The newly premiered HBO series, Big Little Lies, centers around the lives of three mothers of first grade students. Although most of the parents are rich and have money, power, and status, no one’s life is perfect. The audience sees what really goes on behind closed doors. We see the struggles that each of these individuals face as mothers and as human beings.
At the beginning of the series, it is revealed that a significant member of the community, and the school that the children attend, has died at the fundraiser. However, a sense of mystery still remains, as the victim’s identity is not yet known.
There are moments throughout the episode that expose, or hint, the truth to the audience; the truth which is that these women’s lives aren’t perfect. This world that the adults of these children lead involve dark concepts, such as: murder, jealous, sex, abuse, alcohol. All of these ideals are in direct opposition to the morals children learn through there parents and teachers; this child-like innocence is paralleled by the outside world of the audience, who don’t see the real life complications that these women deal with in their own lives.
This world of the parents within their children’s elementary school community is depicted as “a vicious world of who can prove they have the most money.”
Madeline Martha MacKenzie, one of the lead characters played by Reese Witherspoon, is portrayed as preppy, pushy, and is in everyone’s business. Yet, despite having her nose in everyone’s business, she appears to have her head in the clouds. She doesn’t seem to think before she speaks, or recognize the ramifications of certain actions; such as using the “f-bomb” in a children’s play, or stating that emotional trauma and physical trauma are separate and don’t coincide with one another.
However, Madeline recognizes that her children are slipping away from her; Madeline feels that she is loosing her children to her ex-huband and his new wife. Yet Madeline’s actions show that she has her daughters best interests in mind. She tries to warn her oldest daughter, Abigail, about being a strong independent woman. She tells Abigail to use her opportunity to attend college, to be self-sufficient and not have to rely on others; an opportunity Madeline didn’t have when she was a new, young mother. Abigail pushes her mother away at first, both physically and emotionally. Yet Abigail and Madeline have a moment that shows how they care for each other and that their mother-daughter bond can’t be broken. This struggle Madeline has with her children growing up shows her difficulty with the future.
Jane Chapman, portrayed by Shailene Woodley, is young, down to earth, and the mother of a boy in the first grade. Towards the beginning of the episode on the first day of school, Jane’s son Ziggy is accused of choking a little girl, Renata’s daughter Amabella. “That boy picked the wrong little girl to strangle,” one of the parents interviewed stated. This dialogue foreshadows how this event lead to a domino effect in the murder that eventually consumes the school. However, Jane believes that her son Ziggy didn’t hurt the little girl. She has faith and trust in her child. However, Jane may be hiding a secret of her own. The last clip shows Jane sleeping with a gun under her pillow. This image hints at the idea that Jane has a past, possible with her ex, Ziggy’s dad.
Celeste Wright, portrayed by Nicole Kidman, has two sons and a seemingly loving and passionate relationship with her younger husband. Yet, not all is as it appears to be. Celeste’s husband is abusive, grabbing onto Celeste during an argument when she repeatedly tells him to let go; she pushes back and gets defensive during the altercation, as if this has happened before. Indications of abuse are also present during the beginning of the episode, when Celeste shares a moment with Jane. Jane depicts how in that moment, Jane is physically there, but mentally she is having an out of body experience. Jane’s reflection seems to resonate with Celeste, as she appears to be physically present but is seemingly mentally absent in certain scenes. Celeste’s current struggle takes place in the present.
Now that we have discussed the three main characters of the series, lets talk about the series as a whole.
In the first episode, there seems to be a bit of a separation between the story line and the characters. It almost appears as if these individuals and their stories are more significant than the overall story at hand. Yet, this separation also shows the split between the character’s lives that they lead outside of being a mom. This sense of disconnection highlights the real, raw emotions and conflicts that they each face in their lives.
Additionally, there is a theme of violence that runs throughout the first episode. From the abuse towards the little first grade girl Amabella to Celeste’s abusive husband, from Jane’s need to carry a gun to protect herself against someone, and most importantly, the murder. All of these potentially threatening physical situations lead to the murder, and provide support as to why the murder occurred.
Although all the pieces of the story seem separated, they all make perfect sense in the context of the story. We, the audience, can see the direction of the story’s trajectory in future episodes. The murder provides a strong tether to all the other pieces of the story, in addition to the character’s witness statements. All of these segments show how the story will come together and connect the characters and the story.