top of the lake

"I think that the romantic impulse is in all of us and that sometimes we live it for a short time, but it’s not part of a sensible way of living. It’s a heroic path and it generally ends dangerously. I treasure it in the sense that I believe it’s a path of great courage. It can also be the path of the foolhardy and the compulsive."

— Jane Campion 

Still from the series, Top of the Lake (2013, dir. Jane Campion)

Women are constantly reminded of power dynamics. Even the seemingly unambiguous task of locating Tui is fraught with the tension of this man being her superior. They don’t style him as a bad person, but the possibilities of power are clear.

Men are gates, and not all gates are closed, but they can be closed, and that’s all that matters. It isn’t just the outright harassment that gets to us. It’s the horrible possibilities built into the fabric of our society. Bad things don’t happen to us 24/7 but knowing they can happen grinds down our sanity. And if something did happen, we would not be believed. We would be naked, without protection. And that’s a terrible feeling.

These are the characters we need causing trouble for women, not the 2D cardboard mega-misogynists with their obvious villainy. Because the first scares me a lot worse than the second.

For a show about rape culture, there is no on-screen sexual violence against women. Despite the realism of the plot, you don’t have the grimdark punishment of women that lesser writers would feel necessary to convey misogyny. We get a subtler, more incisive treatment, one more interested in the systematic nature of rape culture, its long-term effects, and emotional fallout than the crude catharsis of destroying a single cartoon rapist.

The feminist underpinnings of the show aren’t marks on a checklist, they’re fundamental to the tension and excitement and nuance and good fucking television that is Top of the Lake.