Many of us in the world owe a great deal to our ancestors for daring to dream a little bigger. Once upon a time, they left behind everything they knew and went out into the great unknown in search of a better life and better opportunities.
What’s more, they often did so when those around them didn’t think they could…which might have been the greatest challenge of all.
BROOKLYN is the story of Eillis (Saoirse Ronan). The second-born daughter of a single mother in a quiet Irish town, Eillis longs to move to America and seek better opportunities – eventually getting her wish. Doe-eyed when she first arrives, she is shepherded into life in America by her boarding house-mother (Julie Walters), and the parish priest (Jim Broadbent). She eventually shakes off a bad case of homesickness and falls hard for an Italian boy named Tony (Emory Cohen). The two fall deeply in love and seem well on their way to building a life together, until a family emergency calls Eillis back to Ireland, and finds her seriously considering not going back.
There’s a candy-coloured gloss to BROOKLYN; a honey tinted glow that serves its characters well and romanticizes the era. The look and the tone it conveys gives the film a bit less bite than it may have otherwise had, but it does a lot to play up the romance at the centre of the story and the actress that carries it all.
We never want to think about the prejudice and racism that would have been thrown at a woman like Eillis, we never want to think about how many decisions were made for a character like Eillis. We want to think about the way love helps us grow, and the way the past always seems more romantic. What better way to do that than to pan across bustling lunch counters and sweep through the lobby of a 1950’s movie house? How better to look upon our heroine as a beacon (and lord-ee, does Ronan play an amazing beacon) than to make her resplendent in vibrant shades of green, yellow, and pink?
There’s really nothing wrong with that, it’s just a wish that the film dialled down the sweet and pumped up a bit of the bitter.
BROOKLYN is at its best when it questions our notions of home. When Eillis first gets to America, she feels so far away from what she knows and life as she knows it. “Home” is an ocean away at that moment. When she eventually returns to Ireland, we can see how differently she now sees it and what life in America with Tony has meant to her. “Home” is no longer associated with the place she grew up. BROOKLYN sees that the search for a place we can feel most ourselves and most vulnerable isn’t defined by our papers or a parse of land.
We forget that sometimes as we muddle along, so it’s wonderful that films like BROOKLYN exist to tell us who we are and remind us of who we were.