I have asked my mom to get me the book Big Little Lies, by Australian author Liane Moriarty, for my birthday. In our family birthday lists are still requested and happily furnished, even on the cusp of my 48th year. Last night I finished watching the two-season series for the second time in as many months. I have also listened to the Soundtrack repeatedly and plan to watch the series again.
I have never been one for multiple reads or watches, with the exception of The Lord of The Rings. I’m not really a fantasy person, in a literary sense at least(wink), and do not plan to crack open a volume of Harry Potter. GASP. So, why did I watch Gandalf and my precious almost to the point of ad nauseam? Let’s just say the escape and number of viewing hours offered by that series saw me through a difficult time in my life, many shires ago. The Twin Towers is my favourite of the three films in case anyone is interested!
Back to the series spawned from Moriarty’s best selling 2014 novel, which is sometimes referred to as “chick lit.” Although that’s a rather disparaging term, it doesn’t detract from the remarkable success of the series, which garnered countless Emmy’s, several Golden Globes, and at its height during the final episode of Season 2 had two million viewers.
Talks of a third season are underway with Moriarty again taking the lead on writing the screenplay. I’m clearly not alone in loving this show, but where does the obsession come from?
The series is beautifully shot and features leagues of natural west coast light. And, let’s face it, against the setting of Monterey most things are going to look dreamy and modern in a way only California can deliver. Multiple editors, a largely female crew, and its focus on the lives of five women lend itself to a production that is told through a uniquely female lens. This is part of the draw for me and I suppose somewhere inside me there is a longing to escape into a world that seems nothing like my own- that’s entertainment.
The series opens with scary, powerful shots of the ocean crashing against the shores while Michael Kiwanuka’s hypnotic song “Cold Little Heart” plays. This chaotic energy is echoed in the lives of the main characters who relentlessly pursue all matter of things beyond their grasp. The beautiful music and symphony of layered watery blue provide a perfect foil for the jittery, pathetic characters that glide across the screen. As they each pass over the Bixby Bridge wearing sunglasses, except for “Jane”, I wait for their drama to spill over into my rather tepid pandemic life, night after night.
Their firm legs, their sculpted lives
The hollowness of luxury and their brokenness
Yet their beauty is so alluring…
Initially, the catfights and petty bitching over coffees or wine seem laughable; the excessive woes of women whose social worlds are very Little. Who would want to be these unhappy people who are bound together by, as Nicole Kidman’s character says, nothing more than a Lie?
In fact, many lies litter their lives, including Big ones related to murder, fear, and survival. Their daily performances of motherhood and womanhood are exhausting and the often limp sex they have with husbands they don’t love is cringey.
I’m enthralled with the sinewy chord that runs through their blonde and black locks, pulls at their designer dresses, and lurks in the sunlight streaming through windowed homes. I recognize it as the noose of false desire and unrequitedness, which threads its way into their weakly tethered pact. Maintaining friendships can be hard and the ones I have with women have gotten increasingly difficult the older we get. As our lives lay a little flatter and our careers round out, reflections about who we were before we got here and how we compare to those we know seem to naturally surface. It can feel sharp and unsteady when they do, urging us to look inside ourselves, which is hard and can reveal things we don’t want to know.
“The Monterey Five” don’t look like me or anyone who I am close with, but they don’t have to when the universal issues of connection, fear, and ambition are on the table. Seeing how other women, even fictious characters, engage with and often fail in some of the same struggles I am waging is comforting. I also like the show’s cutting commentary on the dangers of avarice which, as “The Pardoner” in Geoffrey Chaucer’s 14th century Middle-English blockbuster The Canterbury Tales reminds us, is the root of all evil.
Although I don’t think Liane Moriarty was inspired by Chaucer, her story of domestic violence set against a backdrop of beautiful, disappointed women clutching at the things we are told to aspire to in order to be successful is a modern cautionary tale.
These five women tell us is that we are all flawed, through our own making and the cultural contexts that shape how we are socialized. They also tell us that wealth doesn’t mean shit if the identity you cultivate for yourself is built upon the admiration of others, generic consumerism, and a makeshift sense of self.
This is why I am obsessed with Big Little Lies. It reminds me to be more, first and foremost to myself and to spend time on becoming a person I can love. These are good lessons for all of us, to be someone you would want as a friend, a mother, a partner, or a guide through the uneven tapestry of life. Perhaps most of all, it reminds us to have the courage to tell the truths that matter.