Welcome to your new guilty pleasure, but beware: the behaviors you will bear witness to are truly incriminating…
Madeline Mackenzie, left: Mother of Abigail and Chloe; married to Ed, whom she cheated on.
Jane Chapman, center: Mother of Ziggy; victim still struggling in the aftermath of her rape.
Celeste Wright, right: Mother of twin boys, Max and Josh. Married to Perry.
Perry Wright: World’s best dad, but abusive to his wife, Celeste.
The storyline seems innocent enough: A telling of the drama-ridden lives of three different mothers; Madeline, a mother of two whose temper is sure to snap at the sight of injustice, though she’s guilty of an injustice herself; Jane, a single mother who was thrust into motherhood after a one-night stand gone wrong; and Celeste, an elegant and well-poised mother of twin boys who seems to have a picture-perfect life with her dreamy husband, Perry. Their posts on social media portray their home life to be as perfect as can be, leaving their friends and community completely unsuspecting of the true atrocities taking place behind closed doors.
Throughout this Emmy-award-winning mini-series based on the New York Times bestselling novel by the same title, the stories of mothers Madeline and Jane take a backseat to Celeste and her seemingly-perfect husband, Perry’s, tempest of a marriage. As the audience enters into this violent and turbulent relationship, the show’s sensual tonality lures us in like a siren promising our deepest and darkest desires.
The audience falls victim to Perry’s mind games just as Celeste does, only our objective perspective allows us to view his destructive tendencies and mastery of manipulation in a way that Celeste cannot. For her, sure, Perry is flawed, but he is also the father of her children, the children they tried so hard to conceive, and for this, and the sake of their children, she relentlessly tries to piece her marriage together just as she pieces herself together after another disastrous episode of Perry’s anger.
We view and maybe even judge Celeste’s decision to stay with Perry for the majority of the show despite his physical, verbal and emotional abuse. Certainly, we can see why–it’s difficult to identify the devil when he is physically stunning, unbelievably charismatic and incredibly romantic when he wants to be. When the audience notices our judging of the victim, we are quick to chastise ourselves, as we are trained never to blame the victim, and, of course, we shouldn’t–they’re the one being harmed. Blaming them would be ethically incorrect. But, perhaps it is the glean in Celeste’s eye after she retaliates against Perry’s violence and her tendency to “forgive” him for his episodic violence that leaves us internally screaming at Celeste to see that Perry will never heal from whatever psychological damage is triggering his sporadic acts of violence and to leave him before he does something that cannot be undone.
Through the course of the show, we are seduced by the turmoil of Celeste’s and Perry’s destructive marriage, and more than the entertainment of it, we must ask ourselves why we were more attracted to the physical and emotional violence of their marriage instead of the less violent drama circulating the show’s other main characters. Perhaps it is because of the bipolarity and instability of their marriage that creates a tantalizing suspense that leaves us wondering if Perry will be his charming self, the man we all wish we could have, or if he will unleash his pent-up anger and become our worst nightmare.
Isn’t he dreamy? He looks like a loving and affectionate husband…
…and now he doesn’t.
From the audience’s eye, Big Little Lies is undeniably a thrilling piece of entertainment, but from an analytical eye, the show is a work of art. The musical score, the setting and the writing harmoniously coordinate to craft a beautifully executed show, but perhaps what is most beautiful about it is the ugliness it unveils. The ugliness about the characters’ lives initiates a self-reflection on the ugliness in our own lives that we attempt to mask with filtered pictures and posts portraying the perfect life. As we recognize semblances of ourselves within each of the show’s troubled characters, we begin to understand how we use social media, just like Perry and Celeste do, to keep from exposing the truths we dare not admit even to ourselves.
As we challenge ourselves to accept what’s behind the post, we are left wondering, “What big little lies am I telling myself?”