Normal People Review/Analysis

Normal People Review/Analysis

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As quarantine hit, all of our drastically, mundane lives were turned upside down. Every single person’s routine was disrupted and we were forced to halt our proceedings and live at home. Aside from doing the work the schools provided, I have had more time to spend doing other things from playing games with family, working outside, and spending quality time with my little brother. However, my most recent experience might have been the most influential of the entire quarantine. I saw a trailer for a BBC and hulu television show called Normal People. As stated before with all our lives disrupted from the average daily going abouts, I craved some semblance of normalcy; therefore, a show about “Normal People” was perfect for me. 

 

  • Side note – Before you continue on, this is not a spoiler free review/analysis. This review contains material that may be sensitive to some groups. Groups Including themes of domestic violence, alcohol use, bullying, and sexual content.  The show contains broader themes of nudity, depression, and suicide.
  • The show is rated TV-Mature Audiences only. However, I do believe the show contains powerful life lessons that all high-school aged students should watch.

 

The story of Normal People is based on the book of that same title by Sally Rooney. It centers around the lives of two Irish, young-adults Connell and Marianne from the small area of Sligo, Ireland. Connell is a shy, smart, athletic guy who gets along with everyone but does not know how to truly express himself. Marianne is the smartest girl in school from a wealthy family. She has no friends and is bullied by her peers. Connell’s mother works for Marianne’s family cleaning and Connell picks her up from Marianne’s house most days after school. He meets a more laid back Marianne who he begins to understand. They begin to see each other more often in private. 

Adolescence is hard on everyone. Trying to fit in while beginning to feel adult sentiments, young adults lack the experience that can prevent emotional injury. Marrianne, extremely desperate for attention, is willing to keep her relationship with Connell a secret. Connell is ashamed he has these feelings for Marrianne although she is his guilty pleasure. He hides this relationship from his friends. That being said they notice a shift in his behavior and begin to be suspicious of him. In my own experience, relationships can be difficult to handle when they are public. I cannot imagine trying to hide a relationship as intimate as Connell and Marrianne’s from everyone. He looks at her but he cannot muster the strength to say hello in the hallways to a person he is copulating with almost everyday. This is a depiction of what high school is like in our modern society. Rooney is almost satirising our patriarchal society that refuses men the opportunity to express their feelings of anxiety, intimacy, and longing for emotional support. This depiction was deeply personal to me. I often feel that men are judged by their peers if they show any sign of feeling. I always thought this sentiment was singular to me; now, I know it is something that men everywhere experience. 

 Throughout the show, Marrianne and Connell’s relationship is off and on for years – well into their twenties. Either person has different partners throughout the show. However,  Rooney uses the concept of sex throughout her show as a tool to convey raw emotion from Connell who is otherwise emotionless. Connell is an anxious person who is afraid to show affection in public. This drives a stake into his relationship with Marrianne. She often states that when she is “with” Connell “it is different from sex with other people.” Rooney uses this expression from Marrianne to show the juxtaposition of Connell in private vs Connell in public. This is important as it calls out societies dictating hand over men’s emotion. Ronney uses it to show how detrimental emotional repression can be to two people who love each other. 

Roonney uses sex as a tool for Marrianne to compensate for repressed feelings of unwantedness from her tragic childhood. Marrianne’s father was a drunk who would beat his wife and it is inferred that he would occasionally hit Marrianne. When Marrianne and Connell are making love, she often makes comments that take Connell by surprise. Marrianne grew up in an unloving home. Her greatest fear is being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t love her. Connell exclusively loves her. Several scenes highlight his feelings toward her. She asked him if he likes anyone at school; His responses to all of these questions are examples of his love for her. He tells her he only likes her. This response allows Marrianne to open up to him. She then inquires about if he has been with other people before her. He tells her once with one other person that he has no feelings for one way or another. This is a key moment for their relationship as the next question shows the heart of her being. She asks him if he would ever hit a woman. Connell’s response goes something along the lines of “What?! Jesus, no Marrianne I would never.”  Marrianne has never known love that did not have consequences. The love she saw between her parents was flawed and broken. The model of love that was demonstrated to her was a man who would take what he wanted from her mother and then beat her up. Rooney uses this to show how Marrianne’s seemingly perfect life to the outside is not a happy one but an extremely lonely one. 

Rooney is extremely subtle in her uses of sex in the book and show. From the outside, the story could seem gratuitous in the amount of sex portrayed. However, Rooney uses the taboo subject as a literary device to delve into the psyche of the Marrianne. After each encounter with Connell ends, Marrianne has partners who do not respect her- each progressively worse than the prior. This culminates with an awful, unloving relationship surrounded with a man who does not ask for Marrianne’s consent. This peaks with a scene involving BDSM that is designed to make the viewer uncomfortable in order to double down Rooney’s point that love should not hurt one.   

. Before I continue I want to make this absolutely clear. Normal People is a masterclass in teaching consent by showing what consent is and what consent is not.  Rooney understands that her work is influential in the lives of young-adults and treads very carefully in her work to show consent between the main characters. Across America, sex education is a taboo subject that is often only taught at a young age or not at all. At Lewis Cass, sex education is essientially the bare minimum. We are taught the basics of puberty in fifth or sixth grade. Then in seventh grade we are essentially told in health class: don’t have sex but if you do, use protection I.e. a condom, the pill, or other form of contraceptive. The school brushes over an adult topic that should be talked about more.

 In my opinion, Rooney’s depiction of consent should be a mandatory watch for all high school students. She has three scenes that stand out to me. The first time Collen and Marrianne have sex he explictly asks her, “Is this okay, do you want this.” she gives a direct yes. During this interaction he tells her, “If at any time you want to stop, tell me. It won’t be awkward. I will stop.” This is an important thing all people need to see. It shows that consent is an idea that can change from a yes to a no at any point. The second scene that is important in showing consent occurs at a party. Marrianne becomes inebriated and asks Connell to come to bed with her. He tells her that she is drunk and that he cannot and will not take advantage of her. This is hugely important for all young people to see. Consent given under the influence is not consent. When one party is not thinking straight, it is wrong to take advantage of the person. The third scene that shows consent comes at the very end of the show – after her awful relationship with the man who beat her. Marrianne asks Connell to hit her while they are having sex. He says he is not comfortable with that and asks to stop. This is important because it shows that consent goes both ways. Connell exerts his right to stop the activity when it becomes uncomfortable. 

After that scene, Rooney uses a masterful and subtle use of parallelism. Marrianne is ashamed of asking Connell to hit her and she runs home. Her brother who takes after her father is home drunk and enraged that she was with Connell. In a heart-breaking scene he breaks a glass cup by throwing it at her and hitting her in the chest. She runs by and shuts a door in-between them and he storms through slamming the door into her breaking her nose. She calls Connell to come. He comes and picks her up and tells her brother if he ever says a mean thing to her or hurts her again he will kill him. This scene is hugely important to the point Rooney is making. Connell loves Marrianne and would never hit her. Marrianne thinks this is because he doesn’t love her. So when she goes home, to a place that should love her, she is assaulted and broken. This comparison was super subtle in its presentation while being extremely powerful to both the viewer and to Marrianne. It is the moment sheunderstands that love is about the people who care about your well being and who don’t hurt you.

Marrianne and Connell’s story was hugely influential to me. It showed a dramatized love story between two people who learn to express themselves to each other through their shared experiences. I now have a better understanding of how seemingly small actions can have huge impacts on someone else. I feel better equipped to tackle future relationships with the lessons that this show gave me and the broader audience. I think this show should be watched by everyone. I would give it a 10/10 rating for its shameless portrayal of important lessons not taught at schools.

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