In Australia: Thursdays, 8.30pm, ABC. Full series available on iView
What is truth? What is true for one person may be a lie to another; what one person thinks happened one way may have happened completely differently in another person’s eyes.
What’s also true is that this isn’t a new idea, with Husserl and other phenomenologists questioning the idea of a universal truth as early as the start of the 20th century. Movies, too, have been great exponents of the concept of subjective truth, most notably with Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon.
Seven Types of Ambiguity is a really interesting exploration of similar territory to Rashomon, but set in modern day Australia. Based on the Elliot Perlman novel of the same name, it sees a young boy abducted from school, only for him to be found relatively quickly by the police. Oddly, he’s unharmed and turns out to have been taken by the ex-boyfriend (Xavier Samuel) of the boy’s mother (Janet King‘s Leeanna Walsman); in turn, his potential accomplice turns out to have a connection to the boy’s father (The Slap/Secret City‘s Alex Dimitriades). Why did Samuel abduct the child? Was Walsman secretly having an affair with Samuel? Was Samuel stalking her for revenge? Or was there some other motivation altogether?
Over the course of the season of six episodes, the series follows the action from the points of view of various characters, each episode focusing on a different one. It starts with Dimitriades, then follows Samuel’s psychiatrist (The Matrix/Lord of the Rings/V for Vendetta‘s Hugo Weaving), Samuel’s neighbour (Crownies/Janet King‘s Andrea Demetriades), Dimitriades’s best friend (The Slap/Secrets and Lies‘s Anthony Hayes), Samuel’s lawyer (East West 101‘s Susie Porter) and ultimately Walsman, where all is finally revealed. But each episode is still really about one or more specific relationships and their ambiguities.
Tonally, each of these is different, with the first episode setting up the action and introducing us to the characters, the second giving us a portrait of a failed marriage, the third a look at Turkish-Australian cultural issues, the fourth almost an Ocean’s 11-style comedy, the fifth a study in the pressures of being a working single mother, and the last a portrait in loneliness. While events in one episode lead into and sometimes overlap with events in others, Seven Types of Ambiguity makes it clear that what we see is only what each character sees: Walsman is cold and shut down from her husband’s point of view in the first episode, substantially different in the final episode, while Dimitriades’ perception of himself as easy going is undermined in the second episode as his simple exchange in the first episode with Weaving changes in the second episode to show he’s far less generous, easy going and interested in other people than he thinks.
The shifting nature of truth mean that although there are hints (and red herrings) in each episode as to what happened, as well as to whether Walsman was indeed having an affair with Samuel, it’s not until the end that you’re ever ultimately in a place to find out a version of the truth that fits the facts. And actually, while it’s unexpected and initially implausible, that truth does eventually get earned; it also largely only feels implausible because it’s nice. Indeed, while the conclusion is open-ended, oddly it’s hopeful for all the characters, whose lives have all been changed largely for the better by the incident.
Despite Weaving being the biggest name in the cast, this is very much an ensemble piece, with Weaving only cameoing in episode one, merely guesting in the episodes other than his own. Each lead gets to shine at some point, too, although Weaving is the one who’s really allowed to go to town, delivering some standout moments in his piece.
On the down side, there are a couple of European characters among the supporting characters (a German wife and an East European babysitter) who are pretty much close to hate speech in their depiction. The middle episodes also feel a little superfluous to requirements, their presence dictated purely by the format. However, they’re still enjoyable in their own rights and do at least have something to say, as well as ramifications.