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The rising feminist ocean: a commentary on Big Little Lies

In this cold heart, I can live or I can die.

Michael Kiwanuka, Cold Little Heart

The sea beautifully encapsulates the essence of the series, Big Little Lies. The waterbody by Moneteray beach plays the role of the protagonist, centering all the characters around its hypnotic beauty. Through its vast expanse and complexity, the five women of the series crash against the rocky shore of their lives, revealing their waves, tides, and turns.

To begin with the title song itself, a melodic icon by Michael Kiwanuka reveals oceanic sounds. The theme track is set against the backdrop of the mothers and their children driving to school with glances of the sea passing by. From the very beginning, the sea signifies the melodramatic and stormy yet peaceful environment. Watching the first scene of the sea is a powerful ode to the series. The audience is privy to the eulogy of the sea and its deeper significance. Sounds of waves that intersperse the opening credits create the ideal anecdote. The imagery appeals to one’s ears and eyes, unleashing havoc behind the calm blue. The sea formulates exemplary precedence for the series of greater, bluer and more mysterious, concealed truths.

A waterbody with immense height, breadth and length can be often terrifying. If children wonder whether there are scary sharks in the deep swimming pools, imagine what’s there in the wild sea? Big Little Lies capitalizes on this emotion that the sea alludes to. There’s a fear of uncertainty along with possible and untapped calamities. The extremity of power held by the sea symbolises chaos with peace and unarticulated recklessness. In the same manner, Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), Celeste (Nicole Kidman), Jane (Shailene Woodley), Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) and Renata (Laura Dern), strive to display quintessential and model women. The sea resembles their own life paths as they experience high and low tides under the surface of convoluted narratives.

Madeline, who assumes the leadership role in her clique, aspires to maintain a perfect image but struggles with infidelity, insecurity about her ex-husband’s younger and fitter wife, and arguments with her firstborn daughter. A well-knit life is pulled apart, slowly, until only a thread is left. Celeste bears the intensive enigma of the sea as her seemingly 'love' marriage is infused with domestic violence and abusive sexual encounters with her husband. Jane is burdened by flashbacks of her traumatic rape and her sweet-loving son, Ziggy, a by-product of the horrific incident. Throughout, the waves call on her to regress and progress with the emotions of a rape victim. A free-spirited Bonnie is initially an outlier but closes the series holding the position of maximum responsibility, growing depressed and recovering disturbing memories of her childhood. Lastly, Renata, who is a successful and wealthy businesswoman, is unable to decipher and locate the culprit behind her daughter’s abuse at school.

The above tracks of Season 1 carefully and smartly involve the motions of the water to signify the parallel disorder with a tranquil hue. Big Little Lies necessitates each of the heroines to contemplate and stare at the sea. It’s the nexus to the group, an overlying binder of the murderous night. As Season 2 began, Bonnie could be noticed running by the beach in line with her depressive episode and Jane, finally, lets a diving instructor into her life romantically. As she trots by the beach, it allows signs of love amongst its infamous darker persona. Almost Lucifer-like, the misunderstood sea seeks retribution.

Madeline, Celeste and Jane use the background of the beach to indulge in relevant parked-car therapy sessions with each other. The sea’s beast within the mesmerising beauty resonates with the characters and provides a safe space for conversations that are authentic and non-judgemental.

The director, Andrea Arnold employs the sparkle and glitter of the sea to fabricate supreme cinematography. As the gorgeous and turbulent waves are independent, the women can also be described as water bodies with their own mystique and capabilities to harness. Each character is a stamp post of feminism as they pave their own path amidst very real issues faced by women. In some way, the sea adheres to the feministic viewpoints. Its uncontrollable nature is tamed and attempted to be financed for goals that benefit humans (misogyny of man above nature). If equality is all that is sought, the sea fights it’s own war while being an accomplice to the women of Monterey. It learns as much as it teaches them how to battle, maintain stature and triumph. A perpetual battle of feminism lurks in every corner of society if you tweak your perspective to find it.

The fabric of the series was woven through the yarn of the sea. Madeline, Celeste, Jane, Bonnie and Renata would not be the same if it weren’t for the home bestowed by the sea. The impeccable sea with its glistening appearance gloats over the imperfections of Monterey. The waves lament for a story untold and for vulnerability unrevealed. As the sea serenaded the watchers with its encaptivating mystique and magic, Big Little Lies thrived on the small screen. The ocean or sea has become a must for genres of the curious and thrilling with series such as Broadchurch or Outer Banks.

The natural, methodical and Oscar-deserving actor of Monterey sea must be acknowledged for its role in permeating through the characters, shaping their personalities, creating a setting of haze, and exhaling generous grace. The gurgling and palpitating sea represents our sentiment exactly for Season 3 of Big Little Lies!

This Night Owl Original has been authored by Sanah Shah. Sanah is an undergraduate student pursuing Liberal Arts from NMIMS University in Mumbai. With a keen interest in writing and reading surrounding the fields of business and fashion, she hopes to learn new skills and apply existing ones, in creative ways.

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