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

‘Big Little Lies’ offers insight on what it’s like to be in an abusive relationship.

*Spoilers Ahead* 

HBO’s miniseries “Big Little Lies” is a story about the complex inner lives of privileged women, wrapped up in a murder mystery set in a wealthy seaside town. Amidst the stunning vistas and unraveling whodunit plot line, viewers are witnessing something rarely seen on screen: A thoughtful portrait of an abusive relationship. 

The show’s abuse plot line centers around Celeste, played by Nicole Kidman, a lawyer who gave up her career to raise twin boys. To the outside observer, her life appears picture-perfect: She has a stunning home, healthy children, and a gorgeous husband whose adoration for her is obvious to all. But as the show 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 husband Perry, played by Alexander Skarsgård, can sometimes treat her “like a goddess,” he is more often possessive and controlling. He is quick to physical aggression, choking, slapping and throwing her against the wall. Celeste hits back at least once in an act of self-preservation, bucking the traditional role of passive victim.

We don’t ever really know what domestic violence looks like from the outside.

– Marium Durrani, The National Network to End Domestic Violence

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 couple in a similar situation might navigate. 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 says. “I’m not a victim here.” It is a startling moment. As she asserts her autonomy, Celeste unabashedly rejects the label of victim. It’s debatable if she does this because she has internalized negative stereotypes about the type of people who end up in abusive relationships ― weak, damaged women, not independent, accomplished ones like herself ― or if she truly does not see herself as abused. Marium Durrani, public policy attorney at The National Network to End Domestic Violence, said it could be a mixture of the two, noting that it’s common for victims to take time to process their situation before accepting it. 

As viewers, we know that to Celeste, Perry can be an actual monster, but here he is being a fun and engaged father. That symbolism and duality reveals a frightening truth: Abusers are not shadowy monsters devoid of feeling or compassion ― they can be fathers and lovers and husbands; beautiful men living in beautiful neighborhoods with beautiful wives.

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Free Yourself Global 

Our approach to the issue of domestic violence is much more comprehensive and inclusive as compared to the purview of other campaigns/organizations which is why our focus is on families and how the cycle of violence is passed down through generations. In order to address this question, we employ a holistic approach which examines the complex and sometimes seemingly fluid roles between victim/ abuser and acknowledges the need to not only provide support for recovering abusers as well as victims but to also include all participants in the dialogue. It is our view that when all stakeholders come together in a grass roots forum, we strengthen our ability to understand, address, and end the cycle of domestic abuse. So whether you are a recovering abuser, victim/survivor and/or professional who works to aid in this cause, we want to hear your story. You can share it with us on social media using the hashtag #FreeYourselfGlobal or anonymously here, via our website. For more info on how you can choose to tell story and how it will be used to help other people in need, or to learn how to become involved in other ways with this breakthrough campaign, email info@freeyourselfglobal.comTo simply keep up to date on our campaign and the latest news pertaining to domestic violence worldwide make sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram

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