If we think about our past, are we able to scan our lives through a plot? I personally find it a bit difficult, what I remember vividly is always accompanied by a feeling, by an emotional state that, beautiful or bad, has enclosed a set of days or moments. Yet we idealize the design of a life in time bands with childhood, adolescence, “middle” adulthood, “advanced” adulthood, etc.. But do we really need to divide the years in this way or are we just trying to justify the ages through this idea? Normal People, the TV series directed by Lenny Abrahamson, made me think about a few things and realize that maybe there’s nothing normal about people, or maybe it’s all too normal.
Released during the summer of 2020, the series is based on the second novel by Irish author Sally Rooney and tells the story of Marianne and Connell, two young people who attend the same high school. His mother works as a housekeeper in the Sheridan’s big house. Connell is a popular athlete and the bright student everyone looks up to. Marianne is “uncool,” grumpy and rebellious despite an impeccable high school career. From this premise, it’s as if we can already have a clear picture of the two guys’ plans, know their lives and even imagine the end. But while all this might be true, the only thing we’ll need to know is that the plot is a secondary source. The story, theirs, is not driven by the events that sanction the beginning and happy ending of something, but by the emotional peaks of the two characters who learn about themselves in the difficulties and moments of discouragement.
And if the dialogues help us to understand them better, their gestures will be the culmination in which all thoughts will converge; it will seem to us to have lived those sensations and we will almost want to try them again.
The physical touch allows Marianne and Connell to show emotional vulnerability that is otherwise given to them with incredible difficulty. Ita O’Brien, who helped coordinate these scenes, is the author of a set of guidelines on how to ethically stage erotic scenes; she was the one who helped film another sex-positive modern series, “Sex Education.” Director Abrahamson and coordinator O’Brian wanted the sex in the show to feel open, normal and natural, and somewhat equal to any dialogue-this approach almost literally quotes the way Rooney herself handles the subject matter in the book. And director of photography Susie Lovell says that the main reference on set in terms of nudity and color solutions was a candid series of photographs by Nan Goldin.
Speaking of which, it’s worth noting how the visual solutions rhyme with a detached style of storytelling: blue tones even on hot summer days, delicate macro photography and a tactile approach to the set design, heavy curtains, velvet or velvet pleasant to the touch, woolen sweaters, textured bedding, peeling on the ceiling wet locks adhered to the forehead. Where the show lacks depth, it makes up for it with an enveloping atmosphere. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that the episodes last only half an hour – for a story where formally little happens, the experience is very intense.
Simple but visually striking scenes reminiscent of the work of photographer Julien Lallouette. Born in 1991, Julien is a French art director and photographer, born in Le Havre, and based in London. In addition to commercial work, Julien does personal projects where she focuses on one person at a time. His delicacy lies in leaving space for the subject, to tell someone’s story through the habits and gestures trapped in the photos. Visiting her site you can find different series of shots, each dedicated to a different person and titled with the name of the protagonist. Friends, acquaintances, but also models are portrayed in domestic and intimate environments where they have the freedom to show themselves as they really are.
The question most remains this: are we all perfect or are we just imperfectly normal people? Sally Rooney says “what if we admit extreme individualism is unsustainable and try to find the meaning of life in a variety of contacts with others?” What we seek is the possibility of being ourselves while remaining close to others.
Did you know: After filming wrapped, Paul Mescal gave his character’s signature chain necklace as a gift to Daisy Edgar-Jones.
Director: Lenny Abrahamson
Director of photography: Suzie Lavelle
Writers: Sally Rooney, Alice Birch, Mark O’Rowe
Stars: Paul Mascal, Daisy Edgar-Jones