It’s been close to two weeks since I binged the immaculate television phenomenon that is Normal People, and I have yet to escape the emotional wave that has forcefully washed over me. Every time I think about the show, I find myself drowning in its deep ocean of feelings, with little desire to swim back ashore.
Normal People doesn’t just transform sorrow into an affecting narrative; it creates beauty out of it. In fact, the most striking feat of Normal People may be in its ability to mesmerize through the beauty of sadness and melancholy. This is far from the happiest of love stories, but it somehow still manages to tug at the heartstrings in all the right ways. This is a show that simply gushes with emotional aptitude, and it’s hard not to bathe in all its overly sorrowful, yet beautiful narrative.
Based on Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel of the same name, Normal People follows the tumultuous relationship between Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal). The story starts off in Sligo, Ireland during their final year of secondary school, before migrating to Dublin where they attend university. As one would expect, Normal People features elements of a coming-of-age tale, while also following a romance that is riddled with layers of complexity. Both Edgar-Jones and Mescal are unabashedly deserving of accolades come awards season later this year. They deserve the hype surrounding their performances.
The normalization of sadness
The question I continue to ask myself is how a story so deeply rooted in sadness can feel so instinctively ‘normal.’ Even though Normal People doesn’t follow the typical markings of a tragic love story, it fumes with tragedy all the way through. Even in its happy moments, there’s a feeling that these moments are fleeting, and the unfolding narrative constantly proves this to be the case.
Because the relationship between Marianne and Connell is marred with so much pain and trauma, their feelings for one another are naturally intensified, making it easier to connect with these complicated feelings. There’s a popular scene in the show (and presumably, the book as well) where there’s a heartfelt exchange of words between the two lovers:
Marianne: What about with me? Would you say your feelings are involved?
Marianne: Who is it obvious to?
Transposing this to my own personal affection for the feelings evoked through their relationship, this scene astutely illustrates the lack of clarity in how we tend to connect with sadness. For the most part, it’s not something that we necessarily think about or yearn for on a regular basis. But when the emotions present themselves, it’s in our nature to feel connected with them. Feelings of happiness are much more intuitive and straightforward in this sense, but the opposite of those feelings are in fact equally as normal. It’s something that isn’t always obvious to everyone, and the scene in question is a poignant illustration of this concept.
Though humans are inherently drawn to and connected with sadness, this emotion isn’t always beautiful. Most depictions of corroding romances tend to be brutal by design, and although that carries a sense of beauty in its own way, it’s not the type of beauty that reels you in. Take Blue Valentine, for example, a film evokes a similar sense of melancholy in a fractured relationship, but certainly isn’t something I plan to revisit on a regular basis. Similar to Normal People, the film’s emotional notes are raw and intensely affectionate, but to actually re-watch Blue Valentine would just be taxing for these very reasons.
Yet, despite the similarities, things are somehow different from Normal People. One of the show’s most famous lines, “It’s not like this with other people,” is perhaps a perfect allegory for what Normal People is able to do with its narration of a doomed romance and all the feelings that come with it. Despite how painful the experience can be at times, I find myself wanting to go back and relish on how the show created so much beauty from something that is so entrenched in sadness.
When all is said and done, every glance and passionate interaction between Marianne and Connell is a constant reminder that melancholy and sadness can be a truly beautiful, and normal, thing. In many ways, Normal People takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary.
What did you think of Normal People? Let us know your favorite coming-of-age love stories in the comments!
Normal People is currently streaming on Hulu.
Watch Normal People
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