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Cate Blanchett in The New Boy (Ben King)

The New Boy tells the story of a young Indigenous orphan who is educated in a remote religious institution in outback Australia under the watchful gaze of a renegade Catholic nun. Source: Australian Catholics.

The film is a story of survival in outback Australia in the 1940s, during World War II. The film opens with Indigenous orphan, New Boy (Reid) in serious conflict with the police. Wildly boisterous, he is captured, put into a sack, and dumped at a remote orphanage in Outback Australia. The orphanage is run sternly by Sr Eileen (Blanchett) who is in charge, and by her kindly helper, Sr Mum (Mailman).

Sr Eileen tries to settle New Boy down in his new environment, and New Boy bonds a little more easily with Sr Mum and George (Blair), who looks after the orphanage’s farmlands. When New Boy resists the bullying practices of his classmates, he starts to express supernatural powers. When they occur, they arouse the religious zeal of Sr Eileen, who thinks New Boy is evidencing a divine presence. New Boy’s powers convince Sr Eileen she needs to convert him. Mysteriously, New Boy cures snake bites, plays with sparks that dance across his fingers, and he bleeds from his palms, as Christ bled from the Cross. 

The film deftly combines spirituality and “miracle events”, and Reid as New Boy adroitly captures the mix.

The relevance of themes of colonialism and religion are signposted throughout the movie, and Blanchett plays Sr Eileen with repressed emotion. The film depicts an Indigenous spirituality that sits with Christian doctrine in ways that mirror director Warwick Thornton’s personal experiences as an Indigenous boy, aged 11, who was brought up in a Catholic boarding school.

The film is visually expressive, very heavily symbolic, and totally engrossing. It uses excellent cinematography to show remote Australian landscapes, that demonstrate the bleak, majestic nature of their vistas.

Reviewed by Peter W Sheehan, Jesuit Media

The New Boy: Starring: Cate Blanchett, Aswan Reid, Deborah Mailman and Wayne Blair. Directed by Warwick Thornton. Rated M (Mature themes). 116 min.


The New Boy (Jesuit Media via Australian Catholics)