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The Eloquence and Relevance of Big Little Lies

Benjamin Frohman ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

#metoo sparked a change. The 2017 online movement allowed victims to speak out about the sexual abuse and harassment they faced. It’s fitting that in 2017, a show premiered that embodied and visualized this hashtag. That show is called Big Little Lies.

Based on a novel of the same name, HBO’s Big Little Lies revolves around the  moms of elementary schoolers in the picturesque town of Monterey, California. The show details scandalous events leading up to a murder at the school’s fundraising event. It has garnered eight Emmys, four Golden Globes, four Critics Choice Awards, two Screen Actor Guild Awards, one TCA award, as well as other awards.

Upon winning an Emmy for the show, Nicole Kidman said, “Thank you to the people that embraced [Big Little Lies]. The power of television, it has astounded us that we entered into your living rooms and people talked about it. And as much as the show had the entertainment value, it was also about issues” The issues discussed on the show she refers to include sexism, misinformation, and abuse.

Executive produced by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole KidmanBig Little Lies has five female leads that are complex, emotionally raw, and integral to the show’s discussion on sexism. Women are often restricted to the role of the housewife in television. Big Little Lies changes the narrative of the housewife, and brings her to the forefront.

The women in the show take cookie cutter stereotypes and mold them to their own liking; they are invigoratingly flawed. Reese Witherspoon’s character, Madeline Mackenzie is a mom of two girls. She has a bitingly funny sass and speaks with depth and realness. Mackenzie has gusto, and contrasts nicely with her husband, Ed (Adam Scott), who is constantly playing it safe. Her main drama comes from her constant clashes with Renata Klein (Laura Dern) who is the center of schoolyard politics and her ex-husband’s new wife, Bonnie Carlson (Zoë Kravitz).

The Monterey mothers and their children. Photo courtesy of HBO.

The show starts with a new young mom in town, Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley). She’s moved to Monterey to escape a dark past, one that include rape. The last key character is Celeste Wright (Nicole Kidman), who is guarding a secret abuse that is drastically affecting her own life. Celeste, Jane, and Madeline’s immediate bond moves the story forward and impacts how they make every move.

Misinformation is integral to the show, as it’s aptly titled Big Little Lies. After a false accusation on the first day of school, lies and misconceptions spread. This is demonstrative of a larger picture, as many get caught up in hearsay and don’t look at the facts. Honesty is integral in any relationship, but at times the truth is forfeited by big little lies. These big little lies spread and change as they are passed along, and by the end of the show, one wonders the magnitude of the lies and if they are actually big, little, or a combination of the two.

Jane and her son, Ziggy. Photo courtesy of HBO.

There is a horrifyingly real, extremely important, and emotionally jarring concept that Big Little Lies takes on firsthand, and that is abuse. Abuse is vividly shown throughout the first season. Renata’s daughter Amabella (Ivy George), accuses Jane’s son Ziggy (Iain Armitage) of choking her. The idea that abuse has followed Ziggy, a product of sexual abuse, scares Jane, and makes her question everything that she’s tried to distance him from. Renata immediately blames Ziggy, like any mother would do, and the situation only gets worse as the abuse continues.

Amabella turns out to be withholding that Max (Nicholas Crovetti), Celeste’s son, is the actual abuser. Ziggy doesn’t tell anyone as he does not want Amabella to get more hurt by Max. Although unnoticed by many, Ziggy believes he is helping Amabella by doing this. The men in the show do not partake in the conversation of abuse, which is sadly very typical of men in the real world. This was demonstrated at The Golden Globes the year, when women wore black and spoke out about sexual harassment in the workplace, using their platform to support victims. However, the male winners did not mention the movement in their acceptance speeches. This was a missed opportunity to stand in solidarity with their coworkers and victims of this everyday occurrence around the world.

Amabella demonstrates a common tendency of victims to allow fear to overwhelm their decision making. Amabella is a child, but many of her actions are comparable to Celeste’s own actions toward her abuser. The grey area in the show is pronounced, as there is sympathy for every character, except Perry the sole adult abuser. Often times the abuser has the power, but by end of this female driven show, it is the women who take the power.

Nicole Kidman’s role as Celeste Wright has garnered critical acclaim, as she has won 4 awards herself for starring and producing. During her SAG award acceptance speech, she called out ageism as well as she commended the women in her category which included Laura Dern and Reese Witherspoon, “I want to thank you all for your trailblazing performances you’ve given over your career and how wonderful it is that our careers can go beyond 40 years old because 20 years ago, we were pretty washed up by this stage in our lives,” she said. “We’ve proven — and these actresses and so many more have proven — we are potent and powerful and viable.”

Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård as Celeste and Perry Wright. Photo courtesy of HBO.

Celeste’s character has registered with viewers as she is stuck in a abusive relationship with her husband, Perry Wright (Alexander Skarsgård). Celeste represents an abused woman, showcasing the constant fear, bombardment, and range of emotions that are spurred by abuse. The domestic violence she faces pushes her to a life or death scenario that jeopardizes her whole life, It shows why it is so hard for victims to speak out, as they may feel they do not have the means, voice, or options to escape.

Her husband’s abuse has even seeped into the minds of their two young boys as well, which brings up the role of parents, and how they impact their own children’s tendencies. The normalization of abuse in their home pushes Matt to abuse Amabella. The lesson of abuse, as Big Little Lies teaches it, is that it’s a learned behavior, not always, but is quite commonly impacted by one’s environment. Abuse does not discriminate: it affects all ages, all genders, as well as all social classes. This isn’t a political issue, it’s a societal issue and Big Little Lies presents typical everyday life, no matter how messy and complicated it is.

The complexities that surround abuse are woven tightly around this story. Jane and Celeste find comfort in the other women, and also strength with them, as they deal with the aftermath of their abuse. There is a tendency to pit women against one another when abuse is concerned. This show delves into that and explores how the women involved guide themselves through that treacherous trope. By the end however, the women are united in a sisterhood that develops between each of them, they may have their petty fights, but they are ultimately united.

The actresses in the show are also advocates of the Time’s Up initiative, which is bringing attention to sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace across all industries. The legal fund has garnered over 18 million dollars, and is moving to change the discussion of sexual assault, while also supporting and helping victims.

To learn more about the Time’s Up movement, visit: https://www.timesupnow.com

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