Photo: Normal People/Hulu
It is a rare occurrence when we see intimacy portrayed in its truest form in the entertainment industry, and Hulu’s new show Normal People has irrefutably mastered this skill and then some. Adapted from Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel Normal People, this 12-part story lives between Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal); two high school students who begin a secret relationship that spans throughout their shared time at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Aside from the fact that this show received notable fame and praise in nearly an instant — even earning a growingly popular Instagram page dedicated to Connell’s chain necklace — its newfound success is anything but surprising. In an innovative approach to romance, Normal People speaks a different language than the one we’ve come to expect from a story like this: a wordless language.
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The Private World of the Misunderstood
Most of the scenes between Marianne and Connell were shot in close-ups with shallow depth of field behind them, even during scenes in which they are separated by an entire room. The slight blurriness directs the viewer’s eye to focus on the clearest image which so happens to be their, otherwise unnoticeable, facial features. From this close distance, even the slightest lip twitch gives a distinct insight as to what either of them may be thinking. It is through this lens that cinematographer Suzie Lavelle was somehow able to visually capture thought on camera.
In addition, this technique strengthens our understanding of Marianne and Connell both as a couple and as individuals. We follow their lives for a number of years, throughout which they encounter various changes: environmental, relational, and personal. But while the world around them moves, one thing remains a constant throughout all 12 episodes: their inherent magnetism.
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As a viewer, we have the privilege to see them in the same light. Furthermore, the viewer is allowed to witness each of their personal traumas which, in turn, ultimately grants us the ability to understand them–and the decisions they make–on a deeper level. Normal People facilitates a remarkable relationship between the viewer and its characters, leading us to mirror their experiences of great pleasure and great pain. Or, in simpler terms, we are completely and utterly vulnerable.
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Intimacy as a Language, and this Show ‘Normal People’ Speaks it Fluently
Sex scenes are no new invention, however, there is surely innovation in this show’s approach to sex both in its depiction and in its process of creation. Directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald treat intimacy with the utmost care in ensuring that each moment was absolutely necessary for the development of the story. In this fashion, they made clear efforts to emphasize the value of sex. Additionally, established intimacy co-ordinator Ita O’Brien was brought on set to coach the actors throughout their scenes, facilitating healthy dialogue about their freedom for artistic exploration and their, equally as important, rightful safety.
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The Whole is Greater than the Sum of its Parts
The triumph of Normal People was made possible by its ability to use cinematography as a mode of communication, and we heard it loud and clear. The carefully crafted moments of intimacy serve as a pathfinder for what is possible in future representations of love. Additionally, and out of respect to the 100,000 Instagram followers, Connell’s chain necklace was undoubtedly a crucial asset to its success. However, to break down directors Abrahamson and Macdonald’s work piece-by-piece any further would depreciate its value. In its complete and finished form, it’s worth its weight in gold.
It’s difficult to write a worthy review of this show without coming to the understanding that, ultimately, it can’t be done. The attempt to put something so ineffable in nature into words is, by definition, unattainable. The sheer beauty of this show is too sacred to be uttered and, thus, it simply must be watched.
By Jenna Trattner
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Jenna Trattner’s unparalleled passion for film led her to graduate with a degree in the subject. Often times she can be found talking a listener’s ear off about the latest and greatest hit show or movie. As a writer for Hollywood Insider, she has the opportunity to do just that! Jenna has always been acutely aware that every aspect of a film is always accompanied by intent–nothing is shown on screen by mere happenstance. She enjoys examining the creative choices made in films, interpreting their implicated message, and navigating how these messages translate to the screen and are received by their audience. Through this practice, Jenna hopes to engage her readers while encouraging them to formulate deeper understandings true to their own personal interpretations.