Big Little Lies Offers A Rare, Nuanced Portrayal Of An Abusive Relationship


HBOs miniseries Big Little Lies is a tale about the complex inner lives of privileged ladies, wrapped up in a assassination mystery set in a wealthy seaside township. Amidst the stunning vistums and unraveling whodunit plot line, spectators are witnessing something rarely recognized on screen: A thoughtful portrait of an abusive relationship. ( Note: Spoilers ahead .) .

Its no coincidence that the depict got it so right: HBO worked with Safe Horizon, a domestic violence victim assistance organization, to ensure Big Little Lies was accurate in its portrait of mistreat. They also prepared a plan for what to do if spectators had a personal reaction and needed support.

The shows mistreat plot line middles around Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman, a lawyer who gave up her career to elevate twin sons. To the outside observer, their own lives seems picture-perfect: She has a stunning home, healthy infants, and a gorgeous spouse whose admiration for her is obvious to all. But as the depict progresses, the facade crumbles. Celeste is deeply worried about her marriage. She uses the word volatile to describe it, but the more accurate label is abusive.

While her charismatic spouse Perry, played by Alexander Skarsgrd, can sometimes treat her like a goddess, he is more often possessive and controlling. He is quick to physical aggressivenes, choking, slapping and hurling her against the wall. Celeste makes back at least once in an act of self-preservation, bucking the traditional role of passive victim.

Their fightings typically conclude with bumpy sexuality scenes, which are ambiguously consensual. Its unclear to the spectator( and perhaps to Celeste herself) if she is engaging in sexuality because she desires Perry, or because she seems she has no choice. Subsequentlies, he offers apologies and endowments, at one point anointing her bruised body with a sparkling necklace.

In the most recent three episodes of Big Little Lies,( episodes 3, 4 and 5 ), the couple goes to marriage counseling. The resulting scenes offer a profoundly nuanced look inside an abusive relationship and the complicated landscape a pair in a similar situation might navigate.

In the couples first therapy session, Celeste, looking exceedingly uncomfortable, talks about their issues in the plural, constantly glancing at Perry for approving. I just think things can get a bit volatile, she explains. We opposed a lot, we scream, we holler. We only have a lot of anger that we need some assistance controlling.

Of course, it is not really her anger that it was necessary to controlling, it is his. At its core, domestic violence is about preserving power and control over another person. It is clear that Perrys need to dominate Celeste is at the root of their problems.

Later, she sees the therapist alone. When she is asked directly about the abuse, she continues to insist she is equally at fault. We both become violent sometimes, I take my share of the blame, she tells. Im not a victim here.

It is a startling minute. As she insists her autonomy, Celeste unabashedly repudiates the label of victim. Its debatable if she does this because she has internalized negative stereotypes about the type of people who end up in abusive relationships weak, damaged ladies , not independent, accomplished ones like herself or if she truly does not appreciate herself as abused.

Marium Durrani, our policies lawyer at The National Network to End Domestic Violence, said it could be a mixture of the two , noting that its common for victims to take time to process their situation before accepting it.

A victim might wonder, Doesnt everyone fight? she said. Its hard to know whats normal in intimate relationships.

They also need to be emotionally ready to deal with the consequences, she added. Once they realise they are in danger, the next logical topic is, what are they going to do about it? Celeste might not be ready to tackle that yet, she said.

Celeste may also be repeating what Perry has long told her: That she is the cause of the violence.Like many abusive partners, Perry is a master of projection, blaming Celeste for anything that goes wrong.

In episode 3, the couple is boozing wine in front of a fire, a portrait of domestic bliss, when Perry finds out that Celeste and the kids are going to Disney on Ice without him. He accuses her of purposely omitting him, and grabs her approximately by the neck.

When she complains that he is hurting her, he flips the statement around. Oh, Im hurting you? he scoffs. Can we talk about how much you hurt me?

It is her flaw, he intends. She hurt him first. He is the true victim.

HBO After Perry grabs Celeste by the neck, he tells her that she hurt him too.

Perry later tells the therapist that his fury stems from his fear that he will lose Celeste. I always had the sense that the day would come where she would just not love me anymore, he tells. I imagine Im constantly looking for evidence.

He has acknowledged that he is insecure, and that is driving his controlling behavior. But while his confession seems sincere, its subtly manipulative. He implicitly blames her it is because Celeste is unhappy that he is acting out. The underlying message: If you adoration me more and showed me better, I wouldnt “re going to have to” hurt you.

The show takes pains to not flatten Perrys character. Some of the actions he takes are surprising: It is he who discloses the abuse to the therapist , not Celeste, who tries to protect him. As he sets it, theres a line between passion and fury, and sometimes, perhaps, we cross that.

In a particularly resonant scene, the family is having dinner. He starts joking around, and pretends to be a monster, careening all over the table. The children, who are delighted, laughter and run away.

As spectators, we know that to Celeste, Perry can be an actual monster, but here he is being a fun and involved father-god. That symbolism and duality discloses a frightening truth: Abusers are not shadowy ogres devoid of seeming or tendernes there is an opportunity fathers and buffs and spouses; beautiful humankinds living in beautiful neighborhoods with beautiful wives.

We dont ever actually know what domestic violence looks like from the outside. Marium Durrani, The National Network to End Domestic Violence

Celeste wordlessly answers the question, why dont you just leave, in almost every scene. We appreciate her anxiety as a constant undercurrent to her interactions with her husband, as she weighs what to say and calculates how to defuse tense situations. We also appreciate her hope and desire to keep her family intact.

In one scene, the couple dances to Neil Youngs Harvest Moon. Perry, staring in her eyes, whisperings, dont give up on me child. Celeste glimpses at some pulls done by their children and it is clear where her priorities lie.

When the therapist asks her why she doesnt want to leave, she talks about places great importance on what is profoundly right in the relationship instead of whats wrong.

I think about what we have, and we have a lot, she tells. We are bind by everything we have been through.

Brian Pacheco, director of public relations at Safe Horizon, used to say reaction is common.

Domestic violence is complicated and many survivors are conflicted by the good timesand there are good times, he said. Often survivors may only want the abuse to stop , not inevitably to terminate the relationship.

Durrani applauded the depict for opening up a much-needed dialogue, and challenging stereotypes about who are familiar with abusive relationships.

I imagine one of the lessons to learn is that we dont ever actually know what domestic violence looks like from the outside, she said. People dont think that someone rich and beautiful in a apparently idyllic life would be facing something like this. Theres a really dark cloud over her that isnt visible.