Wednesday November 14, 2012
Hard-hitting issues in The Slap
By KENNETH CHAW
Hard-hitting issues are slapped into consciousness in The Slap.
WHAT’S the big deal?” I found myself asking that question at the end of the pilot of Australian television series, The Slap.
It is a warm, sunny afternoon at a suburban neighbour in Melbourne. Hector (Jonathan LaPaglia) is turning 40 and has invited some of his closest friends and family members over to celebrate his birthday.
Everything seems to be going well until the sound of a sharp crack pierces through the merry atmosphere, bringing every movement and every conversation to a sudden halt. A loud, anguished wail quickly follows.
A boy has been slapped.
Hector’s cousin, Harry (Alex Dimitriades), slapped a misbehaving three-year-old Hugo (Julian Mineo) on his cheek, in an attempt to discipline the out-of-control child.
Hugo’s parents, Gary (Anthony Hayes) and Rosie (Melissa George), immediately ran to his side, taking the boy in their arms. After ensuring that he was alright, the couple turned to Harry, seething with anger. They began shouting indecencies. Gary tried to throw some punches, but Hector intercepted in time. Meanwhile, Harry stood firm with arms folded, convinced that he has done nothing wrong.
Gary and Rosie announced they were going to press charges.
Perhaps it is because I grew up in a strict Asian household or perhaps it is the assortment of “punishment tools” – rotan canes, metal rulers, the bottom end of feather dusters – that were readily available at home, or perhaps it is the fact that I have been whipped and walloped into a pulp (okay, I exaggerate) and saw that I had turned out pretty decent in spite, or should I say, because of it, that I found The Slap’s premise a frustrating one to grasp.
But it’s a good thing I didn’t flip the channel and give up on the series just yet. From the second episode onwards, viewers will realise that this hour-long series touches on more than just the difference of opinions the two parties have on child discipline.
The events that follow after the slap – such as Harry’s attempt to make things right with the couple, culminating in his trial – is told through the eyes of each person who attended the party.
This makes the show an interesting watch as viewers get to understand the motives that govern each character’s actions. Far too often, in a desperate effort to create exciting storylines, television shows are jam-packed with jaw-dropping plot twists at the expense of unexplored, under-developed characters. In this series, viewers plumb the depths of each character to the point that it’s hard not to feel for them.
The pilot titled Hector, for instance, is told through the viewpoint of Hector who feels conflicted when his wife, Aisha (Sophie Okonedo), pressures him into believing that Harry’s actions are wrong although he sympathises with his cousin. Meanwhile, the show also reveals Hector is going through a midlife crisis and is falling for his teenage babysitter.
In the second episode, Anouk, viewers step into the shoes of Hector’s friend Anouk (Essie Davis), who finds herself embroiled in the controversy when Harry seeks her help to testify in his defence. The show digs deeper still into Anouk’s life and finds that the forty-something woman has been contemplating on aborting the child she is having with her boyfriend who is half her age.
As such, not only do viewers get a well-rounded view of the effects the slap has on the lives of the characters, they will discover that the supposedly “act of violence” is a catalyst used to raise a variety of issues that plague today’s society – infidelity, abortion, racial prejudices, class division and addiction – just to name a few.
And mind you, these issues aren’t just lightly grazed on the surface but are told in painful detail. It seems Harry’s action not only scathed the boy’s cheek but had slapped these universal struggles into consciousness as well.
By now, the show’s storyline should have rung a bell in the minds of most avid book readers. Yes, the series is based on Australian author Christos Tsiolkas’ 2008 award-winning novel of the same name. Having read the book, I am happy to report that the show has pretty much stayed true to its raw, unpolished feel.
The show isn’t edited to look like a scene off a dimly-lit, smoky soap opera set (let’s admit it, given the various human interest elements, it could have easily gone that way). Instead, the shots look so untouched, viewers will find that the camera lingers longer than necessary in some scenes (way after the dialogue is over).
Also, the scenes are usually cold, grey and bland-looking, perhaps to mirror the dark emotions felt by the characters. Even sound effects and background music are kept to a minimum, letting the “music” of everyday life that’s so often taken for granted become its soundtrack.
Credit must also be given to the actors, as their portrayal of the characters truly brings the story to life. The series pulls out all the stops by enlisting an A-list actress like Okonedo, a Best Supporting Actress nominee in the 2005 Academy Awards for her performance in Hotel Rwanda.
She effectively portrays an exhausted career woman who struggles to strike a balance between her family life and her veterinary business.
Nevertheless, it is actress George who steals the spotlight with her ability to switch from vulnerable, insecure mother at one moment to strong, unyielding defender of justice at another. Her stellar performance in the series was even recognised by Australia’s most prestigious television awards, winning the recent Logie Award for Most Outstanding Actress.
With that said, The Slap is not your typical, cookie-cutter family drama aired for folks looking to kill some time. It is hard-hitting, it is thought-provoking, it is controversial. It will raise a few eyebrows, throw out our mouldy conventions and fuel many heated arguments – all in one tight slap.
The Slap airs every Thursday at 9pm on Sundance Channel HD (Astro B.yond Ch 438).