For Fiction ‘Big Little Lies’ Holds Powerful Truths
If you have not watched Big Little Lies, stop right here. It is simply not to be missed (and this post will have spoiler alerts).
Big Little Lies is so cleverly told; it vacillates between what is real and what is perceived. It shows the characters in positive light as well as negative. It leaves you changing your opinion of them more times than can be counted. It gets into a lot of really serious, heavy topics that keeps you transfixed, hypnotized, stunned and reflecting for days and weeks to come. There are a few prevalent themes that I fervently and impatiently want to dive right into.
I believe the writers want us, its captivated audience, to pass judgment regularly and shamelessly only to be essentially corrected to the point that we feel a tad bit guilty. It starts within minutes of the first episode. We are (briefly) led to believe that these first graders’ mothers are catty, rich women with nothing better to do than gossip and start drama. Ok, so sure, this is true to a degree, but the main characters (Celeste, Madeline, Jane, Bonnie and Renata,) are so much more than that. Sure, they live in an affluent town where almost everyone lives in houses with views that we could only dream about. It also does not help the façade given that the entire cast looks like they are out of a J. Crew catalog. Yet, they show us time and time again they have real problems: domestic abuse, ex-husbands and unresolved issues, infidelity, rape, struggling to balance work and parenthood, to name a few. It is a blatant reminder of how much judgment we often pass when firstly, it’s quite frankly none of our business and secondly, we do so without even knowing the full or real story. Not all things are as they seem.
Judgment and Abuse
It is deliberate that the show takes place in Monterey. It is not set there simply because of the views, the money or how much it is thriving. It is to demonstrate that abuse can happen anywhere. It does not discriminate financially or demographically. Big Little Lies proves that women who stay in abusive relationships do so not just because they do not have the money to leave. Women (and men) stay out of some sort of fear and/or manipulation. It might be fear of not being financially supported. It may be the fear of being found and harmed. It may be the fear of taking children away from their fathers (albeit even though they are abusers) and how damaging that can be to the children. It may be fear of public shame. Whatever it is, their reasons are valid. And from the outside it is easy for any of us to say “but just leave!” and question how they could stay, how could they leave their families in danger, how can they leave the general public in danger because they are “letting” these abusive monsters, these loose cannons out in the world?
That is what this show wants us to do: to question, to judge. They want us to look at Celeste and find ourselves bewildered that a woman of her stature, of her beauty, of her intelligence could be in such an insanely unhealthy marriage. The writers and producers want us to judge Jane and wonder, how could she never have reported her assaulter? How could she not prevent him from assaulting other women? Would she really find him after all those years in San Luis Obispo, and would she seek revenge? Would we blame her if she did? If she is so haunted by him (she sleeps with a gun under her pillow), how come she never sought therapy?
Judgment and Bullying
It was so heartbreaking to see sweet little Amabella time and time again sad, bruised and isolated. What a horrible thing for anyone to go through, let alone an innocent 6 year old. Imagine being parents, fully aware their child is being bullied and feeling totally helpless. (Although, it can be argued that her parents could have pulled her out of school to stop her from being bullied. It can be argued that in doing so, it may solve their problem, but it is likely the bully will just find a different innocent victim). I know I had moments of being appalled at how malicious Renata and her husband acted, how inappropriate Gordon was to Jane in threatening her with a restraining order. It is easy for any of us to feel disgusted by how this harrowing abuse brought out the worst in people, but it is not our place really to judge how Amabella’s parents or Jane acted. Regardless if you agree with what they did or what they said, you cannot deny they were doing what they thought best to protect their child. And it is easy for anyone who is not in that situation to feel they know how best to handle it.
Forgiveness and Uniting
The power of forgiveness is something we often lose sight of. Often we are too stubborn to grant it. But my god, being angry will suck the energy right out of us. It brings the worst out in us, and it blinds us to doing really what is right.
Renata and Jane, even after trading nasty insults and almost having an eye poked out, they even managed to put their differences aside. They came together because their love for their children was the most important thing in the world.
So many of us hold grudges, some more extreme than others. Some grudges are petty and some are founded. It is like once that grudge has been formed, all reality becomes distorted. There is no coming back from it. That is, until something tragic happens. In those harrowing, sobering moments of reality, it is like we forget why we were so angry or why we hated someone so much. It is like all traces of why we held onto so much hatred and anger just vanishes because there is something so much more important at stake.
In the story of Big Little Lies, it sadly took someone’s death to unite five women (and their men who supported them). In just a few short moments, there was a sudden undeniable realization by Jane that Perry was the one who had assaulted her more than 6 years ago. Her reaction, the change in her supporting grip on Madeline became so jarring that both Madeline and Celeste (and I would say Perry) all knew it to be true. As Perry lunged for Celeste, all the women around her, including Renata, instinctively knew they had to protect her. They sensed danger and without any hesitation, they all fought for Celeste. Bonnie, who saw Celeste struggling to get away from Perry earlier, also without a doubt knew something was strikingly amiss.
All their drama, all their differences were gone. The scene of Perry’s murder, seeing Bonnie come running desperately to stop him, instantly bound all of those women and their families together. In one short moment, it erased their history and showed just how powerful and magnificent people can be. I watched that scene probably a dozen times because I was truly struck by how amazing people can be and that feeling of renewed faith in humanity overcame how disgusted I was by how evil the world can also be (as seen in Perry).
To me, the best example that so beautifully ties all these themes together was in the scene of Celeste confronting her son, Max, about bullying Amabella. There are people in the world who may never change, they may always be dark and troubled (I have met one or two in my life). But we want to have faith and hope that people as whole, especially children, can be rehabilitated. I do not believe Max bullied Amabella because he is an evil troubled soul. He was a highly misguided child who grew up in a home where he heard, if not saw, his father beat up his mother, slamming her against walls, kicking her and throwing things at her. He then saw his father shower his mother with affection, and he saw his mother accept that affection with seemingly sincerity. He was learning that to show love to a woman (or to a girl) is to be mean, to belittle her, to bully her. To threaten her. And she will still love you. Because that’s what adults do.
Celeste freed Max of this as did all of the other women and their children. They showed love and forgiveness and it overcame any judgment. For as tragic and serious as many of the storylines are, I still walked away from this show feeling hopeful and renewed. Watching all the women and children on the beach, while I am not oblivious to their struggles or pain, felt ironically uplifting. I want to believe that for as fundamentally messed up that this world is, that there are good people in it. That there are people who struggle but can come together. I want to believe that when we encounter unprecedented situations, we will do the right thing.