Saturday, October 21, 2017

Big Little Lies

Much bigger than the lies which we tell are the lies which we live. 

Big Little Lies is a stunner. It tears into - and through - gorgeous facades, perfect husbands, beautiful children, ideal housewives and an idyllic little town, to reveal what is virtually a secret-riddled sordid collection of mortals. Oh, ordinary lives, you know. 

Reese Witherspoon is Madeline, for whom everyone's business is her business, whose passion to do the right thing is only matched with her utter helplessness as to what to do with her rebellious cynical teenager daughter. Nicole Kidman is Celeste,  an ex-lawyer, with a beauty which could crack mirrors, and a young husband good enough to eat, struggling with her feelings to get back to work, but mangled up in the dark deep secret of her family life. And then, there is Shailene Woodley as Jane, the single mother who has drifted into town, whose past has a haunting  pain and whose six-year old son, in no time,  is accused of being a bully. 

And into this volatile mix are an ex-husband, a  gay cafe owner, a gorgeously talented new-age wife, a mother of a bullied little girl and a successful business owner who is the cynosure of a myriad jealous eyes, a theatre director whose puppet show has puppets making love, and a school teacher who is struggling to do the right thing with children who want to do what they want. 

The trouble with perfection in life is that life itself is a messy bitch. When everything is going right, you have a fight with a spouse and meet a soulmate, when your career is soaring you have a child who thinks virginity is a commodity, when you have a husband who is the finest dad you can think of to your children he turns out to be a clinging jealous monster.

The very word perfection is a facade. And it's desire or very existence is antithesis to the nature of relationships. 

The intricate geometry of ties and circumstances in Big Little Lies is laid on the spine of a murder - who's or why is revealed only in the end. But the menace in the ordinary, the growing politics in school happenstance, the chasms between the closest, as incident upon incident piles on, always predicates something which can't end well. And it doesn't. 

Reese Witherspoon is at the heart of the film. Shailene provides its strange mystery. But it is Nicole Kidman, with her cool allure and her slow decomposition and breakdown who cuts the soul apart. Her sessions with the therapist, with or without her husband, are an insidious and incredible testament to our self-denials, our refusal to let ourselves reconcile with the muck inside our lives, in spite of the fact that it might be destroying us. 

Beneath all the drama of a story which Big Little Lies brings, are the startling and undeniable truths of married - and so-called ordinary - lives. We present our ideal sides but inside we foster ugly truths, until we ourselves forget where our reality ends and fiction starts. It is in the nature of our being - and the half-lives we live.

The bliss of a complete life can only happen in half-measures in the form of a life well lived, through acceptances, giving (& getting) spaces and proactive action. Life always comes around and catches us with our pants down when we least expect it. We have to face our truths at some point or the other, however much we may run away from them. Karma finds its balance by confronting us, or confronting all that we hold dear, with our misdeeds and alienations. There is no right way for life or living. But the search for truths about ourselves might be a good place to start. Alas, that is never a given. 


Rake is outrageous. Cleaver Greene, it's protagonist, has, in a moment of rare perspicacity, called himself a 'fucking fuckwit', which is as close as one can get to what the serial is all about. And we can only find joy in that. Because Cleaver is a clever lawyer, and is shameless, inventive, and the rallying point for all lost causes and souls. 

So, his CV includes successful defence of, to name a few, a cannibal, a 'dog-loving' couple (oh I wish I could tell what that means!), a polygamist, a masturbating paparazzi,  a criminal with 750 charges of rape, murder, extortion et al, and so on and so forth. And he does his thing with a rare pizzazz and a scruple-less effortlessness. 

As a character, Cleaver is a miracle. He's obnoxious, but completely lovable. He is uncontrollable with his basic instincts, is highly successful in pushing away everyone he loves, but is the one everyone in trouble turns to. He is deep trouble himself, but is the beacon for everyone desperately looking for an outre solution.

Needless to say, his personal life is a gargantuan mess. He goes from one affair to another, leaving only anger and despair in his wake. His iffy commitment levels are forever impinging on his work, and his profane-littered litanies in court and off it are a legend of cringe-worthiness.

And to top it all, these are his nearest and dearest - his ex-wife is an ex-but-reconsidering lesbo, he is in love with a prostitute, his son can only fall in love with women much older to him, his secretary is marrying a guy who refuses to have sex with her till they get married, so she has an affair with a colleague who's wife has just had an affair with Cleaver. And this is just for starts!! 

After establishing Cleaver and his family and his closest mates and colleagues, the four-seasons masterpiece engages us in his legal battles, his outre and unhinged connivances, and slowly sucks us into his personal life and his struggles with straightforward engagements.

Nothing is simple in Cleaver's books. And what gives the series depth is its clever and continuous commentary on the inequities and contradictions of the legal and political firmament. 

It's pretty well established that this serial is a watermark in Australian television. And we can't reiterate enough the blessings of Netflix. The access to unreachable, often unknown, quality serials and documentaries, is a boon like no other!  

Catch this boon!! 

The Fall - light in the shadow of depravity

(Please do not read this meditation on a Netflix TV crime pshychodrama - if you dont like things rambling. The write is long and unstructured and written for myself and has spoilers. It's here so it doesn't get lost! Just know - if you can, don't miss this incredible drama.) 

It's startling how dangerous stillness can be. And when there is much of it, how violent it can get. Facades convey nothing of the turmoil churning inside. There is a thin line which separates the ones who then let the violence spill out of themselves. 

That's the line which separates Stella, an investigating officer, from Paul, a serial killer. And The Fall examines their lives in parallel, and how they converge metaphysically first, much before they do physically. And how each person handles the black holes inside themselves.  Paul lost his mother and exploded. Stella lost her father and imploded. And beneath their immaculate masks they both lived lives of seeming normalcy. 

The difference between their trajectories was the touch in their lives of fortune or depravity. But both used people for their ends, and brought doom and destruction. But whilst the essential goodness brought redemption in one's circle, there was only death in the other.  

We all have circles of influence. We don't even know where it extends to, whom it seeps into. But we are all agents of change.  We are all capable of influence. We are all connected. So what we do with this power often defines our place in the world, and the world's place inside us. 

Stella goes to talk to Katie, a 16 year old who is in love with Paul, and is ready to produce false alibi to save him. In correctional detention, she self-harms herself. And has this conversation with Stella.

Katie Benedetto: My father killed himself. 
DSI Gibson: I thought it was an accident. 
Katie Benedetto: He chose to ride a motorbike. Even though I worried about him every time he went out every night he was late home. He loved the bike more than he loved me. Loved the thrill of speed more than he loved his only daughter. I don't call that an accident. 
DSI Gibson: Is that why you're throwing your life away? You know you can't get him back. No matter how hard you try. 

We all have those voices in our heads, that tell us we're a disappointment, that tell us our work is insignificant. That it's not good enough, it takes too long, it's too hard. But when times are tough, we need tough dreams. But real dreams, not lies. Not an unreality like Paul. You need to fight for yourself, Katie, because right now you're in danger. 

We all need love and we all need nurture. There's too much death and destruction. But friends who love you should warm you like the sun. Make you feel good about yourself. Not freeze you in their contempt and in their hate. Anger corrodes our belief that anything good can happen to us. Paul's been destroyed by his anger, his rage. And you, you hurt a friend, to impress him. But he doesn't care. He doesn't even know you exist. 

It's almost as if Stella was speaking to herself.  

In the final interrogation scene, Paul speaks of alienation and loneliness and the wretchedness of his childhood. And then he says- 

We're all wearing masks to some extent. You certainly are. There are memories, thoughts that feel like memories that are starting to come back to me. 

There's a voice. There's a voice saying, "We're losing him, we're losing him."So, there must have been at least one person who cared whether I lived or died. 

DSI Gibson: That was me. That was my voice. And I *did* care. I thought death would be too easy for you, too easy an escape. And I didn't want you to cheat the system. And I still don't. I want you to be punished for the crimes that you've committed. Rose Stagg was so right about you. She saw right through you, your infantile desire to have a captive and captivated audience. You just want to be noticed, you want to be the center of attention, to have special treatment, to make your mark. But it's all just a performance. All of it. You perform for me, for your solicitor, your doctors, your nurse, your psychiatrist, even your family. It's all just one big performance as protection against the dreaded black hole of your heart. Well, guess what, Paul, it's time to grow up. It's time to take responsibility for what you've done. Let's stop this pathetic charade. 

The only sliver of hope he had, suddenly collapses. And sets the tone for the calamitous denouement.  

In a small heartbreaking scene Paul's daughter opens her arms  and embraces Stella, after she gets to know the truth about her father.  The youngest and the most influenced rejects the dark side and moves towards light. 

The story lingers with every character, and their arcs and their relevance and their lives spanning out because of the effect Stella or/and Paul have on them. The dead, the living, the barely-living, the survived. 

Each of the three seasons, which can be seen all at once on Netflix (such blessings are due to them!), addresses different aspects of the relationship - first, the crimes, then the chase and then the conjoinment.

In a world where fulfilment is a pursuit beset with moral landmines, and happiness is often at the altar of innocence, there is still space for goodness. Even in the heart of pure evil lies the echo of something quintessentially pure. Nothing can ever take away the essential loneliness of life, but we can leave signs of our mistakes for people to pick up. We all have cemeteries ready for us at the end.  Can we make those into signposts?