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Top of the Lake (2013)
One day, we won't be able to close our eyes anymore.
Filmmaker(s): Ján Lacko

A woman haunted by her past, Detective Robin Griffin, investigates complex and unsettling cases.

Top of the Lake (2013)

Hidden Agents, Justice

This masterly series has several notable qualities. Most striking are the cinematic (meaning the camera-centric) anchors for the storytelling. But the most commented upon by others is the exploration of motherhood, supported by accomplished actresses doing their best work.

I’ll comment instead on the portrayals of the symmetric lives of the male characters. Everything I have seen of Campion’s work is driven by external pulls and the men do this work here. The world of the women here is sharp, effective, overflowing with energy because of the embodied world in which they live and the men embody the pulls in their worlds.

We have five primary men here. The most abstract is the young man who is a reclusive gamer, living with his mother. Though he hangs with a group of sexually weak braggarts who gather to talk about their paid encounters, he is different. By the end of the series, we know he is in love with an Asian prostitute who is (we presume) forced to be a surrogate.

He wants to marry her, possibly thinking she has his child; she takes her life because of some turmoil. We never learn exactly what forces have torn her, in fact we never see her at all. But this string — this boy — pulled taut is what moves everything into view. We only know of her life through him, living his life as a game. Brilliant; great talent in storytelling by omission.

His doppelgänger is the adopted father, superficially calm but who follows a similar path with no agency. The presented contrast between these two men (crazy vs sedate) hides Campion’s intent I think to convey the common tragic destiny of being male. Dissipative.

The most conventional character is the pathologist, drawn along the lines of the Shakespearean fool — the only one who is stable. He is assigned to examine the dead more or less the way we are as viewers. He alone can interact with our main character as an unhaunted being. (His complement is the predator from the previous story.)

We have the main male lead, Puss, extravagantly acted but among the men we see, the most scrutable. The most visible and the least interesting. Not worth examining by design.

The one that amazed me was the police chief. Though this is a fourth generation detective story, it is a detective story nonetheless. So by the end we need someone who sees, who reasons and who embodies the rules.

In every other film with police, this boss role is either a blunt dummy who can’t see the truth, or a kind mentor working to protect his (always his) prot??g??. In this story, he is the only loser to the wheel of fortune whose mechanics he also has to explain. He loses family, lover, child and most likely his job. Everyone else advances in some way.

Posted in 2017

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.


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