Big Little Lies: Decoding the parasitic relationship the parents shared with their children in HBO series

Devansh Sharma

Jul 23, 2019 13:15:54 IST

Big Little Lies. There is so much more to the name of the HBO show than its literal meaning. Especially since the characters introduce their 'lies' to the audience time and again, even before confessing it to the person they are lying to.

The first two words in the title of the show refer to the parasitic relationship the big (parents) share with their little ones.

 Big Little Lies: Decoding the parasitic relationship the parents shared with their children in HBO series

Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley in a promotional still of Big Little Lies season 1

In season 1, Amabella is great friends with Chloe, Madeline's (Reese Witherspoon) daughter, while their mothers do not share a particularly cordial relationship. Having withdrawn from college early on and dabbling in a variety of odd professions (theatre in season 1 and real estate in season 2), Madeline, in all probability, suffers from inferiority complex from Renata, who wouldn't miss an opportunity to announce that she is a self-made millionaire. Madeline is also dealing with her own demons in her marriage. Having walked in on an affair her father had with another woman, Madeline could never get herself to trust the institute of marriage. Her first marriage with Nathan also ended when he fell for Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz). So she has trouble keeping up with her second marriage to Ed (Adam Scott), and has a fling with her colleague Oren. Meanwhile, Madeline's elder daughter refuses to go to college and even takes up a fund-raising project involving her virginity.

Reese Witherspoon as Madeline in a still from Big Little Lies

The most glaring influence of a parent on a child is what makes the central storyline of Big Little Lies. Violence is normalised in the lives of twin brothers Josh and Max, as they watch (although secretly) their father Perry (Alexander Skasgard) physically and emotionally abuse their mother Celeste (Nicole Kidman) right before they have sex. They are conditioned to believe violence is a language for making love. As a result, one of them ends up hurting Amabella on the first day of school, although the show does not establish what the twins really feel for her. Many episodes of physical assault follow, much to the rage of Renata, who keeps blaming Ziggy (Ian Armitage) for the abuse. In a telling scene at Celeste's house, one of the twins is privy to the violence between his parents while the other is shown listening to music with headphones.

The season 2 finale traces back to Perry's childhood and reveals the primary reason why he grew up to be an assaulter. His mother, Mary Louise (Meryl Streep) lost control of a car that had both her children. The accident cost her the life of her younger son and resulted in her husband leaving her, to cope with her son's sudden demise all by herself. In the process, she blamed Perry for distracting her from the road. She is shown to take her emotional frustration out on him. This practice made Perry grow up to be the man his father never was. He ensured he physically punished Celeste regularly in order to prove he has her under his control.

Little is known about Celeste's family background. No surprise there, as she is an extremely guarded woman who does not reveal even to her best friend Madeline that her husband assaulted her. "My only gratification is from the way other people perceive me," she explains to her therapist, answering why she cannot be vulnerable in front of her friends. That would expose her as less of a superwoman, in their eyes at least. The only thing we know about her parents is that she chose not to have a close association with her father ("this means, I'll have all of you by myself, right?," Perry would tell her). This is probably why rage turned her on and she constantly internalised herself as a victim.


A still from Big Little Lies season 2

As the season 1 finale reveals, Celeste is not the only victim of Perry's rage and violence. Jane (Shailene Woodley) was raped by Perry during a date gone terribly wrong, at a time when Perry and Celeste were trying to have a baby.  Though Ziggy is a product of rape, Jane eventually never hides anything from Ziggy. He is shown as her best friend. She is cautious about the way she parents him, mostly never concealing any 'lie' from him when he asks her straight up. The relationship between Jane and Ziggy, notwithstanding the horrific origin, is the ideal example of parenthood. It demonstrates while one could not do anything about the past, one can surely control one's future choices.

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A still from Big Little Lies season 2

Along with the victims, the conflicted perpetrator also suffers from baggage of parental control. In the second last episode of season 2, Bonnie reveals to her unconscious mother (on ventilator after a stroke) why she pushed Perry off the stairs, which would lead to his murder: her own tryst with abuse, by the hands of her mother. Given that she had a drinking issue and marital discord, she would often assault Bonnie in her childhood. So when Bonnie shoved Perry to his death, she confessed that she saw her childhood assaulter in him. "That was a shove long time coming," Bonnie tells her unconscious mother.

On the other hand, Renata believes in pampering her daughter Amabella with riches. Even when she is going through bankruptcy hearings, she throws a party for her daughter's 'birthday' to make her believe everything is okay. However, all that the children needed in the show was to have their parents expose their flaws openly to them, and rather console them with "everything's gonna be okay" (like Renata finally does in the final episode).

Every adult would know that statement is a Big Little Lie. But it does make life a lot more livable, right?

A still from Big Little Lies season 2

A still from Big Little Lies season 2

(Also read — Big Little Lies: Poorna Jagannathan says acting with Nicole Kidman, Meryl Streep 'brought me to my knees')

All images from Twitter.

Updated Date: Jul 23, 2019 13:15:54 IST