ONCE UPON A time, in Monterey, California, there lived a beautiful woman, Celeste, who was in love with a prince charming. They had a happy marriage, adorable twin boys, a lovely house overlooking the ocean, expensive cars, overpriced clothes, and secrets that were more fragile than the glass on their windows overlooking the ocean. Madly in love, the woman and the man couldn’t keep their hands off one another, continuing to make love into a semi-darkness where when lust ended in a whisper and violence hissed in, they couldn’t tell.
Their foreplay furious, their sex fervent, all-consuming, their intimacy covered in bruises and black eyes, their love, beyond the brightness of their shared laughter and joy with their children, and when they were apart, longing for one another, was a madness that didn’t seek redemption.
Her marriage continued even when he punched and kicked her, as she consoled herself that it was a two-way thing. That his violence matched hers. One day, she sought help of a therapist. And one day, she left him. He, consumed with the idea of his possession of her, couldn’t let that happen. They fought. He hit her, like he had many, many times before. He slipped down a long flight of stairs. He died. Only it wasn’t that simple. Only it wasn’t the unhappily ever after she thought she finally had.
Once upon a time in Monterey, California, there lived a charming woman, Madeline, whose life existed around her family, her children’s school, and her friends, and who was idly curious about who was doing what and who was saying what and who was doing who, in her big little world. Her bubbly demeanour, a meticulous house, a picture-perfect family, her devotion to those she loved, and her loyalty to her friends, she was all that and more. What she didn’t have was self-confidence, and what she wanted more than anything in life was to be able to trust: herself and those she loved. Her abandonment issues, tightly wrapped in her obsession to look invincible, her ready-to-charge-on-anyone sassiness, and blunt one-liners, unravelled as life forced her to confront her demons, in full view of those who thought she was a superwoman.
Her brief, passionate extramarital affair, reckless like most brief, passionate extramarital affairs, made her take a long hard, uncomfortable look at her happy marriage, and the questions she was always too afraid to ask.
One day, in a shocking turn of events, in an instinctive response to protect a friend, she became accessory to involuntary manslaughter.
Once upon a time in Monterey, California, there lived a lovely woman, Jane, whose son was her singular raison d’être. She was a single parent, and his sole relationship. A recent entrant in the close-knit community of the Otter Bay Elementary School mothers, she—young, guarded, reticent—opening up to her new friends, kept a thick wall between her and all that she didn’t know she would become a reluctant part of, some day.
Her darkest secret was her only happiness. After her violent rape on a date with a handsome stranger, she gave birth to his son. A simmering desire for vengeance, flashbacks of the worst night of her life, blurry and excruciatingly painful, and a need to have a semblance of stability in the life of her beautiful little boy, she, running on the dark beach, day after day, didn’t know what to do. Until one day when she found her rapist. Until she found out he was the husband of her new best friend. Until there was still no answer.
One day, on a night full of music and laughter, in an instinctive response to protect a friend, she became accessory to involuntary manslaughter.
Once upon a time in Monterey, California, there lived a statuesque woman, Renata, who created a material world in which she had everything: a thriving business, a magnificent house, a good looking husband, a lovely little daughter, and a body that matched her brilliant mind and no-nonsense attitude. With undisguised pride, she patted herself every day for all her achievements, as she middle-finger-ed the dull, mediocre world around her, without a haughty wisp of her perfectly styled hair moving out of place.
On finding out that her husband—who didn’t do much, other than looking good, spending time with their daughter and her, and spending hours with his toys—had invested her money, unbeknownst to her, and lost it, leaving her penniless, she was enraged.
One day, when wine and music blended into a starry darkness, she, inadvertently, in an instinctive response to protect a woman who wasn’t even her friend, became accessory to involuntary manslaughter.
Once upon a time in Monterey, California, there lived a gorgeous woman, Bonnie, who had cheekbones so exquisitely sharp they could shape glass, and who lived life on her own rules, blissful in her meditation, yoga routine, exotic clothes, and a family who doted on her. Like the others around her, she lived two lives. On the surface, she was the way her life should be in a heavenly piece of land, where shadows didn’t loom in winding streets, where monsters didn’t laugh in nightmares. Within, she held tightly to memories that haunted her very being.
When she was a little girl, her mother’s rage curled her days and nights into terrified question marks, as she learnt to hide her pain into silence that she guarded like her most precious belonging.
One day, when everything seemed to be falling into place, in an instinctive response to protect a friend, she, accidently, killed a man.
Once upon a time in Monterey, California, there arrived a graceful woman, Mary-Louise, whose son had died in a mysterious fall one night. Her mousy, brown bob dully brushed, her dowdy cardigans enclosing her tall body, her beige spectacles hiding her unshed tears, there was nothing that she didn’t notice, there was nothing that she sugarcoated in a social grace. A single mother, whose firstborn had died as a very young child, abandoned by her husband, in her old age, she had to face her worst nightmare: death of her only living child.
And she also had to face the truth that her beautiful, loving, sweet, always-smiling little boy was not just a violent husband, but was also a rapist. As she searched for the answer to the death of her son, she knew she also had to confront the demons in her life. It was a reckoning that she wished to avoid at any cost, as she tried to find reasons for her son’s fatal flaws in the actions of those whom he had harmed.
This is the world of HBO’s much-celebrated mini-series Big Little Lies, seasons 1 and 2, and its bunch of women who live in a world made of un-bending rules that they leave no opportunity to bend. Catapulted into global fame, based on Liane Moriarty’s eponymous novel, created for television by David E. Kelley, written for television by Liane Moriarty and Mathew Tinker, and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and Andrea Arnold, Big Little Lies is a story of a few women living in Monterey, California. Big Little Lies is also a story of women all over the world.
When it was aired in 2017, and in 2019, Big Little Lies became huge because of its stellar cast of extraordinary women: Academy Award-winner Nicole Kidman, Academy Award-winner Reese Witherspoon, Golden Globe-winner Laura Dern, Zöe Kravitz, Shailene Woodley, and the legendary multiple-award-winner, Meryl Streep.
Big Little Lies has actors that are so suitably cast it is as if they were meant to be nothing but husbands of women who are delightful, exasperating, loving, secretive, headstrong, and utterly amazing mothers. Alexander Skarsgård, Jeffrey Nordling, Adam Scott, and James Tupper bring to Big Little Lies male perspectives that range from toxic patriarchal entitlement, acceptance of a marriage that is good and stable without being core-shaking fabulous, female superiority in the male-dominated domain of business, to comfortable acknowledgment of gender equality, power of forgiveness, and complacency of semi-awareness of their partners. In Big Little Lies, all stories have themes of various roles men play, but it is all in the context of female perspective, and their effect on the lives of women in their life.
Big Little Lies is about domestic abuse that is perpetuated for long, is hidden from everyone, and leaves deep scars that are more than skin deep
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THE SECOND SEASON of Big Little Lies, last episode on July 21st, 2019, has garnered reviews that are less flattering than what the first season elicited, but there are a number of things that make this season utterly fascinating to me.
In the backdrop of the series of events that unfolded in the first season, culminating in the death of Celeste’s abusive husband, Perry Wright, supremely played by Skarsgård, season two brings forth some uncomfortable questions that startle its characters every time they pause and look at themselves during a hectic day in their sunny, meticulous life. Just when they think, everything is in order things start to unravel with an urgency that leaves them breathless. And deeply fearful.
Big Little Lies is about domestic abuse that is perpetuated for long, is hidden from everyone, and leaves deep scars that are more than skin deep. Celeste’s memories of her husband’s violence followed by intense lovemaking makes her wonder if in her Stockholm syndrome drama of a life she had become addicted to the frightening cycle of violence and exquisite ecstasy. That and the love Perry had for their twins, a constant memory in her present life, as she struggles to find happiness and laughter for her children, takes her into a rabbit-hole of actions that have dire consequences.
Is a woman who was a constant victim of violent abuse supposed to love her husband, even a dead one? Do societal norms of acceptable behaviour allow her to do so? Is she doing the right thing when she mourns her gorgeous late husband who made her feel things she never thought she was even capable of? Is her present casual sleeping with men, whose names she could barely remember in her Ambien and wine-induced half-awake mornings, her inadvertent, reckless desperation for the desire she only felt with and for her husband?
Big Little Lies turns your attention to a rape survivor who is raising, singlehandedly, the son of her rapist, the child who is her everything. The show goes into the much-debated issue of a date turning into an unwanted intimacy that continues, violently, despite the vehement refusal of the woman and her many NOs. Jane, who comes to Monterey for revenge, with nothing but a blurred image of her rapist in her mind, is forced to face many other truths when her search ends with the knowledge that her rapist is the husband of her new best friend, Celeste.
Jane’s fear of intimacy with any man shackles her to a life of acute loneliness that has turned her into a romantic recluse at a young age. What were just a few minutes of nothing for her rapist changes her life in ways where she ceases to be what she was.
There is also a constant question, a sliver of the nature-versus-nurture debate, in Jane’s mind: will her beautiful, gentle little boy grow up to be like his father?
Then there is the unmentionable pain of Mary-Louise, who has lost her only son, Perry. Grief-stricken, full of anger and questions, she looks for clues into her son’s sudden death. And as she tries to piece together what happened that one fateful night when her son fell to his death, she, albeit reluctantly, is compelled to face the veracity of her son’s reality. From a mourning mother, without a notification from the universe, now she is the parent of an abusive husband and a rapist.
Mary-Louise’s anguished dilemma is palpable in her stoic cynicism, her abrasiveness with everyone around her. The blame has to be shifted. Her beautiful, gentle son couldn’t be the monster who destroyed women’s lives. Finding faults in the women in his life, blaming the universe, is the only way, the grieving mother of that man hopes to find any semblance of solace. Her pursuit of justice for her son, silently, becomes a battle to cleanse him of his crimes.
In the world of Me Too, there are many Mary-Louises, of all ages and backgrounds, who seek answers for how they failed to see their loved ones for what they truly were.
Also in Big Little Lies is the agonising quandary of not taking responsibility for one’s actions. Inadvertent, done to protect a friend, the truth is that a man died. And Bonnie, the one who pushed him away from his wife who he was kicking, faces the ghost every day.
Over the next few months, his death becomes a ghost that haunts Bonnie’s laughter, as it lurks in every bright corner of her world. Her hours-long running on silent roads and hiking trails take her closer to her ghost, until one day she decides to just stop and face it. Teaming up with that ghost is the one from her past when her very angry mother used to be physically violent with her, and her father kept quiet. Now Bonnie, broken, scared, wishes to face them both.
Children don’t forget what happens in their childhood. And children, often, are shaped by what is done to them by those they love the most, those who are meant to protect them. Silence is a lesson they learn early. When that silence erupts into an unexpected torrent of dark emotion, it takes them by the throat.
Big Little Lies, an unwieldy chronicle of issues of infidelity, women staying with their men despite all odds, parental expectations versus real potential of children, societal pressures to present a perfect façade in disorder, to not succumb to fear and insecurity, is also a celebration of some of the best things of life: children, their pure laughter, deep friendships, unfaltering loyalty, familial bonds that don’t break, and self-belief that stumbles and twists into an exquisite dance of strength of character that has the power to look at the world for what it is, and send it a flying kiss.
Flawed like its characters, Big Little Lies, seasons 1 and 2, is my July, short-lived antidote for much that is wrong with the world around me. Life happens, and we learn to deal with it. In one way or the other. Delightful and real like its characters, Big Little Lies is also my smile for all the big little things that make my life a constant source of happiness and gratitude: my son, my family, my dogs, my writing, and my few friends.
Now ain’t that enough of a reason to like a TV show?