We can’t help but notice how heartstoppingly good the intimacy of Normal People is in the sea of lame sex scenes on TV. Based on Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name, Normal Peoplefollows the intensely emotional relationship and friendship of Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal).
While the story is simple, focusing on the sort of will-they/won’t-they pattern we often see in storytelling to map the emotions of the two love interests, the premise of Normal People focuses heavily on the nuance and subtleties of the relationship, bringing the beauty of Marianne’s and Connell’s love into living color.
These small details that heighten the intimacy throughout the story could have been easily missed if the camera were not used to bring the interiority of the characters to the visual storytelling. Skip Intro breaks down how the camera’s shallow depth of field and framing of the characters illustrate a connection that feels like fate. You can check out the full length down below.
The Intention Behind the Shallow Depth of Field
One of the ways that the camera captures every intimate moment between Marianne and Connell is through the shallow depth of field with the Canon K35 prime lenses on the ARRI Alexa. The small slice of space allows for the two characters to stay in focus while everything else falls out of focus.
Most filmmakers misuse a shallow depth of field, often using it to add a bit of flare to a scene when it is not needed. But Normal People sucks you in and traps you with moments of emotional and physical intimacy.
The shallow depth of field allows the viewer to focus on the small details in the intimate moments, like when Connell breathes lightly, stirring Marianne’s hair. This focus on the details gives a scene a tangible quality that emulates what a reader would feel as they read the narration of those exact little details in the novel. The softness of the details invites you in, allowing you to share this moment between two people as the rest of the world dissolves, giving space only for these feelings to exist and nothing else.
The Canon K35 lenses helped achieve this shallow depth of field along with a flare and fogging that gave each intimate moment an otherworldly feel that comes with those moments. The camera helps to build a tone that lays the foundation of the story.
'Normal People'Credit: BBC Studios
Framing the Emotions of the Characters
Normal People is truly a series based on experience and requires a visual language that keeps the viewer present at the moment to explain the emotional storyline. The handheld camera provides its translation, communicating a closeness that is delicate and beautiful.
While the shallow depth of field allows the characters to exist in their own world, the camera frames Marianne and Connell in specific ways to show their understanding of one another.
Marianne and Connell are often placed in the frame in a way that draws some separation between them and their environment. Divided from their peers and their work.
When they are apart, they both feel alone and unseen, often existing on the edges of the frame and the outskirts of groups. Sometimes, when other characters are talking to Marianne or Connell, the camera lingers over their face as events wash over them. Other times, the pair is shot from behind as they walk, silhouetted against the rest of the world. If others join them, the camera’s position changes to face the characters before returning to its original position after the interaction is over. The camera starts to show the absence of closeness when they are apart.
When the two are together again, the composition changes, framing Marianne and Connell within the frame in their own little, impenetrable world.
Often, the composition will have the shots set up in a way that when each medium shot is side by side, Marianne and Connell’s eyes meet. The symmetry represents their ability to see each other as they are and understand one another in a way that nobody else does. When they fight, the shallow depth of field changes, but the angles change to break the symmetrical shots from before, eliminating the eye lines. Even though they don’t see eye-to-eye on a specific topic, they are still in their own world.
'Normal People'Credit: BBC Studios
These little details in the cinematography provide us with a deeper perspective of these characters. Like Marianne and Connell, the camera gives the audience the ability to see them for who they are throughout their lives. While the audience might not agree with some of their actions, the camera provides perspective on the unique feeling of the fated romance of Normal People.
What are your favorite shots from Normal People? Let us know why in the comments below!
Source: Skip Intro