There is nothing Normal about Normal People. It drives a modern romance between a schoolgirl and a boy through a distorted maze that refuses to be Normal until the end. I feel, ironically, Modern Romance is about everything except normality. Gone are the days, when Cinema flaunted a-girl-meets-a-boy stories and sugar-coated it with lots of giggle and titters. The romance of the 21st century is much more complex, and its stories are a lot more realistic.
Normal People season 1 is a 12 part Irish Television series that is based on Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name. Each episode is approximately half an hour-long, filled with instrumental backgrounds that augment the melancholy of love and romance. The series is not a generic romantic drama that wastes its time handing out some happy fairytale moments. In spite, it quickly jumps to the desolation and sorrow of the two lead characters. Let’s dip in their melancholy.
‘Normal People’ Summary
Normal People centers on two secondary school students and classmates, Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal). Marianne is the perfect oddball in school. She is outspoken, smart, and sarcastic therefore disliked by her peers. While on the other hand, Connell is an all-rounder, he is equally great in sports, social gatherings, and studies.
Connell’s widowed mother works as a house cleaner in Marianne’s house, who lives with her dismissive mother, Denise, and her resentful brother, Alan. Marianne’s circle of conversation is null and void, neither she has many friends to talk to, nor is her family interested in talking with her. Connell initiates a conversation with Marianne, being pushed by his mother. A single conversation that leads to beautiful chaos.
Marianne starts dating Connell but they keep their relationship a secret. Connell feels that his friends might resent him for dating a crazy weirdo. Connell is a shy guy who is always surrounded by people while Marianne has spent most of her life in isolation. When two different personalities from different social and economic sects meet, it creates a complex spectrum of romance.
Marianne and Connell’s relationship traverses from school to their undergraduate years. They are happy when they are together, but devastated being separated. Will they ever be able to finally accept each other or will their relationship flourish only as a nameless shadow. This is the question that Normal People try to explore further.
Major Spoilers Ahead
Validation over Identity
Life is about finding yourself in another person. But what if that identity of love remains nameless? Like a person, romance will have its share of existential crises. Two people can stay with each other, but they are afraid to commit. It was Connell who was afraid to accept Marianne in public. His conflict is quoted by his mother who says, “You’re fucking her, and you wouldn’t even say hello to her in public. What are you afraid of? What people would think of you if they find out you liked it?“
Connell’s character conflict was his own head. He had ideas about himself that created a rift between Connell and Marianne. He never accepted her, and when things went hay-way, he just simply ran away or left. In easy words, Connell’s the guy who is afraid to commit.
His character shows a transformation when due to a tragedy, Connell realizes how lonely he has become. He accepts that in school he was being a jerk and he didn’t know why he reacted that way. He tells Marianne in college, “That was just going in my head. There’d be no reason why anybody would care. I just suffered from anxiety with those sorts of things.”
Later in the series, Connell even asks a friend at a reunion that did they know about his secret relationship with Marianne, to which the friends tell Connell, everyone knew but no one was bothered.
However, this “botheration” worried Connell until the end. His mind clouded with such thoughts. He was looking for validation from people when his friend Rob dies, Connell scrutinizes his life and becomes mentally unstable. He seeks for the last resort in life, Marianne.
A Slow Poisoning Romance
I personally believe that Marianne was the center of attraction in Normal People. The character of Connell shows a transformation to acceptability but Marianne had problems that kept on increasing until she finally destroyed herself. It is really hard to handle and perform such a self-destructive character, and Daisy Edgar-Jones has done it marvelously. Her performance sent chills down my spine.
Marianne was an outlaw, an alienated being, who was not accepted in school or family. Her mother was cold, and her brother resented her. Marianne’s mother never safeguarded her from her own brother and it created a hole inside Marianne’s soul. Marianne tried hard in school to make friends but she can’t be stupid for people to like her. It wasn’t in her persona to become fake for acceptance. She was burning and that is how she presented herself. But it was lonely as hell for her. Thus, when Connell came as a ray of hope, Marianne thought, this man will save her. However, Connell requests her to keep their relationship a secret and it was another nail in the coffin. It completely destroys her.
When Connell again meets Marianne in Trinity College, their love is rekindled. However, the same problem persists. On a superficial level, Connell dates Marianne but never holds or gives warmth in public. Connell kept struggling with his inhibitions that constantly pushed Marianne into depths of misery. She started questioning herself and her trauma intensified. Marianne had an abusive father who used to hit her mother. The same trait is seen in his brother. When she is dejected by Connell, Marianne digs out that past trauma and pursues toxic and submissive relationships with a college friend. She starts finding her existence in those lustful beats. She becomes a hollow entity. Connell’s nameless relationship creates a living dead Marianne.
Marianne’s Existential crisis is at its height when in Sweden, she develops another toxic relationship with a guy who takes bondage photos of her. She is silently screaming at people to accept her from start to end but she fails miserably each time. She is a bird that is too pure for this corrupt world.
Connell and Marianne return back home from their student exchange program to attend the funeral of Rob and start making love. Marianne speaks, “Will you tell me I belong to you?” This single line pierces so many layers of your heart that tears are unavoidable. She is still struggling for belongingness because each and every person in the world resents her.
In the end, I feel Normal People is Marianne’s story of being in a world that is too complicated for a straightforward person.
‘Normal People’ Ending Explained
In a visible character arc, Connell transforms into a person who accepts Marianne in public and overcomes all his inhibitions. He confronts Marianne’s family, his abusive brother in particular, and warns him to never come near Marianne again. Connell takes Marianne home and she spends Christmas time with Connell’s family and friends. He finally hugs him warmly in front of the world. A blissful moment indeed.
However, their happiness doesn’t remain on track for long, as Connell receives an offer to study for an MFA program in New York. For that, he has either have to leave Marianne again or take her with him. Marianne decides not to go, as she needs to sort out her life in her hometown, County Sligo, but she urges Connell to live up to his dream.
The pair separates again. Connell says, “I’ll go.” Marianne, “And I’ll stay and we will be Okay.”
Season 2 might explore these two meetings again, if it happened. Until then, the distance is long and melancholy too deep.
Normal People is melancholy yet melodious. Each scene is coated with sadness and sports seclusion. If you have ever been in a toxic relationship or dejected by your own friends, family, or lover, I am sure, the series is not only going to make you cry but howl like a teen who just suffered from his first heartbreak. The background music heightens so many emotions that it is impossible to hold yourself back.
As a cinephile, I might have seen too many cheesy romance dramas but Normal People is not one. It is a complex narrative about complex human beings who are connected by simple love turned complicated by their own traits. That’s something we all do in life and that is why the series is so relatable and personal. I hope you enjoy it, as much I did.
Normal People is streaming on Hulu.
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