TOP OF THE LAKE – violence, abuse and hatred – why we love it.


I really loved Top of the Lake.  Yes, it had flaws, inconsistencies, threads which never got tied up, but it was intense, shocking and haunting. I could not get the brutal ending out of my mind.  But I felt throughout in safe hands with Jane Campion and her co-writer, Gerard Lee .  As Linda Grant commented on Twitter, it was a joy to watch a detective series with no pornographically blood-spattered or mutilated corpses of women in it.  Campion has wondered, in an interview, why she, as a ‘sort of Buddhist’, ends up making films about violence and hatred.  Well, the truth is that these are the big bugbears of life on earth, and, if we can’t sort them out soon, we have a short future.

But can we sort them out?  Trouble is, they are so attractive!  I love to get angry, especially righteously angry.  It makes me feel powerful and alive.  Here’s a story: there was a man who decided to hate me.  He had done wrong to a friend of mine when she was vulnerable and, in defending her, I got involved and he included me in his hatred.  I am not used to being hated – I am sure people often find me annoying or irritating but I don’t arouse much actual hate, so  to feel his piercing eyes on me one day when I was sitting innocently watching a film, was an unpleasant and uncanny experience.

I started to fantasize about what I would do if I met him in the street.  I imagined the contemptuous words I would speak, how I would be unafraid to slap his face or give him a push.  The one day, as I approached the door of my favourite coffee shop,there he was waiting in the queue. I paused: could I trust myself not to go in there and smack him?    I could easily end up in the local co-shop, with a charge of GBH.  I turned round and went home.

It was only when I discussed this with a few friends that I realised how serious it was and saw that I needed to sort myself out.  Sure, this guy was a pathetic idiot, but I was using him to arouse and indulge all my own latent anger (I have Glaswegian roots and have hit people in the past, sorry Gita).  I sat and thought it out: how would I react if I met him, how could I respond without getting snagged up in the anger-hatred cycle?  It took me ages to think of a strategy: I realised all I could say was ‘let’s put it behind us’, and, if he would not, I would have to walk away.  How dull, how unsatisfying, how undramatic.  How right.

I noticed, reading some reviews of Top of the Lake, that there were some pretty vicious comments about it from readers: people spitting venom about a series which they had hardly watched.  Why?  Surely the normal thing, if you don’t like a programme, is to switch it off?  But no, these folk had to get their punch in and maybe the fact that Jane Campion is a woman, a feminist and a truth-teller was what really got their goats.  I hope so – oops, there I go, indulging again.