The New Boy is a 2023 Australian drama film written and directed by Warwick Thornton, and starring Aswan Reid as the title character, alongside Deborah Mailman, Wayne Blair, and Cate Blanchett, who was also a producer of the film. It follows a young Aboriginal Australian orphan boy who is brought into a Christian monastery, run by a renegade nun, where he begins to question his faith and loyalty to his heritage.

The New Boy
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWarwick Thornton
Written byWarwick Thornton
Produced by
CinematographyWarwick Thornton
Edited byNick Meyers
Music by
Distributed byRoadshow Films
Release dates
  • 19 May 2023 (2023-05-19) (Cannes)
  • 6 July 2023 (2023-07-06) (Australia)
Running time
116 minutes

The film premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on 19 May 2023, and was theatrically released in Australia on 6 July 2023 by Roadshow Films. It received generally positive reviews from critics.

Plot edit

In mid-1940s Australia, a nameless nine-year-old Aboriginal orphan boy is captured by police and taken in at a remote monastery for Indigenous boys. The monastery is seemingly run by a male priest, who has, in actuality, been dead for a year, without anyone knowing the cause. The lead nun, Sister Eileen, claims to outsiders that the priest is still alive, and forges letters to create this impression. Eileen is supported in her work and her deception by two Aboriginal individuals, a fellow nun who goes by the nickname "Sister Mum" and a male named George; both of whom are assimilated to Christian beliefs. Though times are difficult, the nuns care for the boys and desire to protect them through Christian teachings and shared manual work. The other boys are not provided with any knowledge of Aboriginal values, language or practices. Their ultimate fate is to be forced to leave very early and be employed as farm hands. Sister Mum is implied to have converted to Christianity due to the loss of her two children, while George lives a secure life at the monastery.

The orphan boy, nicknamed the "New Boy", initially struggles to fit in with the other partners, being incapable of speaking or understanding English and lacking any desires for Western customs, such as footwear and clothing. After a period of bullying, the New Boy gradually asserts himself physically and emotionally, and becomes accepted by everyone. Throughout this process, the New Boy is shown to possess mysterious supernatural abilities to conjure small balls of light and to heal sick animals and humans.

This period of relative peace is broken by the arrival of a large statue of a crucified Jesus for the monastery's church. The New Boy finds himself drawn to the statue, envisioning the statue as if it's alive. He feels compelled to deliver offerings of live snakes to the Jesus statue, to which everyone reacts negatively with fear. He also starts to experience stigmata, with his other supernatural powers becoming confused.

When the New Boy revives a dead snake, a lightning strike causes a fire in the fields, which George and the other boys are forced to put out. Meanwhile, in front of the statue, he stabs both his hands to mimic the crucified Jesus. Eileen discovers this and, after an initial shock, sees this as a sign of his embrace of Christianity. When George and the boys return to the monastery, the eldest boy, Michael, is injured and burnt from putting out the fires. The New Boy uses his powers to heal Michael, which Eileen and George witness.

The New Boy's behaviour and newfound but unorthodox infatuation with Jesus disturbs everyone, while he sometimes reverts back to his old ways. This behaviour includes him taking down the statue to play with it, "heal" it from its crucifixion wounds, and dress it up; it is eventually found by Eileen and put back in the church by George. Weary that the New Boy is yet to abandon his Aboriginal ways, George ostracises him from other boys.

After a crisis of faith, believing he has been sent to her as a messenger from Christ, Eileen decides to baptise the New Boy to cleanse him from his "sins". Though he still doesn't fully understand Christianity, the New Boy accepts the baptism but immediately realises that this has now permanently destroyed his supernatural abilities. Resigned to his life, the New Boy begins wearing clothing and footwear. As V-day arrives, he tentatively starts living his new life, experiencing acceptance from everyone again, but leaving his future uncertain and his heritage now torn between two vastly different worlds.

Cast edit

  • Aswan Reid as New Boy
  • Cate Blanchett as Sister Eileen
  • Deborah Mailman as Sister Mum
  • Wayne Blair as George
  • Shane McKenzie-Brady as Michael
  • Tyrique Brady as Matthew
  • Laiken Beau Woolmington as David
  • Kailem Miller as Steven
  • Kyle Miller as James
  • Tyzailin Roderick as Henry
  • Tyler Rockman Spencer as Johnny
  • Andrew Upton and Tyson Pawley as Firefighters

Production edit

The original idea for the story arose in around 2005, when filmmaker Warwick Thornton wrote a script which drew on his negative experiences in a Catholic boarding school as a boy, featuring a Benedictine monk. During the COVID-19 pandemic, after having read the script, actress Cate Blanchett suggested to Thornton that they work on the project together, through her film production company Dirty Films. She helped to develop the story, and the pair decided to make the character a nun instead of a monk.[1] Thornton had originally imagined a priest running the monastery and had given his film the working title Father and the Son, but, upon suggestion by Blanchett and her husband Andrew Upton, changed the gender after realising that the poster and plot outline might give audiences the wrong idea about the film.[2]

In February 2022, it was announced that Blanchett would star in the film, written and directed by Thornton. Deborah Mailman and Wayne Blair joined the cast, with Blanchett serving as a producer under her Dirty Films banner.[3] In December 2022, Aswan Reid, Shane Brady, Tyrique Brady, Laiken Woolmington, Kailem Miller, Kyle Miller, Tyzailin Roderick, and Tyler Spencer (the boys) joined the cast.[4] The boys were all newcomers to the screen, and lived onsite during the filming.[2]

Principal photography began in October 2022 and wrapped in December.[3][5] The outdoor scenes were shot on location near Burra in South Australia.[6]

The score was written by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.[7]

Themes and genre edit

Angela Bates, Screen Australia's Head of First Nations, described The New Boy as "a genre-defying film that explores spirituality, culture and colonisation in a way we haven’t seen on screen before".[8]

Thornton said in an interview:[2]

It's a really funny movie and it's a war movie. It's also very open-hearted in an unexpected way.

Of course, this story brings with it the weight of a certain pocket of Australian history. Which always follows us and in a way, as a filmmaker, you always reference this part of Australian history in some way.

But this movie is by no means a history lesson or a lecture.

Release edit

The New Boy had its world premiere at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, under the Un Certain Regard section, on 19 May 2023.[9] It later had its Australian premiere as the opening film of the 2023 Sydney Film Festival on 7 June, while also playing in the Official Competition, before its theatrical release by Roadshow Films in Australia on 6 July 2023.[10]

Reception edit

Critical response edit

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 69% of 32 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.6/10. The website's consensus reads: "The New Boy bites off more than it can comfortably chew, but this heady exploration of faith and cultural tensions has an ethereal allure."[11]

The Guardian's Luke Buckmaster, while praising Aswan Reid's performance as "the most impressive child performance for some time", described the film as "a cryptic and borderline impenetrable noodle-scratcher stuffed full of heavy religious imagery". He gave it three stars out of five.[12]

The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney also praised Reid's performance, as well as "the visual power of Thornton's gorgeous compositions...[which] remains transfixing" and found the film overall "engrossing, even when the story strays from its path". However, he thought that a weakness in the script held back Blanchett's performance.[6]

Awards and nominations edit

Awards and nominations for The New Boy
Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Cannes Film Festival 27 May 2023 Un Certain Regard Warwick Thornton Nominated [13]
Sydney Film Festival 18 June 2023 Best Film The New Boy Nominated [14]
Haifa International Film Festival 6 October 2023 Best International Film The New Boy Nominated [15]
Almeria Western Film Festival 14 October 2023 Best Feature The New Boy Nominated [16]
Camerimage 18 November 2023 Golden Frog Warwick Thornton Won [17]

References edit

  1. ^ Brady-Brown, Annabel (29 June 2023). "Director Warwick Thornton and star Cate Blanchett on their long-awaited collaboration The New Boy". ABC News (Australia). Retrieved 2 July 2023.
  2. ^ a b c Blanchett, Cate; Thornton, Warwick (6 July 2023). "Cate Blanchett on the true story behind The New Boy,". Mamamia (Interview). Interviewed by Brodnik, Laura. Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  3. ^ a b Jackson, Angelique (10 February 2022). "Cate Blanchett to Star in and Produce 'The New Boy' From Indigenous Australian Filmmaker Warwick Thornton". Variety. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  4. ^ "Cameras set to wrap on Warwick Thornton's The New Boy". Screen Australia. 7 December 2022. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  5. ^ Frater, Patrick (6 December 2022). "Cate Blanchett Wraps Warwick Thornton's 'The New Boy'". Variety. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  6. ^ a b Rooney, David (19 May 2023). "'The New Boy' Review: Cate Blanchett is the star but not the standout of Warwick Thornton's striking drama about spiritual survival". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 20 July 2023.
  7. ^ Lodge, Guy (19 May 2023). "'The New Boy' Review: Cate Blanchett Returns to Australia for an eerie, atmospheric clash of faiths". Variety. Retrieved 20 July 2023.
  8. ^ "Filming of First Nations film, The New Boy, wraps up in regional South Australia". Glam Adelaide. 11 December 2022. Retrieved 21 July 2023.
  9. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (13 April 2023). "Cannes Film Festival Lineup: Haynes, Anderson, Glazer, Kore-Eda, Wenders In Competition – Full List". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 14 April 2023.
  10. ^ Keast, Jackie (10 May 2023). "'The New Boy', 'The Dark Emu Story', 'Run Rabbit Run' bound for 70th Sydney Film Festival". IF Magazine. Retrieved 10 May 2023.
  11. ^ "The New Boy". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved 18 February 2024.
  12. ^ Buckmaster, Luke (6 July 2023). "The New Boy review – Cate Blanchett doesn't dazzle in Warwick Thornton's enigmatic film". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 July 2023.
  13. ^ Goodfellow, Melanie (26 May 2023). "Molly Manning Walker's 'How To Have Sex' Wins Top Prize In Cannes Un Certain Regard; Jury President John C. Reilly Serenades Audience After Director Arrives Late For Ceremony". Deadline. Retrieved 19 November 2023.
  14. ^ Frater, Patrick (9 May 2023). "Sydney Film Festival Unveils Bumper Lineup for 70th Edition". Variety. Retrieved 13 October 2023.
  15. ^ "The winners of the Haifa International Film Festival competitions". Haifa 39th International Film Festival. Retrieved 19 November 2023.
  16. ^ Blog (14 October 2023). "Almería Western Film Festival clausura su edición número 13 con la entrega del palmarés y el premio Desierto de Tabernas". Almería Western Film Festival 2023 (in European Spanish). Retrieved 19 November 2023.
  17. ^ "EnergaCAMERIMAGE 2023 WINNERS! – EnergaCAMERIMAGE 2023". Retrieved 19 November 2023.

External links edit