Over the weekend I binged on Big Little Lies. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, it’s based off a book by the author Liane Moriarty and stars a who slew of ridiculously famous people:
…and so on and so on.
It’s a story about a few of the women who live in the Coastal California town of Monterey. It follows their lives for a time and follows the secrets they keep. Jane (Woodley) is a single mom of young Ziggy who is accused of abusing a fellow classmate Amabella. Amabella’s mother Renata (Dern) is unrelenting in her campaign against Ziggy for the alleged abuse. Celeste (Kidman) is an abused wife and mother of twins, Madeline (Witherspoon) is a mother of two who is still dealing with the effects of her first husband leaving. Along with the bullying storyline, you’re also treated to a murder mystery. From the first moment of the book and the show, you know that someone has died at Trivia Night. You don’t find out who until the last fifteen minutes of the season. In the book, they save the death until the end as well.
I listened to the book ages ago as an audiobook and found it to be moderately infuriating. The viciousness with which Jane is treated throughout is absurd and incredibly sad. I also found frustrating that I could not skip ahead to the end to find out who died. Trust me, 16 hours of waiting around to find out who dies is pure torture. Especially since I listened when it first came out. No one online was willing to spoil the ending for anyone else. Part of the fun of murder mysteries for me is knowing how it ends and then attempting to figure out how the author got there before the protagonists do.
The show itself stays incredibly faithful to the novel itself. There is one minor change to Madeline’s story to make her life a little more interesting, but I didn’t think it took away from the overall arcs at all.
Even though it’s all fiction, it’s one thing to read about rape and abuse; but it’s an entirely different thing to watch it occur. The show doesn’t really shy away from showing the abuse when it occurs. That being said, when the worst of it happens? They tend to give it to you in flashes and pieces instead of all at once. They play it as though they are memories or implications rather than the actual acts in the moment. These of course still impact you in multiple ways but it does help remove some of the pain.
The story explores the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we tell others. It examines relationships between women and how even though we may be at odds, at the heart of it we’re all the same in one way or another. The entire last 15 minutes of the show is a testament to this. When the end finally comes you’re ready for it and you’ve made the same peace with it that the women do.
As a show, I did wonder throughout about how much of a punch the ending would have been if I hadn’t known exactly how it was going to end. It was still impactful and beautifully acted, but knowing who dies and who kills them and how? Took a little bit away for me.
If you prefer to read the book first, I encourage you to do so. If you’d rather see the show first? By all means. They are so closely aligned that you won’t really be missing anything by doing one or the other first.