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Jane Campion on the Ending of ‘Top of the Lake: China Girl’

The creator, co-director, and co-writer of the SundanceTV project answers Variety’s questions about plotting, character, and geography

SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not watched “The Battle of the Mothers,” the Sept. 12 finale of “Top of the Lake: China Girl.”

Much like the ending of the first series, “Top of the Lake: China Girl” leaves a lot of slippery, unanswered questions for the viewer. In tonight’s final two installments, Mary (Alice Englert) is put into mortal danger as she realizes the full complicity of her boyfriend Puss (David Dencik), and that eventually leads her back home to her adoptive mother Julia (Nicole Kidman). Miranda (Gwendoline Christie) is in grave condition after her own carelessness gets her shot.

Here, Campion discusses the themes that thread throughout the series.  (For more on the finale, check out a discussion with stars Elisabeth Moss and Gwendoline Christie.)

What drew you to tell a story about surrogacy?

I saw [“Top of the Lake: China Girl”] as an opportunity to think about what motherhood is. These strange and powerful urges that not only women have — but especially women have. At a certain time, it’s part of their life’s work to address it at some point — whether you’re going to have a baby or not.

It’s very difficult, actually, what they call family creation in Australia. People have fertility problems that can’t be solved with IVF. There’s very few babies up for adoption, and by the time you’ve discovered you maybe have fertility issues, you may well be over the age where it’s easy to be considered an adoptive parent. There are definitely examples of the desperation that makes people go to get surrogacy, or have babies through surrogacy overseas in Thailand — which is now illegal — or in India, which is now also really difficult. It can be really abused as well.

Puss is a difficult, slimy character. Why was telling a story about him important to you?

[Sighs.] I think he interests me because he’s a kind of theorist. A politicized socialist. Someone who not only wants to politicize and help these girls, but also get up the noses, deliberately, of the middle class.

He’s also kind of pathetic and vulnerable and easily hurt — I mean, I love a character like this. It’s a character that a lot of young girls get attracted to. Because they seem to be talking the talk, and saying really interesting things about life and literature, and all things that we say and we think — but are they really on about all this stuff, or is this just a way of attracting attention to themselves? There’s always this uneasy tension about them. I love that Nicole [Kidman]’s character faces off with him about feminism – because she’s sort of an entitled suburban queen, and she’s willing to stand up, kind of hilariously

It’s hard to tell if he’s ever told the truth, or if he is telling the truth or not. But Mary is clearly in love with him. There’s a time where young girls really crave people like this — con artists. Complicated con artists. And they can become completely devoted — because love is really powerful —to really terrible people. It takes them quite a while to wake up, and you just don’t know when they’re going to do that. And it’s quite scary for parents. So he’s the kind of complicated villain. One that you see coming. And what he’s saying about Cinnamon (Thien Huong Thi Ngyuen), if it’s true or not, is even hard to know. I probably tend to believe him — I believe she probably did kill herself, she got depressed. And there was a crazy idea to get rid of the body, you know. Because they don’t want a body at their shop or their brothel.

And it might have drawn attention to the illegal surrogacy, too. But that leads me to another question: What was your thinking behind having so many of the storylines intersect, sometimes improbably? What got me was the late-season reveal that Miranda (Gwendoline Christie) also had a surrogate at the brothel.

I guess I wanted to get them all rubbing against each other, one way or another. You could call them too many coincidences, but I guess that is one of them that — yes, she turns out to have something to do with it all. That’s a pretty big one. That’s the way the story is told. Do you think it’s irritating?

I don’t think “irritating” is the right word, but I noticed it.

I guess there’s no coincidence that [Robin] meets Puss, because she’s searching for Mary and that’s her boyfriend. And that he is also implicated in the disappearance of Cinnamon is, I guess, a coincidence, where it comes close and difficult.

It helps that the school that [Mary] would be going to is close to where those brothels might be. She would have met [Puss] after school somewhere, and played chess at the café. And that’s also quite close to that beach [Bondi Beach], within 20 minutes or something. I’m probably trying to talk my way out now! [Laughs.]

The things I thought about, mostly — Robin our protagonist, and [Puss] our antagonist, are interestingly kind of matched. I wanted him to be able to see into her, and her to be able to see into him — and to know something about each other. He saw that she was really, in a way, a surrogate. And that he exposed that to her is really scary and creepy for her. And that she says to him, “she doesn’t love you” — he’s actually so vulnerable. He’s such a baby. It’s painful for him. They just knew how to poke each other in a vulnerable place. So that equal strength interested me.

He also was a “bastard,” or his mother was raped. So they’ve all got this kind of lack of ease in what I would call “straight society.” He was a result of a rape, Mary was the result of a rape, and Robin was raped. And so that makes them all pariahs in a way.

It’s like the Big Bang Theory. The final circle of evil to good — she has the baby and the baby is like a blessing. Mary doesn’t carry any blame — there’s no reason she should carry any blame. But there’s also the fact that Robin doesn’t write back, so there’s this confusion and sensitivity that makes Mary realize that there’s something wrong. This wasn’t Romeo and Juliet; they weren’t childhood sweethearts. Something was wrong. I like to think that people have that sensitivity — that they guess into those spaces.

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