Top of the Lake
dir: Jane Campion/Garth Davis (New Zealand, 2013)
Recently finishing a five-week run on the Sundance Channel, and scheduled for release on Blu-ray and DVD before the year is over, is the seven-hour miniseries Top of the Lake. This gripping, superior police-procedural was co-directed by New Zealand/Australian filmmakers Jane Campion and Garth Davis (they each directed different episodes, with the more well-known Campion helming the first two as well as the fourth and last installments), and based on an original script by Campion and Gerard Lee (Sweetie). The story chronicles the investigation of a missing 12-year-old girl by a big-city Australian detective in rural New Zealand, but the series has much more on its mind than than the mere solving of a mystery. Along with next month’s HBO premiere of Steven Soderbergh’s hotly anticipated Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, this is yet further evidence that smart filmmakers are increasingly turning to long-form television to realize ambitious projects — and are blurring the lines between television and film in the process. (And who can blame them? Virtually no one saw Campion’s last feature, the underrated John Keats biopic Bright Star.) While Top of the Lake may have first been experienced by most people as a “T.V. show” over a span of five weeks, it also received an unusual world premiere on the “big screen” during the Sundance Film Festival over the course of a single day in January. Make no mistake about it: this triumphant serial deserves to be called a “seven-hour movie” as much as Louis Feuillade’s legendary Les Vampires.
Top of the Lake begins with a haunting and already much-lauded scene in which a 12-year old girl, Tui Mitcham (Jacqueline Joe), walks into the middle of a cold lake, stopping when the water is chest-deep, for no discernible reason. After being rescued and sent to a hospital, it is discovered that the girl is five-months pregnant. Australian police detective Robin Griffin (a revelatory Elisabeth Moss) happens to be visiting her sick mother nearby and, because she has experience dealing with childhood sexual abuse cases, is brought in to interview Tui. The girl refuses to name the father, however, and shortly thereafter disappears. Griffin sticks around to help out with what has by now turned into a missing persons case. This plot is deftly intertwined with several other story threads, including one involving an American spiritual guru named GJ (the awesome Holly Hunter, reuniting with Campion for the first time since The Piano 20 years ago) who has built “Paradise,” a retreat for traumatized women, on a mountain near where Tui disappeared. GJ comes into conflict with Tui’s father, Matt (Peter Mullan), a violent Scottish emigre who believes the land on which Paradise was built is rightfully his. Meanwhile, Griffin repeatedly butts heads with the local-yokels, some of whom accuse her of being a “lesbian,” a “feminist,” or both. Also not making Robin’s life easier is the local police department, personified by Sergeant Al Parker (David Wenham) whose attitude towards the young female cop seems to alternate between the deliberately unhelpful and the downright sinister.
The filmmakers’ grand ambitions, not hemmed in by a feature-length running time, become apparent as these various plot lines slowly converge against a backdrop of astonishingly scenic beauty. The way they use Moss’ detective-figure as a kind of audience-surrogate to introduce viewers to not one but several mysteries in a seemingly idyllic backwater populated by eccentrics has caused many critics to compare the series, favorably, to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s Twin Peaks. But this ignores Top of the Lake‘s aggressive ideological thrust, which depicts the New Zealand bush as a place not just of natural wonder, as one would expect, but also as the breeding ground for a culture of disturbing sexual violence. If anything, I was reminded more of Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, which features a similarly tense girl-in-a-boy’s-club dynamic among its characters (not to mention a lead actress whose pale blue eyes one might want to similarly linger on). But what remains largely on the level of subtext in Bigelow’s film becomes virtually the whole show in the capable hands of Campion and Davis. The battle-of-the-sexes is everywhere in Top of the Lake: most obvious in Tui’s statutory rape and in the condescending sexist attitudes that Griffin repeatedly encounters but also in the subplot of Griffin’s sick mother, who is a victim of domestic violence, and in the general hostility of the local men towards Paradise. It should be noted that GJ, who sports Campion’s long silver hair, runs her retreat without a “timetable” or a “structure,” like a film director gone rogue.
Top of the Lake‘s portrait of rural New Zealand is fascinating. The locations — all low-hanging clouds, verdant forests and lake surfaces like polished silver — are gorgeously photographed by ace cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (Animal Kingdom) and, if not for the unsavory backwoods types who populate them, could almost serve as an advertisement for the country’s Tourism Bureau. But Campion has also always been a masterful director of actors; as in Todd Haynes’ Mildred Pierce, this series ultimately belongs to the performers, who use the expansive running time to “go deep” with their characters in a way that theatrical movies simply do not allow. Moss’ Griffin comes across as being tough as nails in the early episodes before gradually peeling back emotional layers to reveal a vulnerable core, while Hunter is clearly having a ball as the charismatically enigmatic guru GJ (talk about purposeful “star casting”). We are keenly aware that Matt Mitcham, GJ’s doppelganger, is capable of anything from the get-go and Peter Mullan’s explosive performance keeps us on edge throughout. We know this guy is bad enough to kill but is he bad enough to rape and kill his own daughter? For that matter, are any of his three grown sons? (The other main suspects in the case, they are played by the superb trio of Kip Chapman, Thomas M. Wright, and Jay Ryan.)
While the series’ twisty plotting — including not one but two 11th hour surprise revelations that I didn’t see coming — and “neat” ending have drawn criticism from some reviewers, I will counter by arguing that Top of the Lake is finally more about emotions than story. Just as Vertigo and Shutter Island hold up well upon re-watching — even after one knows their “twists” are coming — because they still provide a potent nightmarish immersion into an ocean of feelings (obsession, guilt, fear, etc.), so too does Top of the Lake allow viewers, first and foremost, the cathartic experience of luxuriating in an atmosphere of righteous anger and sorrow. How refreshing it is that the world’s greatest feminist director (a designation that doesn’t necessarily put Campion in competition with other great female directors like Bigelow or Lucrecia Martel) insists that sexism still matters, and boldly uses the ostensibly entertaining form of the mystery-thriller genre to do so. Perhaps this is what Amy Taubin had in mind when she recently called Top of the Lake the “toughest, wildest picture” that Campion has ever made. And how depressing it is that no U.S. filmmakers are similarly willing to go there. For many American viewers, who live in a culture with its own tradition of sexual violence, and in an age when social media allows a depressing phenomenon like “rape apology” to go viral, it must seem that some things happen only in real life — not in the movies. Nor on television.
I understand Top of the Lake is now streaming on Netflix Instant for those of you who do that sort of thing. You can watch the trailer on YouTube below:
April 22nd, 2013 at 9:19 am
Even though we watched it together and discussed it during and for days after its conclusion, I still keep tossing the events of the mini-series over and over. It’s so complex, from the story to the characters. When the local yokels call her names like “lesbian” (as if that is their worst insult), it reminded me of the main character in Zero Dark Thirty. Both actresses and directors exert such tact and restraint. Instead of the women in both stories taking on the “power bitch” mentality, aka super masculine as to keep up with the guys, their attitudes are subdued and they focus on their jobs and their passion for their work. Thanks for writing this up!
April 22nd, 2013 at 10:06 am
Thanks for the reply. I’m glad you also made a connection to Zero Dark Thirty. Everything that is feministy about this review is due to your influence!
April 22nd, 2013 at 9:21 am
pale blue eyes
April 22nd, 2013 at 10:09 am
As the winner of my “Gratuitous Velvet Underground Reference” contest you are entitled to a home-cooked vegetarian meal in my apartment followed by a screening of John Ford’s THREE BAD MEN on my 42-inch widescreen T.V. (airfare to Chicago not included).
April 22nd, 2013 at 12:30 pm
that’s funny on multiple levels.
April 22nd, 2013 at 10:05 am
I watched this entire series, one episode per week. Now that you told me which episodes were Campion’s, I have to say I liked hers better. They were tauter, and cooler in tone, which fit the haunting mood of the entire series.
I liked that the detective with her superior skills did not take on the traits of her male counterparts in order to prove her strength of character. And, the women in that commune were a hoot. I have to say I did not like the adolescent that the whole series spun around. I don’t know if it was the actress, or the character, but while I had sympathy for her, I did not like her.
April 22nd, 2013 at 10:18 am
I agree that Tui was unlikable, which I actually think worked to the series’ advantage. SPOILER ALERT: I thought the whole point of the ending was that Tui was just an immature kid, completely unfit for motherhood. The scene where Robin is babysitting Tui’s infant child while Tui goes out to play with her friends reminded me of the ending of Ben Affleck’s GONE BABY GONE (still his best film), in which the Casey Affleck character is in a similarly difficult moral quandary. Both films end with the unsettling sense that a cycle of irresponsibility is going to continue perpetuating itself.
April 22nd, 2013 at 10:14 am
Peter Mullan is a phenomenal actor, especially in Considine’s “Tyrannosaur”; I’ll be sure to check this out, seems really interesting.
April 22nd, 2013 at 10:20 am
Tom, he’s definitely phenomenal here as an ambiguously evil white-trash patriarch. I think he gives the best performance in the series (which is saying a lot because I loved Moss and Hunter).
April 22nd, 2013 at 4:37 pm
Thanks for your review.
What did you think of Thomas M.Wright & David Whenham’s performances, please?
April 22nd, 2013 at 5:50 pm
Thanks for asking. I thought Wright and Wenham were very good. They both have tricky roles because almost the entire series is told from the perspective of Moss’ character (meaning we rarely see or hear anything that she doesn’t) and, although it seems like both men are sympathetic to her, she doesn’t quite know how much to trust either of them. So there are a lot of scenes with both of them where their behavior seems cryptic. Campion is a great director of actors.
April 23rd, 2013 at 1:32 am
Thanks for answering. From my point of view this kind of acting is not apreciated enough.
July 24th, 2013 at 7:13 am
[…] – 8.6 The Hunter (Pitts, Iran, 2010) – 8.6 The Comedy (Alverson, USA, 2012) – 8.7 Top of the Lake (Campion/Davis, New Zealand/Australia, 2013) – 8.7 The Ghost Writer (Polanski, UK/Germany, […]
December 30th, 2013 at 8:20 am
[…] 17. Top of the Lake (Campion/Davis, New Zealand/Australia) – The Sundance Channel. Rating: 8.7. Full review here. […]
July 13th, 2016 at 9:23 pm
Top of The Lake is a highly engaging TV mini series. I normally don’t watch mini series but this one seemed to draw my attention. I like how all the characters seem to be trying to figure out what is really going on, especially Robyn. Robyn is an intelligent young woman who wants to solve the mysteries surrounding 12 year old Tui. Her direct superior, Al, seems like an average “tough guy” police officer. He physically taunts one of the suspects Jamie as a means of excising his authority. I thought that this displayed his character to be a bad guy. In the end, I was shocked to learn that Al was the villain throughout the series. However, he appeared to be a tough, aggressive, built white gentleman, similar to the typical bad guys we usually see. I did find seem scenes inapprioate that didn’t serve any purpose. Rather could have been replaced with seem footage that would further the depth and storyline. Perhaps shown some of Tui’s moments with her friends and family. Overall, this was an interesting series.
July 14th, 2016 at 2:20 pm
So there is this mini-series called “Top of the Lake”. Hear of it? Probably not, but now you will. That is what I said to others after watching this. This thing was intensely intriguing with twists, and turns, and wake up calls to the very last second. Starting off, you could tell there was something out of the ordinary for this one. Robyn, the detective of the story, seems to be this small woman with an attitude or some sort of problems. As the show goes on, you see her for who she really is. This woman that grew up in a male ego dominated town, who pulled a 180 on their asses. She was raped as a teenager in front of her high school sweetheart, then moving to Australia. Over there she became a detective for young children in that same position she was in. While investigating the rape/impregnation/missing of the young girl, Tui, the town starts remembering that men cannot have all the control. When her mom gave her final request that she not see Johnno anymore, this is where I got the notion that there was some secret between her mom, Matt, and Johnno. Little did I expect that secret to be as big as, “hey Robyn, Matt Mitcham is your father”. This put the world at a spin for Robyn, and me the viewer. Eventually, it settled in my head that he was not the father of Tui’s baby but still wondered whom was responsible. You could tell by Matt’s blazing emotions about Tui that it was not him. Then, in another twist, you find out that Johnno is actually not Matt’s son. So that takes away the incest factor that’s been occurring. But, again that’s another worldly spin with Johnno and Robyn now “switching” paternal stories. And then, the very last twist at the very last second blew my head in multiple ways. First, when Robyn becomes very suspicious of Al and bombards his house, she blasts a whole in him without hesitation. She is a badass. Then, when she investigates the music from the basement to find older, immigrant men undressing the children and setting up cameras to record, that was some f*?!ed up s*%!. Great mini-series will definitely be looking out for season 2.
July 15th, 2016 at 1:28 pm
“Top of the Lake” by Jane Campion, great mini-series or how really look to us as an audience one big seven-hour long movie that definitely keeps our attention through all seven hours. The movie begins with very shocking and sad scene with 12 years old girl standing in the cold water of the lake. First questions that we definitely are : What is she doing, what’s her problem and what makes her commit the worst sin which is suicide? Luckily she was saved because lady saw her and bring her to the closest school. Tests on this young girl were done and doctors came to very shocking fact which is that young girl Tui is pregnant. The only explanation for Tui’s pregnancy is that she was raped because she is very young. Fortunately, a girl was brought into the police office and young detective Robin Griffin was placed to solve this case. Ms. Griffin tried her best to find out who raped girl simply by asking her direct question “Who did this to you?” on what she wrote “no one” which kept detective as well as us thinking if girl hides something or means that she wasn’t raped by one person but more. The entire story in this movie is very complicated and makes as think so hard especially to find an answer on all of our questions, especially who raped little Tui. Through hole serial we saw detective Sergeant Al Parker who at first and actually almost through hole movie look like a great positive person who wants to help detective Griffin solve a problem and also want to marry her. Almost at the end of the movie we saw his true face and realized that he is not that much positive how he look like at first actually he is responsible for Tui’s rape as well as kidnapping her friends and doing same to them. Also something I found very interesting is that when Tui gave birth of child detective Griffin was there to take care of the baby more that mom of the child but detective Griffin has her own child and she doesn’t want to take care of him.
July 16th, 2016 at 5:46 pm
Definitely, the longest and best mini-serial I ever watched is “ Top of the Lake” produced by Jane Campion. The story is about twelve years old girl Tui who get pregnant by an unknown man and runs from home to hide from possible danger and unwanted questions. Mini-serial is divided into six parts and every single part is same important. The first part starts with the girl standing in the lake in the middle of the winter. The word important for this mini-serial is “no one”. which reveals that refers to more than one person. All parts consist of two problems finding Tui and finding who is a father of her baby. All series are full of turnovers and uncertainty. Really important people without which episodes would not be completely are detective Robin and her boyfriend Johnno, Tui’s father Matt, GJ and camp Paradise and last but not least inspector and director Sergeant Al Parker . The whole series is also full of secrets for example hidden laboratory in Matt’s house hidden house in the woods in which Tui was hiding and definitely the biggest secret of this series is the gang of pedophiles managed by Inspector Sergeant Al Parker. In addition, nature in this series is really beautiful and it’s impossible not to see the beauty of nature especially forest and place where Paradise is located.
July 17th, 2016 at 9:38 am
The first thing I noticed was the beautiful scenery that surrounds the lake in a very remote area of New Zealand. Jane Campion is not really interested in using her characters to tell a story, but uses the plot to create suspense. However, beyond the lake, there is a actually a real story about Tui— a missing victim attempting to free herself from a male dominated dysfunctional society. Her father, Matt Mitcham, is a redneck drug dealer that is portrayed as the ring leader of a bunch of thugs who denigrate women in a community which he refers to as paradise. The most interesting and by far the most intelligent people living in paradise appear to be a bunch of neurotic flower children that have set up a commune in dilapidated box cars on the shores of the lake— with a clear view of the top of the lake. Ms Campion portrays most of the other female characters as weak and helpless victims, controlled by strong men caught up in a wide variety of criminal activities. Eventually, a gender war is declared between an idealistic female detective (Elizabeth Moss) and a corrupt narcissistic police chief— that is out to enrich himself at the expense of everyone else. The most intriguing member of the cast is GJ, a strong female character, played by Holly Hunter, who is in charge of a camp for sexually abused women. She is the only character that is smart enough to figure out the path to paradise cannot be found at the top of the lake, and considers paradise as an unconscious perception of reality.
July 17th, 2016 at 6:36 pm
Top of the Lake is a mysterious, suspenseful miniseries which follows the main character, Robin, as she tries to solve the mystery of the missing girl, Tui. The series has some truly breathtaking shots of the landscape of rural New Zealand.
The characters and the town that Top of the Lake takes place in are relatable to most people world wide. While watching Top of the Lake, the backwards ideology of the rural people of New Zealand reminded me much of some of the people you would find in the southern parts of the United States. It ties Top of the Lake into the idea of global cinema, where even if you are not from that area that the film is from, you can still relate to it on some level. The feminist notions of The top of the Lake are also a very global notion that can be related to despite being a New Zealand miniseries.
During the first three or four episodes of the series the audience never sees Robin with a gun. I thought this was rather interesting as she is a cop trying to solve a rape turned possible kidnap and she isn’t carrying around a noticeable weapon. Even when she thinks she is onto the kidnapper who would assumed to be very dangerous she does not a weapon. It seems like the director did this on purpose to show the audience what life is like from the female perspective. In film, the gun is often a phallic symbol that is waved around for power by men such as the Dirty Harry series. However, this does eventually change as she does equip herself with a weapon in the later episodes, but she never uses it as a sign of power as we see in most films. All of this seemed done on purpose by the director who is a woman rather than a man giving the audience a very different perspective.
July 17th, 2016 at 8:21 pm
(Spoilers Within) With each passing episode of Top of the Lake I sank further and further into my chair, trying to resist the urge to close my eyes and, frankly, fall asleep. In the seven episodes, it took at least five for something to pull me from my reclined position and put me on the edge of my seat, sadly only to slump back down until the final 10 minutes of the season. Littered throughout the season are clichés pulled from every common core detective storyline without enough strength to drive its own weight. Multiple times we see Detective Robin Griffin place herself in situations filled with peril for reasons I…well I really don’t know. Originally Robin worked as a detective for Sydney, Australia. She was on leave visiting her dying mother when the Lake Top PD called her in to help with a case falling in her specialty. Through multiple events, Police Chief Al takes her off the case. For some reason she takes this as being fired (or it was portrayed as he fired her I can’t quite remember) and surrenders her badge and handgun. This makes no sense considering her jurisdiction is the commonwealth of Australia, she has no formal ties to the Lake Top PD. She effectively meets resistance and quits, only to be brought in later again because Lake Top PD needs her. It reminded me a lot of the movie Hot Fuzz where London’s PD sends Officer Nicholas Angel to a rural town because he is doing his job only to call him back at the end of the movie because “the figures have gone a bit… squiffy in [his] absence.” Used for comedic effect in Hot Fuzz, Top of the Lake falls into a poor melodrama. In one instance the police station discovers that there is a convicted pedophile living in the town, not only that but he has multiple weapon permits. Robin decides it would be a good idea to follow him home from his bar and interrogate him once he arrives to his home deep in the woods. Showing distress over his previous actions, she continues to push him into a corner until he is driven to grab a shotgun and fire at her in fear that she will send him back to prison. It is here we find she didn’t bring her gun and calls for backup after she has barricaded herself inside the house! If the intent was to create an empowering female character, it dearly failed. Robin’s relationship with Johnno is predictable to say the least. By the third time he leaves I already know he is going to return and the tension and emotions displayed by the characters hold no weight leaving me to patiently wait for the scene to end. Sadly, this feeling persisted throughout much of the season. By the end of the season where all the gears a meshing into place we see Robin sit silently, absent from her surroundings until she breaks and steals the keys to drive to Detective Al’s home. Robin’s character gave no indication of this though, the entire time I sat there watching Johnno care for Tui’s child while Robin just sat there. I could not figure out what she was thinking or what she was piecing together until I saw her driving into the hills and becoming distraught over Tui’s phone going to voicemail. The ending had weight, but it felt so empty after being dragged on for so long. Of the miniseries I have viewed, this was by far one I considered the most exhausting, at least the scenery was beautiful.
July 17th, 2016 at 8:57 pm
Top of the lake is a detective drama series about a detective named Robin and an underage girl named Tui. Though other stories were also told in the movie such as the story of GJ a spiritual guru who created a camp named “Paradise” for her fellow women who had unpleasant experiences such as abuse, divorce etc. They are all connected to each other. The movie started with a suicidal Tui planning to drown herself at the lake which was stopped by a woman. Tui then met Robin for counseling and eventually found out that she was pregnant. The movie was focused about finding Tui when she suddenly disappeared without knowing the reason why she left. I got bored during the first 3 episodes but the remaining episodes were really good! Because that’s where the show gets exciting. This is where viewers will find out why Robin was so devoted to solving the case because she was also a victim of sexual abuse. And the movie had twists that will make you question and will keep you interested in watching the film: such as the real situation of Robin and Johnno whether they are real siblings and who was behind the pedophile group. The fact that the rape case/pregnancy of a minor and the possible incest between Robin and Johnno were already disturbing. But the biggest shocker of all was when Robin found out that her coworker Al was an accomplice of the pedophile group that was discovered earlier in the film. Regarding the father of Tui’s pregnancy, I think Matt (who everyone suspects) is innocent of the situation. Though he is portrayed as a bad guy on the film, his love for Tui is very genuine. The part where he is about the shot Tui’s baby was confusing for me though, why would he do that in the first place? Regardless, I think the suspect was one of those pedophile men.
July 18th, 2016 at 12:36 am
Top of the Lake it’s amazing movie I was counting the days between Monday and Wednesday until I can see the whole thing. many things in the movie got my attention specially the nature that the movie was recorded in. The movie will take the attention of the people that were watching it also it makes you very interest to know what’s going to happen there. Behind the scenes there was every interesting story about Tui the missing girl that is loved by it her father But she seems to hate him later after she was sexually abused by a group of people who Abused kids and tui she seemed to hit her father because He was dealing with that group.
The most scary part when the kids fall from the top of the mountain and he was he wearing Tui clothes it was very sad and scary for me but then I also felt sorry for the kid therefore I think Tui because She want revenge for the kid also protects her baby.
Gj Was the best character in the whole movie she seemed to be the loving mom Where all the ladies we’re going to her And I think the fact that Gj Left that paradise camp ask Tui to take care of her baby it seems that Tui is the young Gj.
July 18th, 2016 at 2:42 am
First: I would like to point out that the scenery in this mini series is gorgeous. Now that that’s out of the way: I have always been a fan of movies, but nothing will ever hold the spot in my heart that tv shows have. It is mini series like this one that get me to adore tv much more than any movie can or most likely ever will. These mini series offer a more in depth character development with greater plot devices that aren’t already used 80 times. The acting, especially in today’s age of tv, is beautiful. The reason tv shows offer better character development and plot and my biggest complaint about movies in general? Movies are too short. I love movies don’t get me wrong, but Top of the Lake has so much more hidden underneath than any movie does. Movies you can anticipate the ending within the first thirty minutes, but mini series like Top of the Lake keep you guessing the whole season until the very end. What’s more is that Top of the Lake goes one step farther and still keeps you questioning everything even after the season is already over! You just can’t get that in a movie, there’s really no time. Top of the Lake does a fantastic job at making me feel a deep emotional connection for the characters. The rage I felt when Tui’s best friend dies from being chased off of a cliff. The pity I sorrow I felt for Tui in the first episode finding out she was pregnant and what that entails (like-wise later on with Robin). The mixed emotional feelings I had with Matt Mitchum, constantly playing with my emotions of pity and despise for him. All of these emotions and more for just 3 of the characters; not to mention all the characters that were affected by the death of Tui’s friend who’s name escapes me at the moment. These emotions just aren’t the same, nor can they be the same with a movie that tops off at 3 and a half to four hours tops…if it even goes that long. On top of that the ending is up for interpretation…and I adore endings like that. Granted yes, there are some movies where the endings are similar in nature, but Top of the Lake’s ending was phenomenal in terms of how much they wanted to leave open for viewers thoughts. Was Matt really the father? Did Johnno really rape Robin? Did Johnno even have anything to do with setting Robin up to get raped to begin with?! Where did GJ go (Whom in my opinion was the MVP of the series)? Was Robin drugged by Al in his apartment or not?! So many more questions that are just completely left up for interpretation and for all of these reasons, and more, I believe that not only was top of the Lake (and other tv shows) fantastic to watch, but also why they are much better than movies can ever be. Can’t wait for season two to air so I can observe more of this greatness from New Zealand. 5 out of 5 stars.
July 18th, 2016 at 8:51 am
Season 1 of tv mini-series “Top of the Lake” by Jane Campion compared to other BBC type detective shows that I watched in the past it is slightly more entertaining because the entire season involves one case rather than each episode like the predecessors. If I were to compare the concept of this series I would have to say it resembles the UK’s “Broadchurch” and its US spinoff “Gracepoint”. They are both on my catch up list of shows to watch. Even though I have yet to see them I feel confident to say the episodic breakdown would be similar. They all involve investigation of a crime and discovering the truth. Unlike “Broadchurch” and “Gracepoint” in which the crime is murder “Top of the Lake’s” overall storyline involves the mystery of a girl’s pregnancy and her disappearance. I rather enjoyed how they strategically placed clues throughout the series to ultimately discover who the real perpetrator was even before it was revealed. If you payed close enough attention the identity of the shows true criminal is easy enough to work out. Each episode gave a piece or two to the final puzzle. A subtle comment/action here, or the blurb on a news report there and the occasional physical/photographic evidence.
I found the casting of the lead actors to be spot on. Their portrayals of the characters felt genuine and it didn’t feel like I was watching them act. I rather enjoyed watching Elisabeth Moss using a New Zealand/Aussie accent. Going in prior to watching I had no clue who she was and the only bit of information I got was that she was American. Had I not known that I could have sworn she was native to where the story took place. It’s refreshing when actors/actresses from other countries are cast as characters that must utilize an accent other than their native ones and are actually able to pull it off unlike some of the hokie attempts in the past.
July 18th, 2016 at 9:33 am
In the series Top of the Lake, we see a parallel that the show makes to feature length films we see in the theater. Each episode in the series acts like a chapter from a movie, there is one small plot line that ties into the overall plot of the series much like a film. Another characteristic that Top of the Lake shares with films is that it leaves a lot of information out, and it is up to the viewer to put the pieces together. For example, Robin’s life prior to moving back to New Zealand is referenced a few times but there is not much detail beyond what is mentioned in the dialogue. Jane Campion does an excellent job focusing on the main ideas and the important scenes by cutting out unnecessary information. The issue that arises is that there is not much background provided to each character, rather we begin to see the character’s true state of being as the film progresses i.e. Matt and Al. I believe Campion did this to keep the suspense going, the less we knew about the characters the more caught off guard we would be when a plot twist occurred. Unlike a normal television show that offers background on each of the characters in depth, Jane Campion focused on the main ideas and political issues that the show addressed such as rape culture and male dominated societies.
July 18th, 2016 at 10:47 am
In the series “Top of the Lake”, director Jane Campion does an excellent job at highlighting the importance of gender roles/traits in her film.The series,revolves around robin, a private detective who is returning home to New Zealand to help solve the rape case of twelve year old Tuy. At the end of the first episode Tuy is reported missing which leads to Robin and the police department conducting a search. Eventually Tuy’s father Matt is involved in the search and we begin to see the clash of gender roles. In the town the series takes place, the men are portrayed as more dominant and ruling while the women were more sympathetic . For example, when Tuy is interviewed by the police, they are very aggressive in their questioning, which ultimately led to no response from Tuy. But when Robin was brought into question Tuy, she was more understanding and sympathetic, which made Tuy more comfortable in responding.Another example of gender roles is after Tuy is reported missing, a conflict arises on what should be done. Robin proposed to the police a search strategy. While the police did agree to the search, they quickly began to conclude that due to the cold weather, Tuy could not survive ;therefore the case should close. Tuy’s father, Matt, is less concerned with Tuy and believes she is capable of solving her problem on her own. The only character that truly cared about Tuy’s well being was Robin. She was more than willing to risk her job to find Tuy. Overall “Top of the Lake” does a great job at exposing the traits/roles that society has attached to men and women.
July 18th, 2016 at 11:17 am
I truly enjoyed every minute of Top of the Lake.
Throughout the series Johnno was a tough man for me to trust. In episode 5 we learn he watched as 16 year old robin was gang raped. He never spoke clearly of the situation until that episode. We see him try and Robin shuts down the conversation or gets so mad that Johnno stops talking. You can think that he let years go by with guilt but never punishment. So when Robin accuses him of plotting the whole thing and he gets upset. His reaction was like he was a bit over dramatic and what is worse is that he never said No. She’s pushing him to say no and he doesn’t. He mocks her throws things around the house packs up his little items but not once did he say no. Without saying that word I truly do believe he plotted it. The form of intimacy is not close to what it should be in paradise. It does not exist to these characters. There is a sexual connection and they are humans but to truly love one another is foreign. However there was a scene in episode 7 where Robin learns Matt Mitchum is her father and she tells Johnno that he is her brother. There was that element of shock because after discovery they try to have sex. She invited him to lay in bed with her he gets on top and the camera scrolls down to their feet. This moment spoke to me the most about these two characters and their relation to one another. It’s a quick moment but it felt like it froze in time for me. Her feet is covered in dirt and her tights are ripped up and his feet is bare and slightly dirty. These two characters had been through a lot together and I viewed that particular scene as a way to solidify that Johnno was a good guy. That he’s going to keep going through the struggle with her. It was a small moment that spoke volume. Johnno is a dirty man but not a guilty one.
July 18th, 2016 at 12:42 pm
I really liked top of the lake. It isn’t something that I would normally watch, but it did grab my attention really quick. I liked that it had so many twists and turns. The main story line is something people do not really talk about. I am sure there are children hat have had babies at a young age, but since it isn’t a topic that is spoken about a lot it really made the movie stand out. The main topic I would like to discuss would be the gender dominance. The male roles in this show were very strong. The men in this show had a strong presence, dominating the women in the movie. Though the women in the end showed them that they are not to be reckoned with. Paradise was brought to show us that this little community of women would soon grow into a strong group of women that will help other women fight the battles against these strong willed men. All the women in this show are attacked by men in certain ways, but when you see them come together the women end up dominating the men. I also was surprised to find out that the young boy that was going to help Tui was gay. It shows how old school minded the men were in their city. To a point where the mother knew and was scared her son would be treated differently if everyone else found out. The alliance with the children show that this city will soon change through generations.
July 18th, 2016 at 12:52 pm
Top of the Lake is an affecting, powerful series and an excellent introduction to the recent advent of half-shows, half-movies that have spawned lately. It showed some of the more episodic tendencies of shows like Black Mirror and Mad Men but held together to a single overarching plot that made it very film-like. I loved it.
But I think I’ll talk about its flaws.
Nature porn. The series was rife with it. As much as I love how a real scenic backdrop can contribute to a film’s feel (ie: Shane (1953)), Top of the Lake captured beautiful New Zealand to excess. I love New Zealand, but I’m so hungry to see more of these characters in action that thirty minutes of sweeping mountain shots seems like a waste of time in a preciously-too-short three hours. It reminded me of the Hateful Eight (2015), but with less 70mm snow and more helicopter camera.
Imagery and the general “signs” inside the series were most often red herrings, unused later, or outright silly overt things. After Jamie topples off the cliff in Tui’s clothing… into a field of lavender. Minutes later Robin trots by a pale white horse alone in a field. Okay, we get it. Jamie found freedom in death.
One little detail I loved about the series was the “hacking” scene, obligatory in any police procedural. It was done accurately, succinctly, and without any insane visuals or scrolling numbers or “enhance” crap that’s so infected the genre over the years. The way the guy hid his files (inside an image) is a commonly-used tactic and nothing out of the ordinary.
July 18th, 2016 at 12:55 pm
I was so excited to watch this series because I was excited to see how they would portray the scenery of New Zealand in the film. Thanks to the film team, I got to see some of the most gorgeous environments I have ever seen. Jane Campion is a really smart director because the series is made to perfection. Every single second of the series is exciting to watch and there are so many little scene filled with excitedment. From the country neck Kiwis to the blue collar people of New Zealand, the show’s characters are well casted. Elizabeth Moss takes on the lead role really well and does a good job imposing herself as an alpha character. I believe this film has something to say about feminism for sure. The paradise woman were put there on purpose to show how strong women are when they are in groups. Also, there is one shot where they talk about adam and eve, and then later on Tui’s father and the new girl he met are naked in the middle of forest playing around. Jane Campion’s script is everything I wanted it to be it. It is hilarious when it needs to be and serious when it does too. There are so many twists, only to a point where it is still enjoyable to watch. The series does not bore anyone simply because of the characters acting and how Campion introduces a new problem everytime.
July 18th, 2016 at 1:06 pm
“In nature there is no death, just a reshuffling of atoms.” – GJ
“There is no match for the tremendous intelligence of the body.” – GJ
GJ says some pretty strange and interesting things.
GJ says “Die to yourself, to your idea of yourself; everything you think you are, you’re not. What’s left? Find out,” and “Stop thinking,” which cuts to Anita, the chimp-lady, mouthing the new-found mantra of ‘stop thinking’. This will fix EVERYTHING. Despite GJ’s having told everyone over and over that she’s not really a teacher-or-guru-or-whatever and she can’t really help them, all the Paradisians still look to her as their infallible new-agey professor of animalistic body-logic, and generally just sort of a savior type figure. Grandma Jesus. There is a lot of interesting stuff happening with animals in TotL. If I re-rewatch it, those bits are probably the ones I’d be looking out for. The connections between the humans and animals/nature/the-nature-of-animals. There is, of course, Robin Griffin, the robin-and/or-griffin-slash-detective. There’s Chimp-Lady and Bone-Boy, the latter of which makes some very nice barking/goat-yelling sorts of sounds at the hideous policemen. There is Tui, the feral girl, who prefers hissing. There is all sorts of talk regarding a biblical serpent supposedly slithering around Paradise. The search for the ‘snake’ is a little bit like ripping up the carpeting to find the snake you believe to be bumbling beneath the surface, and then finally realizing, after hours of digging for the snake, the carpet is composed entirely of snakes. GJ is like ‘WOAH, Robin, you are, like, so very, very close to finding out that the room itself is in actually made of snakes,’ and so she is like, ‘Quickly! Heal yourself as the cat do,’ and she leaves. She REALLY doesn’t want to deal with that crazy-snake-room-bullshit.
Where does GJ go when she leaves? She’s just like ‘My work here is done’ as she walks off into the nowhereyness of The Bush surrounding paradise. Does the Paradise commune thing survive GJ’s departure? What happens to the Mitchams? Does their drug business go on unhindered now that Matt is dead, and the corrupt-police/sex-tourism-ring have been brought into focus. I suppose it depends on what the former employees of the drug-lab do. Though, if the police are scrutinized enough after Al is exposed they might find something linking the police with the Mitchams.
I like how the show neatly wraps up a bunch of ends into a happyish ending and then, with the revelation that yes, you were completely warranted in your total hatred of Sergeant ‘Scumbag’ Al, it plunges a lot of the just-resolved-bits right back into the soup of doubt and ambiguity again.
Al’s exposure not only essentially invalidates Matt as the father of Tui’s baby, but also calls into question the results of the Johnno/Robin DNA test. Maybe Johnno IS Robin’s brother and Al really just wanted to keep them together as a sort of a distraction. THE HORROR OF AMBIGUITY!
July 20th, 2016 at 11:17 am
The movie was the totally different than other movies that we saw this year especially because its focus in certain places and focus the most on the characters and how they are talking the camera forward stuck into the faces of the characters and doesn’t show it was going around them.
The movie seems unrealistic to me because I think it gives a bad picture about marriage since my parent has been married for 20 years and they never Hat an argument the ends with my mother leaving the house or she saying I don’t like you anymore.
In the end of the movie I had to question is there going to be a fourth part of it and what is going to be the name of it because it seems that they got that each other and they try to make their relationship better