throughout the film, Thornton tremendously intertwines the New Boy’s experience as a First Nations child with the forced religious ideologies of Blanchett’s Sister Eileen. Blanchett brings a sense of care and generosity to Sister Eileen, albeit through an upfront and blunt connection to colonialism, regardless of intention. In moments of light-heartedness and care, Blanchett portrays Eileen as a loving person who strongly believes in their actions; while she is also seen as a troubled force in moments of felt disruption and uncertainty caused by the New Boy’s presence.

A supporting cast of boys who share the New Boy’s dormitory is equally great. Deborah Mailman’s Sister Mum and Wayne Blair’s George, who are also shown throughout the film battling their own spiritual ties with their current livelihood that is being disturbed by the New Boy, are also exemplary.

These quiet character moments paint a very clear message for the audience about the impacts that religion has had through its ties to colonialism. Warwick Thornton paints an upfront picture of how these actions threatened but are never destroyed those affected by it. While The New Boy could be read in varying ways, Thornton’s message is clear. Telling that through the New Boy’s experience of survival, he may stray from his spirituality for a time and have that connection torn, but he will always be able to reconnect with it somewhere down the track.

Supporting these ideas throughout is also the gorgeous music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Mighty, magical, and melancholic, the score accompanies each scene with a brittle beauty that engrosses the audience in every little moment. Especially memorable in the film’s final moments, the score helps carry the beauty from the screen and let it swell around the audience in a crescendo.

The New Boy is rich in its imagery and symbolic ties between its clashing cultures, with Thornton extending an invitation to audiences to empathise with the New Boy’s story. As beautiful as it is painful, The New Boy is a powerful tale that will resonate with some more than others. Aswan Reid’s revelatory performance proves that he’s a star in the making, should he choose to be, and works in conjunction with Thornton perfectly, to bring audiences a fascinating film from Australia.

Director: Warwick Thornton

Cast: Aswan Reid, Cate Blanchett, Wayne Blair

Writer: Warwick Thornton

Blake Ison

My name is Blake Ison and I am a film fan based in Brisbane. I have no professional knowledge of the industry, but love discussing all things to do with the medium. I’m a nerd through and through, so I have a major soft spot for all things genre. Hope you enjoy my ramblings!

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