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Animal Instincts


Discussed in this essay:

Top of the Lake. Sundance Channel.

Jane Campion’s police procedural Top of the Lake — a miniseries that aired this spring on Sundance Channel and is now available on Netflix — has the look of transcendence and the theme of sexual postapocalypse. The catastrophe that is men and the different catastrophe that is women are foregrounded against the romantic sublime — breathtaking and perhaps occasionally computer-enhanced locations in New Zealand, shot unmockingly by the Australian cinematographer Adam Arkapaw (who also shot the crime drama Animal Kingdom). The landscape gives Campion’s tragic ironies and bone-dry comedy a little something spiritual upstage, like a humming chorus. Part Deliverance, part Road Warrior, part Winter’s Bone, part Hobbit — as well as part Old Testament and part New — Top of the Lake creates, in spite of its self-aware collaging, something quite original in this harsh, lush South Pacific. For Americans unfamiliar with this fantastical backdrop, it may in its initial minutes seem to be Japan or British Columbia, with high mountains plummeting dizzyingly to water. One is reminded of Ava Gardner’s (probably apocryphal) comment on arriving in Melbourne to film On the Beach. “I’m here to make a film about the end of the world,” she is said to have told the press, “and this seems to be exactly the right place for it.”

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currently holds the Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Chair in English at Vanderbilt University. Her fourth collection of short stories will be published next March.

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