“Topside” takes us to a similar territory as the 2018 film, “Capernaum,” directed by Nadine Labaki, did. It’s the eyes of the young actors in both films that stir something inside you. “Topside” has been written and directed by Celine Held and Logan George. Celine also plays the role of Nikki in the film, and her equation with her on-screen daughter, Zhaila Farmer, who plays Little, is one to look out for. Apart from this, the two most striking aspects of the film are the music, composed by David Baloche, and the cinematography, by Lowell A. Meyer. So let’s understand what the director and writer duo wanted to say and whether it was able to create the desired impact or not.
‘Topside’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
There are not a lot of events or occurrences that you will get to witness in “Topside,” but still, for Nikki, life takes a curve, and she is coerced to tread on a path of helplessness and compulsion. The world changed, her sensibilities changed, her stubbornness was put to an end, and most significantly, she stopped hiding from the inevitable truth and faced it head-on. Nikki stayed in the labyrinth of abandoned tunnels beneath the railway tracks with her daughter, Little. Her partner, and Little’s father, John, always tell Nikki that the child does not have a future in the tunnels. He tells her that she needs to go to school and live a humane life, which is not possible in the dingy underground alleys. But Nikki had always been stubborn. Also, how could a mother ever think about abandoning her child, even if it is in the child’s favor?
Little, on the other hand, doesn’t even know how life is on the outside. The only sources of light in her life were the dimly lit yellow tunnel bulbs. Nikki never used to take her daughter outside because she was scared that child protection services would take her daughter from her. She was still catering to a belief that she could raise her daughter in the tunnels, hide her from the brutal world, and together lead a happy life. But deep down, even she knew that this castle of imagination was going to be shattered one day. Little sees and observes everything. She sees her mother being disrespected and ill-treated. She sees the shiny reflection of light coming from the railway tracks and presumes them to be stars. Little had heard stories about the clear blue sky and the twinkling stars. But she had never witnessed them in reality. Little is always inquisitive about what lies outside the tunnels, but she is happy even in the midst of deprivation as she finds utmost pleasure in the warm and comforting hugs of her mother. Also, for human beings to realize that the situation they are facing is adverse in nature, it is important that they are aware of the privileges that exist too. For Little, it didn’t matter whether she was getting good food to eat or good clothes to wear, because all she had seen in her whole life were men and women living life like parasites. Circumstances had made these people into wild beasts, but for Little, it was her world. The inevitable happened.
The authorities finally arrived at the abandoned tunnel, as it had to be renovated and reconstructed. Little, till now, had only heard the voices of these people, but for the first time, she saw them, who were no less than aliens to her. John creates a diversion and asks Nikki to escape from the back door. The tunnel workers didn’t want to harm anybody, but Nikki was so paranoid that they would call the authorities, who would take her daughter away, that she scampered and eventually escaped the tunnel with Little. A brutal world awaited a little soul. Little was as clueless about what to expect and so was Nikki about which door to knock at for help.
‘Topside’ Ending Explained: Is Nikki Able To Find Little?
The screeching horns, the blinding lights, the suspicious eyes, the high-rise buildings, the clanking metro gates, the sirens, the blinking indicators, and most of all, the open sky, made the kid fascinated yet scared at the same time. Nikki doesn’t know where to spend the night. Little was not able to process so much. She was witnessing the fast-paced and unforgiving world for the very first time. At times, the young girl gets petrified, as her mind was only used to confinement till now, and all of a sudden, she felt lost seeing so many things. Nikki goes to an acquaintance’s house, who was also her pimp. Les, her pimp, was in no mood to let her in. He was mean to her as she had all of a sudden vanished and didn’t give him the desired cut for the clientele he was providing her. She had agreed to pay him a higher cut, and that’s why he changed his mind and allowed the mother-daughter duo inside his house. Nikki left Little in the living room and went inside the bedroom with a client. Little feels scared as she is surrounded by these scary-looking junkies. She feels threatened, but Les comforts her and gives her food. Les gives Nikki an offer to stay at his place, as he had had a change of heart and wanted to provide for them. But Nikki didn’t trust him. She smelled foul play, and she knew that her daughter wasn’t safe in his company. She tries to leave, but Les forces her to stay and take a shot of drugs. Nikki agrees and takes the syringe into her own hands, pretending to inject herself. But she stabs Les with it and escapes with Little. Whoever she asks for help, starts informing the authorities, which makes her hysterical. Little gets so scared by traveling on the train, seeing the people, and hearing the sound of the mechanisms of capitalism, that she wets herself.
In a heart-wrenching scene, Nikki takes Little inside the washroom and cleans her. To calm her daughter down, Nikki hymns, a song that brings out the melancholy of the entire narrative. Little sees a bird at the train station. Her mother had always told her that one day she would also grow wings. For the first, since they had escaped the tunnel, Little felt a sense of joy, seeing the tiny bird flapping its wings. But the happiness was short-lived. Nikki enters the train and, because of the lack of food, extreme cold, and substance abuse, she vomits as soon as she steps on board. The door of the train closes, and Little isn’t able to enter inside. Nikki shouts and howls and starts running frantically inside the compartments, asking the people to stop the train. She steps down on the next station and takes the train back, but to her horror, Little was nowhere to be found. She runs up and down, asks the station employees, and even goes back to the tunnel, but to no avail. She meets John back in the tunnel, who makes her privy to a disheartening reality. He tells her that till now, somebody would have found Little, and that she would actually have a shot at leading a better life. But a mother’s heart was not ready for this sacrifice. She goes back again to the train station and sees that a small child was sleeping beneath one of the seats on the train. She takes a closer look and realizes that it is her daughter. She wants to go and hug her tightly, but at that moment, she probably makes the biggest sacrifice of her life. She gets out of the train, tells a man that there was a kid sleeping underneath a seat, and waits till the authorities come and take her daughter, in front of her eyes. Nikki could not hold her tears back, but as John said, she would at least have a chance of escaping the labyrinth of misery and deprivation.
“Topside” is a story of destitution, of hardships, and also of the privileges that we often take for granted. It shows us the desperation of a mother, who is not ready to accept the fact that her daughter would be better off without her. The best bits of the film are when the perspective of the young actor, Zhaila Farmer, playing Little, is shown to us. The camera moves as she tries to look at the world with her intriguing eyes. The shaky camera movements give us a raw feeling, and the harsh realities of an unforgiving world make you feel uncomfortable. In the end, you are not able to decide who to blame. You are not able to ascertain whether Nikki did the right thing or not. The system is the savior, and yet it is the reason some people have to live through life in such deplorable circumstances.
Celine Held gets some leverage and delivers a striking performance. It is always a great delight to watch an actor perform a piece that they have written themselves. She understands the character of Nikki, but “Topside” suffers from the vice of overindulgence. The film gives a lot of room for the actors to express, and enunciate through their performances, what they are feeling, but it fails to bring out the essence of the issue at hand. There are scenes that are harrowing, but cohesively, the film somehow fails to seep inside your core, as much as a film based on such issues should have. You feel guilty and, at times, anguished by the discrimination of our society, but all that is momentary, as “Topside” never really excavates the deep dark issues and loses sight of the bigger picture eventually. Nevertheless, “Topside” is an effort in the right direction and is definitely worthy of a watch.
“Topside” is a 2022 Drama film directed by Logan George and Celine Held.