Sunday, February 23, 2014
Twin Peaks crossed with The Killing—and that isn’t the half of it. Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss stars in this thrilling seven-episode television series, the toughest, wildest picture Jane Campion has ever made. With the emotional intensity of the performances and the urgency of the drama scaled to match the vast, primal setting and the six-hour time frame, Top of the Lake is episodic television as epic poem, the Trojan wars recast as the gender war. Three women, each on her own journey, connect and bring the patriarchy to its knees. Moss plays a detective who has returned to the bleak rural town where she grew up in order to spend time with her dying mother, and is recruited by the sole local police officer (David Wenham) to investigate a case of statutory rape. The 12-year-old victim refuses to disclose who got her pregnant, but there are no lack of suspects, starting with her father Mitcham (Peter Mullan), who runs a meth and ecstasy factory in his tumbled down fortress of a home and seems to have fathered near a half dozen children with several mothers, making incest as well as violence the subtext of desire, past and present. There are also Mitcham’s sullen, gun-toting sons, and a “foreign” teacher with a pedophile past. A stellar embodiment of “the law of the father,” Mitcham goes on the offensive when women challenge his rule. In addition to Griffin’s “snooping,” he’s one-upped by GJ (Holly Hunter), who buys the lakefront property which he presumes is his by right and establishes a community of women attempting to recover from lifetimes of abuse through anarchic hijinks—damaged goods empowered by their own sense of comedy. A perfect example of auteurist series television, made in collaboration with writer Gerald Lee (who co-wrote Campion’s debut feature, Sweetie) and co-director Garth Davis. The themes that underscore Campion’s films are all here, particularly the fear which bedevils female agency—of making bad, even deadly choices in matters of sex and love.—from Amy Taubin’s article on Top of the Lake in the March/April 2013 issue of Film Comment. A See-Saw Films production in association with Sundance Channel.