This year at the Emmy’s, Big Little Lies won big, raking in Best Actors (across drama and limited series categories) for Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman, Laura Dern, one for the cast, and for the director with a grand total of 8. The show that became a must-watch (read: binge worthy) in its 7 episode run and was adapted from the book of the same name written by Liane Moriarty, covered ageing, balancing life, therapy, raising children, rape, and the very real and inside experience of domestic abuse.
Big Little Lies is not the first show that is built around a story of domestic violence but it is arguably the first that dealt with the topic in such an original, gut wrenching and honest way. We see the visage of perfection, of a couple that is so in love it’s met with disgust and side eyes by an upper class community that places value in keeping up appearances. We go with the problematic dynamic brought on by the abuse in the marriage of Celeste (played by Kidman) and Perry (played by Skarsgård) into their therapist’s office, a couple’s counsellor who eventually becomes Celeste’s little secret. We see a group of a women, who were pitted against one another at some time or another throughout the series, at the end of the film realise that their perfect friend was in a dangerous, manipulative web and they come together to resolve it.
The reviews speak loudly for the merit of BLL. Survivors of abuse have found the story to touch upon their experience with a rare and trustful hand. Psychiatrists and therapists have praised the way the show handled the interactions between the couple and Celeste with her therapist even when it depicted the therapist boldly stating that either Celeste makes an escape plan or is condemning her children to violence or worse. Women of all ages were reflected back from the screen, a rare feat in Hollywood that often declares an actress over the hill after 30.
We see a very real, poisonous issue shown with grace, shown with harrowing detail and we can’t pry our eyes away from it. And in our own industry, where dramas include the ugly realities of domestic abuse (both physical, mental, and of the gas lighting variety) we see very little of the complexity that made Big Little Lies what it was. In her acceptance speech for Best Actress in a Drama, Kidman said, “It’s a complicated insidious disease, it exists far more than we allow ourselves to know. By you acknowledging me with this award, it shines a light on it even more.” What Big Little Lies highlighted is that domestic abuse is not always a bumbling, uneducated man who lays hands upon his wife, but an intelligent, manipulative and even handsome person (a society role model) who can inflict damage and break trust. Also unlike many movies that depict domestic violence as one sided, we the viewers saw the role of the wife in the abuse, her striking back or building unhealthy coping mechanisms that minimised the abuse itself.
Our dramas do not do enough to not only explore what domestic violence is like but also to make us, the viewers, committed to watching these stories and root for upward conclusions. Violence is seen as a crux of the illiterate or those with out privilege. It’s a mans bad temper and a wife must cower around it or be met with disdain by others in her community for 1. allowing it, or 2. choosing to leave. There’s no real solution or approach, it’s simply ‘fate.’ It’s a world far removed from our own, it’s not an ‘us’ issue but a ‘them’ issue and it leads to unoriginal and frankly boring story telling. Cinema and television is one of the greatest tools if not the greatest to bringing awareness to the masses, the masses which include the educated and privileged, about issues that plague society today and we wish that our own industry would find inspiration in the originality behind Big Little Lies, to explore the power of story telling and not be afraid to get ugly, to get messy in order to tell great stories. We hope that Shoaib Mansoor’s Verna, which deals with rape, will be able to move the audience.
- Pictures courtesy Vanity Fair and E Online