“Brooklyn” forces us to leave home again and again until our fantasy of its permanence fades.
Directed by John Crowley
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson
Release Date: Nov. 20, 2015
There are no easy choices in “Brooklyn,” for they all put into question the delicate and difficult concept of “home” — its location, inhabitants and value. Though you will likely leave disagreeing with some of the characters’ decisions, the talent, both on-screen and off-screen, guide you through the film with such tenderness and care, that each of their choices feels earned and noble. “Brooklyn” convinces you that home is precisely where you choose to make it.
The film opens in a small town in 1950s Ireland, one which lacks opportunity and excitement. A young girl, Eilis, suffers from this confinement. She wants to be a bookkeeper but instead works part-time at a bakery owned by the rudest woman in town. She has love to offer, but the men in her town are uniform and dull. This changes, however, when Eilis’ sister arranges for her to move to Brooklyn in pursuit of a more fulfilling life.
“Think like an American,” a woman tells her on the boat ride across the Atlantic, recognizing that Eilis is too timid and too weak to thrive in New York City. And she’s right. Eilis’ lack of independence in Ireland follows her to America as she relies heavily on her memories from home. The only thing she derives joy from is the occasional letter from her sister. Director John Crowley displays precision in his juxtaposition of this foreign land, steering his actors to inhabit accents energies that correspond to the length of time their characters have lived there.
However, when her immigration sponsor, a priest from Ireland, sees her break down from missing home, he assures her that homesickness is the same as any other sickness: “It won’t kill you.” After this, Eilis begins to take steps towards building a life in her new environment, enrolling herself in accounting classes, going out to dances and finally bonding with her living mates. She even volunteers her Christmas to feeding the homeless Irish immigrants in Brooklyn, one of whom sings a song from their homeland that, by its sound alone, communicates to the audience the nostalgia fighting to take control of Eilis.
Saoirse Ronan, who plays Eilis, exhibits this progression masterfully. Emerging from innocence and achieving courage, Ronan utilizes her period-dramatic roots to bring both the anguish and optimism of Eilis to the screen. This is especially true when she meets her match, both acting-wise and romance-wise, Emory Cohen. His character Tony — an Italian, Brooklyn-born plumber — is sweet and respectful toward Eilis, and Cohen plays him with such tenderness that neither the characters nor the audience can detach themselves from their relationship.
That is, until tragedy strikes and Eilis must return home to Ireland, where all of her family and friends await her return, including her hometown’s catch Jim Farrell, portrayed charmingly by Domhnall Gleeson. Eilis grows increasingly fond of Jim, to the point that she now considers staying with him in Ireland and leaving her life with Tony and Brooklyn behind. This decision gets even more difficult as she realizes that home is no longer how she remembers it, or more accurately, how she fantasized it to be.
Though the entirety of the film builds up to this decision, a scene in the bathroom between Eilis and her housemate reminds us that no matter where we are or choose to make our home, we’ll never stop missing wherever else we have been. Eilis asks, “Do you ever want to get married again?” She responds, “Of course I do. And then I’ll wish I was back here in the bathroom talking to you.”