Big Little Lies It's in the little things

Artwork by Tan Zhuo Hui

Spoiler alert – there’s been a murder in Monterey, at an elementary school’s Fundraiser Night, and the murdered and the murderer is only revealed in the finalé.

Big Little Lies kept me on my toes, ugly-crying and laughing all at once. Filled with an impeccable A-list cast with Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Zoe Kravitz, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott and many more, my groupie-self was gagging for more from the very start.

While the who’s-dead-who’s-alive mystery is compelling on it’s own levels, what gets you truly hooked (and I can attest to this) is the intimate journey with each mother’s story.

Single mother Jane (Shailene Woodley) is new to the rich town, and her son Ziggy has been accused of beating a girl in his new class. She’s brought under the wing of Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) who has her hands full with a 16 year old rebellious daughter and another daughter entering the first grade. Her ex-husband and new wife’s daughter enters the same class and now Madeline can’t get away from her previous beau. They are joined by the ever-so-beautiful Celeste (Nicole Kidman) who has it all. From a big house, a cute pair of blond twins as sons and Perry, her dreamy husband, Celeste is the person to be in Monterey (or so we think).

These affluent mothers are completely unlike WAGs or the Kardashians; these women are tougher than nails. While it started out as women at odds – Team Ziggy or Anti-Ziggy – Big Little Lies explores the inbred womanly instinct in mothers. As soon as the smell of threat emerged, these women dropped their prior feud, huddled up and stood five strong.

This womanly instinct isn’t something I can explain altogether but my mum had a great sense of it – saying that women are often the first to realize when something’s up. There’s an innate need to protect each other too, even if it’s done passively with a following eye.

The picture-perfect relationship of Celeste and Perry belies a tragic, abusive relationship. In truth, their fairytale marriage was a veneer for a monster husband and his harrowing sordid tendencies. Throughout the series, I felt like  was tip-toeing around eggshells, constantly looking out for any subtle changes in Perry’s tone or expression. Episode by episode, we see the punches laid harder and the words thrown sharper, but yet as a part of the audience, we never blame her for staying.

While we can blame Perry for being a living, breathing brute, can we not also blame Celeste for accepting? For choosing to stomach the abuse rather than packing up and going? For keeping it to herself and making excuses for each mark on her skin?

These questions are seemingly impossible to answer because abuse is never solely physical, there’s a layer of emotional manipulation too. It’s when the good and the bad in the person you love is intertwined so seamlessly and intricately that it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Perry would swing a fist to Celeste and then dissolve into a pool of tears and regret minutes after. We come to see Celeste wear down inch by inch – from tired eyes to bruised skin – and it strengthens her will to leave, but she doesn’t.

She doesn’t because it’s easier to stay. It’s easier to revel in the loving side and then hang on to dear life when the wave of anger tides. It’s easier to forgive than to forget, especially when the one who hurts you is the one who kisses the very tears they create.

An abused wife stays, not to be weakened or at the mercy of pain, but to be the strength for others – the kids or even, the abuser. Theorised as the “pendulum of pain” or “the rubber band” effect, victims of abuse often stay or return to a volatile relationship when survival is fused with attachment. They attach to survive or survived to attach. Perhaps now we can understand why Rihanna went running back to Chris Brown, or Janay Palmer for marrying and having two kids with Ray Rice, two years after. After all –  don’t we all have dangerous little lies we feed ourselves to survive?

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