Normal People: A Portrayal of Modern Intimacy

Photo courtesy of Deadline

By Noelia Veras

In 2018, Sally Rooney released her novel Normal People, which BBC has recently made into a television series that is now streaming on Hulu. The show has been labeled “BBC’s raunchiest drama ever” by The Sun, authentically capturing the painstaking romance between Marianne Sheridan (played by Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (played by Paul Mescal). The story is set in Ireland and captures themes involving young love, shame, social classes, violence, education, and mental health. 

Normal People follows Marianne and Connell from the end of their high school experience to the end of their college experience. In high school, the two develop a secretive relationship, which Connell purposely hides out of shame. During this time, Marianne is known for her rich background, brains, and lack of friends; while Connell is a likable athlete with good looks. Connell and Marianne are intrinsically connected because Connell’s mother works for Marianne’s mother as the housekeeper. In high school, their relationship ends due to Connell’s deep shame for being seen with Marianne.

When Marianne and Connell both find themselves at the accredited Trinity College in Dublin, they rekindle their friendship. After Marianne breaks up with the boyfriend she was seeing, she and Connell start seeing each other again. This is when their relationship picks up and audiences get to see how lovely Marianne and Connell can be together. With several more ups and downs, the two exemplify how miscommunication can sever unity in a relationship, as Marianne and Connell end up seeing other people even when they both long to be together.

This series reveals the unrelenting nature of two people in love. Sally Rooney creates a very messy and relatable story of young love, but covers such paramount topics that often affect young people. The destructive nature of violence in relationships – whether romantic or not – is a major theme in the story, revealing the detrimental nature of jealousy and insecurity and how these things can manifest themselves physically. 

At the core of the tale, Normal People relates the difficulties of relationships when class and shame are involved. Marianne’s affluence is a barrier that presents itself mainly because of her lack of insight into Connell’s financial struggles. On the other hand, Connell’s lack of insight on Marianne’s traumatic home life and toxic relationships presents a barrier in the relationship as well, because he cannot seem to always empathize with Marianne’s pain. 

Normal People is perhaps one of the most relatable series to come out in quarantine because it explores the way loneliness festers and eventually consumes people. Loneliness is a creeping force in this story, especially after characters experience their fair share of traumatic events. Normal People shows a raw portrayal of the hopelessness that young people experience in the face of death and crises and the depths which they can plummet when put through trauma. Connell, for example, begins as a magnetically attractive star-athlete in high school but through the passage of time and solitude, he experiences such indescribable hopelessness. The show portrays scenes of Connell at a therapist’s office, effectively stripping away stigma but also showing the painfulness of being vulnerable.

Loneliness is not only emphasized by the plot but also by the filming techniques. The show plays with depth of field and often emphasizes loneliness and pain by minimizing the depth of field so that the only thing in focus that is in the frame is a close up of the character’s face. Furthermore, the camera angle will look down on characters to signal the shrinking feeling that they may be experiencing in the face of trauma and, often, humiliation. 

Somehow, this series packs countless heavy topics in a seamless and natural way. It is almost like a glimpse of two people’s actual lives. The show has an incomparable level of realism captured by authentic, and oftentimes awkward, dialogue and intimate nude scenes. The show is rare because of its genuine portrayal of reality, going beyond being binge-worthy to the point that it is absolutely intoxicating.

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