Throughout the course of HBO’s Big Little Lies, its four leading ladies can be seen staring at the ocean from their houses. Silently taking in the vastness, occasionally trying to explain the beauty of the water, and most of the time dealing with internal issues only known to them. The waves lap quietly and provide some peace for moments of reflection. These moments can go unnoticed, but they’re often used as little segments of thought. Brief moments of calm before the approaching storm on the horizon. The first time I saw them I didn’t expect these images to foreshadow such a violent climax.
The water that covers the majority of our planet has its own eco-system, beautiful but brutal. Things live, die and fight in it. Among this chaos is a special purity, something untouched. When it’s revealed that Jane was violently raped, we see her running along the coast, following footprints as they disappear in the sand. She eventually has to stop running. Her dress is hanging off and her body is bruised. Alone in the early hours on that empty beach, she stares out at the blue and begins to take her clothes off as if without thought. Leaving every materialistic piece of the previous night behind, she walks into the water to cleanse herself. The dirtiness that was forced upon her body and soul is washed away by something as old as time. This religious-like purification is something that solidifies the intelligent, bold concepts explored throughout the series.
In nature, everything is connected. In the final episode of the show, Jane, Renata, Madeline, Bonnie and Celeste all find their way to each other as if guided by fate. All of their previous connections tie them like strings. What seems to unite them at first is motherhood, which is a massive part of many women’s lives. There’s nothing more natural, more primal, or selfless. But like Celeste says after reigniting her professional passion for practicing law, sometimes it’s just not enough. Although the narrative seemingly revolves around their children, the problems in these adult women’s lives contain the most danger.
Big Little Lies has collected much acclaim, but perhaps the most impressive aspect is the sophisticated editing. Flashes of passion, daily life, and detailed surroundings mesh together as one organism even in the title sequence. Sentences, sounds, and expressions are used in each episode to transition from one character to the next in an impressively seamless manner. The mastery of the editing, direction, and writing are the crux of the series, joining together for one of the most memorable moments of recent television.
Dead silence. Silence as they exchange glances. Silence as eyes widen. Silence as the confrontation reaches release. Silence as four women look at and within each other and decide to protect and fight. It’s wordless, instinctual, and needs nothing to qualify it as more. Waves crash upon rocks as ribs are kicked. White froth from the water impact sprays as nails claw at cheeks. The once peaceful noise of the water is now thunderous. Anger, fear, and suppression scream out in the form of an all for one pact as tribal as it is moving. One thing has become clear: these women are the ocean, represented by its sheer strength, resilience, grace, and anger. A metaphor like that is one to be reckoned with. Everything in nature is connected and now these women are, too. By their pain, fear, differences, and similarities most of all. The strength in numbers rhetoric rings true. They become one. A force of nature in their own collective right.
As the craziness dissolves, we have time for one last moment of reflection. Five women staring out at the water with the sun shining on their faces. They’re not alone now. They’ve lived their personal struggles and share anguish between them. The statement isn’t that men are bad and scary. The simple fact is that aggression towards women is a horror of our society, so when we see it all bets are off. These complex, difficult women will probably go on to make more mistakes and have more disagreements. That’s okay though because when push comes to shove they’ll protect each other. They all have different weaknesses but together possess a strength that can’t be matched.
The ocean can be terrifying. You can get lost in it, drown, succumb to its intimidation. But for these women, it is something of a home to them, a natural place of balance. Within this balance is a respect that flows between two of the most relentless and powerful things known to us: women and water.
“He’s gonna have to fight these five women. He doesn’t realize that he is fighting the ultimate force of nature because they become one and they become as strong as this violent, angry ocean. Don’t fuck with us, motherfucker! That was the idea — that this guy is fighting against these women who represent the ocean, and that’s what they become and he’s gonna lose. There is no way you can fight this.” - Jean-Marc Vallée