I usually don’t review mini series on this site because I have a problem with being brief. The episodic nature of all mini series leads to too many plot points being thrown out for everyone see. I love to see the twists and turns of a series on my own terms and therefore do not like when all is revealed to me. But I feel like I need to shed some light on this series, because I really enjoyed it.
Top of the Lake is really about a town. A town that is dominated by the ever-present male oppression. It is ruled by the Mitchum clan with Matt Mitchum being the ultimate ruler. And man does her rule this town. He has his thumb up everyone and enforces his dominance through intense cruelty. I think the actor Peter Mullan lives for these types of roles. He takes full advantage of the grisliness of his character by snarling, using cuss words and just being a dominant force. He has a clan of kids that seem to come from very different parents. One of these kids is a young girl named Tui. At the beginning of the series, Tui tries to drown herself in the lake that dominates the images of this series. Someone finds her just in time and she is hauled into the police station. While here she meets the protagonist of the series Robin, played by Elizabeth Moss. Robin is a detective specializing in sexual abuse because she was once a brutal victim of sexual abuse. Robin actually used to be a resident of the town when she was younger and she has returned because her mother is dying of cancer. Robin takes an unusual interest in Tui and tries to help her, but Tui is silent as to who impregnated her. She eventually runs off into the forest to escape the thumb of Matt. This forces Robin to be in this town longer than planned. She proceeds with the investigation and the desperate hope of finding Tui despite it being freezing out in the open. Matt Mitchum is also desperately trying to find her, but he does it in a way that is characteristic of his brutal ways. The last thing I will mention is the presence of a woman’s colony. This colony camps out on Matt Mitchum’s land that he lost a long time ago but still houses the grave of his mother. So attached to his mother, Matt vows to get the land back and force the women’s colony out. Of course the leader of the colony, a sage named GJ (I love how New Zealanders say this name. It sounds so cool!), is having none of this. She sits in her camping chair and dishes out blunt wisdom to every woman who takes the trek to see her. She speaks the truth. The truth these women desperately need, but cannot bring themselves to face. She is my favorite character.
Jane Campion is a director I intensely admire. She makes feminist films that are emotional resonant while also being compelling on a purely plot level. This series is not just about Robin trying to find Tui before she has her baby, but is about something more. Too often women are marginalized by societies that are as close-knit as this one is. Men think that these women are theirs purely because they live in the same community. They objectify these women’s bodies, they impregnate them, they take advantage of the young woman’s naiveté and they don’t care about their actions. But these actions will forever be a black mark on these women. They will never forget something that the men forget so easily. When Robin confronts one of her old abusers, he has no recollection of her nor what he did to her. Her reaction to him when he says it is what I wanted to do for. Instead she needs no help standing up for herself. She takes down a whole town’s hypocrisy in only a couple of months. And she does it in such a way that it would be hard for it to recover. This leaves the people who are still standing, mainly the women, to rebuild it in a way that is more harmonious for them.