Doesn't the pleasure feel normal?

Streaming series "Normal People" : So this is how intimate sex works

Berlin - It was one of those long Corona days in which the only distraction consisted of walks. One thing sticks in my mind when a friend (early 30s) told me about a book that had completely revolutionized her view of sexuality: Sally Rooney's "Normal People". The BBC has transformed the world bestseller into a twelve-part series, and it is now also running in Germany. The 29-year-old writer worked on the script herself, which may be the reason why so many Rooney fans think the adaptation is so successful. My companion did that too.

When I asked for a synopsis and then heard that it was actually about a love story - the classic: boy meets girl - it was difficult for me to understand why a whole generation of women between 25 and 35 years old were so enthusiastic about this material feels addressed (and clogged all Instagram channels with Rooney tributes). After much deliberation, my companion said: “Most Hollywood films follow an old cliché: two people get to know each other, kiss, fall in love, have unmotivated sex. It's different with Sally Rooney. She has a feminine look and shows how Attraction arises, wie two people fall in loveWhy they have sex with each other. There has not been something like that before."

Contradictions in sex

That made me curious. As a man, what can I learn from this series? I took a few days to read the novel and then watch the series. What can I say: The plot is simple and can hardly explain the success. The story takes place in a small Irish town. Marianne is a girl from a good family who is considered an outsider at school. Her counterpart is Connell, who is not only popular and athletic, but also quite clever, although he has a proletarian background. After the first meeting, the two teenagers begin an affair in which they act out and discover each other sexually. But things quickly get bumpy: lust brings them together, differences bring them apart again.

Little by little you understand the fascination of this story. Suddenly it becomes apparent which forces the two have to overcome in order to get closer - it is the forces of patriarchy. Connell is sensitive and intelligent, but he presents himself as a strong guy. He feels safe with Marianne - and yet he doesn't dare to introduce her to his friends as a friend. Marianne, in turn, wants to urge Connell to study literature so that he can be presented to the higher circles. That doesn't change the fact that she is attracted to Connell's self-confidence, his popularity, his archaic defiance. This contradiction will play an important role later.

The fun of pain

It is the authentic and finely pointed dialogues that make not only the novel, but also the series so attractive. The on-and-off relationship between Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal), which extends from high school to college, feels like a sledding course in modern intimacy. The two protagonists want each other, but the patriarchal forces hold them back. Especially in sex they get close to each other. Connell can be insecure and sensitive and reveal all his contradictions, while Marianne downright demands these contradictions. Despite her cleverness and emancipation, she discovered her submissive desire, the pleasure in humiliation, the pleasure in pain.

When Marianne begins to study and grows from a wallflower to a cool model student, she begins a relationship with Jamie, a conservative who always slaps her face during sex. Jamie is an ideal test subject as an amorous interim solution. Without consciously enjoying it, Marianne has to admit that Jamie's gruff manner brings her to orgasm every time. As if mind and body were decoupled from each other, as if desire were following winding paths that Marianne is not able to penetrate intellectually.

An eroticism of the gray areas

Sally Rooney illuminates the complex entanglements of two lovers as if she were on the trail of a magical attraction. In addition to gender roles, digital forms of communication stand in the way of the protagonists. Marianne and Connell are fully networked and yet they write past each other. Class consciousness is also a problem. Connell is poor, Marianne is rich. The greatest of all tasks is to shake off the socially predetermined roles and fill them up anew.

And now to the most important question: Why does the sex look so intimate in this series by directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie MacDonald? The answer lies in the vulnerability to which both protagonists open up. The looks, the approaches, the sometimes tender touches, sometimes hard grips and the long tracking shots leave room for an eroticism that I have seldom seen so nuanced on television. One notices that our toxic uptightness in sex is based in particular on behavior that the porn and Hollywood industries convey - mechanically, technically, quickly. With “normal people”, on the other hand, an eroticism is rehearsed that opens up to the gray areas. Who would have thought this was so sexy.

"Normal People" has 12 episodes of 30 minutes each and runs on StarzPlay. The novel "Normal People" was published in English, but will also be published in German under the title "Normale Menschen" on August 17, 2020 by Luchterhand-Verlag.