You know what I respect about Marianne? She asks for what she wants, and she gets it. Teen me would NEVER have been so brazen. And I should have been more brazen because I would’ve had way more fun. Marianne, who knows what’s up, considers and then ultimately removes eyeliner before committing to her signature come-hither look — cute high bun, a mile of exposed clavicle — and bops over to Connell’s place.
On the other hand, you know what is super annoying about Marianne? That she is so self-effacing I’m worried she will actually wear away at her own skin until her bones are popping out. That this is very realistic teenage behavior does not make it any less grating. She does a lot of asking the guy who is currently having sex with her if he’s sure he really wants to be having sex with her, on account of how she’s so repulsive and awful and unattractive and so on. But self-loathing is pretty on-brand for an unpopular high-school girl, so I shouldn’t be so hard on her.
Connell’s defining trait, such as it is, is that he has no definition: He doesn’t know who he is, what he wants, what he likes. He’s this blank slate of a person, waiting for whoever is closest to him to tell him who he ought to be. So while Marianne is hyperarticulate about her desires, Connell is constantly fumbling for the words to express the feelings he isn’t even 100 percent sure he has.
All of that said, it’s quite refreshing to see a story in which it’s the girl who initiates sex and the guy who is a bit cautious and concerned with her comfort, rather than a story in which the guy cajoles some unwilling, uncertain girl into giving up her virginity because she can totally trust him or whatever. (Also, points for realism in their struggle at getting her tight-fitting bralette off over her head. Why didn’t she wear a different bra? “I didn’t think it through!” she says, though later we can see that her underwear matches her bra so … she did give it some thought, after all.) Honestly, as I watched this all I could write in my notes was, “Wow, stone-cold-sober teen sex, these kids are BRAVE, God bless them!”
Also in my notes: “I can only imagine how awkward this was to film.” Sally Rooney is one of the only fiction writers out there who can deliver a sex scene that actually feels intimate and vivid and sometimes even sexy, and at the very least doesn’t make you die of secondhand cringing. So I’m impressed with their ability to translate all those critical qualities to the screen. Great work, everybody.
By the harsh light of the school day, Connell’s rude friends are mad that he didn’t use his empty house in the way they would have liked (to throw a party) and Connell pretends he’s “the worst” for failing to do so. By that cool post-school afternoon light, though, he goes back to Marianne, who is awaiting him in her cute nonuniform uniform. Her striped socks! My heart! Marianne has this compulsion about telling Connell how she feels about him (enamored, amazed, kind of obsessed) and how she feels about herself (worthless, gross. Is he really sure he wants to have sex with her? He can tell her if he doesn’t; she’d totally understand). I kept coming back to this part where she tells him that watching him do sports made her think about “how much I wanted to watch you have sex. I mean, no even with me. With anybody.” Just, oof. Also, this music cue! Really brings me back.
So Marianne has to sell raffle tickets at a school event, and one of the mean blondes was almost nice to her about it, which should make all of us very nervous. Connell will also be there, and of course they will have to pretend they haven’t spent the past several days or weeks or whatever it is heavily breathing into each others’ necks. “I hope you don’t find it too hard trying to resist me,” she says to him very matter-of-factly. Later, Connell writes about Marianne in his journal (!) and dodges the suggestive questions coming from one of his douchey friends who wants to know what she’s like in “her natural habitat.” Truly, all the time he spends away from Marianne seems insufferable. I know he’s the popular one and she’s all lonely, but he doesn’t exactly seem thrilled to be anywhere when he isn’t with her.
Connell is so out of touch with his own wants and needs that he doesn’t even know why he picked law for his college studies, and he is swayed out of that and into English after a .05-second-long conversation with Marianne. (He asks if she’s joking and it’s like … literally has she ever joked with you?) She encourages him to apply to Trinity, where she’s applying and obviously knows she’ll get in.
“I bet you’ll pretend not to know me if we bumped into each other,” he says, and realizes immediately that it was the wrong thing to say, given … everything. She looks appropriately stung. “I would never pretend not to know you, Connell.” You know, because he’s a coward and she’s not. I mean she has her issues. She asked him if he had a crush on any other girl in school while he was still inside her. But she would not pretend not to know him, I do believe that.
At home, Marianne’s hair is in a low bun because her true self (high bun) is crushed when she’s surrounded by her suffocating, cruel family, and because it’s similar to the style her mom wears, which Marianne is probably emulating on some level. Just hearing about his sister’s plans to follow in their mom’s footsteps to Trinity sends big brother Alan into a quiet rage, and he fumes off to the pub — where, coincidentally, Connell and hot blonde Rachel are also hanging out. Connell gets a “What are you up to?” text from Marianne, which he ignores to save face with the blondes.
At school, all of his friends — can he at least have one friend who doesn’t suck? Kind of strains credulity that every single one of his friends is a prick, no? — are being dicks about going to the Debs, where Marianne will be selling those raffle tickets. One douchey boy asks Marianne as his date, as a joke, and she rejects him, seriously, so he taunts her about thinking she’s too good for him. Again, she answers him seriously: She is! Naturally, he responds by calling her “an ugly, flat-chested bitch,” and naturally Connell says absolutely nothing, just waits until after school so he can go to her place with his tail between his legs.
There’s an abandoned house behind the school called the Ghost where the cool kids go. Marianne’s never even heard of it, so she asks Connell to take her. When they get there, it reminds me of that scene in Lady Bird when they go to the Deuce and it’s just a different parking lot from the one they were hanging out in before. Here, Marianne fully commits to the bit (the bit being her feelings): “I would lie down here and you could do anything you wanted to me. Do you know that?” Connell, who cannot handle this much raw emotion, just asks, “Do you enjoy making me feel uncomfortable?” So she calls his bluff: Maybe she ought to just leave him alone.
After dancing around it like an idiot — saying, well, gee, that would surprise him ‘cause it seemed like she was having such a good time, and you’re just making me feel insecure, and blah, blah, whatever; it’s a real checkers and chess situation regarding Connell’s and Marianne’s emotional intelligence here — he FINALLY admits that he would be “upset” if she broke up with him. And she gets him to admit that he would miss having sex with her. So … that’s something. And soon they’ll be at that school-dance thing together, but not together together. Can’t imagine what could go wrong!