I’ve already seen two movies this year in the space of 35 days, which is probably some kind of record. It did only cost me $5 to see them, but I’d like to think I would have the time for them even if it had to be in the comfort of my own apartment. Yesterday, I went to see a preview screening of Brooklyn.
Brooklyn is a beautifully crafted bildungsroman, a tale of family, and of home. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) takes us on a journey which, though short, runs a gamut of emotions (and most of them involve tears). Brooklyn is noisy, full of people, cars, and conversation, and to Eilis, it is completely foreign. But it turns out it is also a place that allows her to be herself – an intelligent young lady, wise beyond her years, with a wit that belies her soft features. Love will do that to you, it seems. Tony Fiorello (Emery Cohen), a dashing young man, complete with a spaghetti eating, baseball loving family, captures Eilis’ heart – if not ours as well. She makes friends with the other girls at the boarding house, who have an equal respect and disdain for her, and is guided along the way by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), as well as some brilliant comedic timing, courtesy of Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters).
But there is another life for her in Ireland, if she wants it. It is one where her sister, Rose, passes away because of a sudden illness. It is one where her mother is now left, more heartbroken than ever. It is one where Jim Farrell (Domnhall Gleeson), a genuine catch of a man, lives. And it is upon her return to Ireland that Eilis truly begins to realise the meaning of home.
The Eilis who steps off the boat onto Irish soil is a changed woman. She is glamorous, fashionable, and full of stories, but she also has ambition, a knack for numbers, and a wedding ring tucked in the depths of her bag. She wears her turquoise coloured cat-eye sunglasses to buy groceries, and her emerald green halter-top bathing suit to the beach. She eats while Jim chatters about his hopes and dreams, a role reversal which highlights the isolation of the island. But all the while, she is homesick. For Brooklyn, for her husband, for a life lived on her own terms, even if it is one away from her mother. Ultimately, Eilis does not choose to return to America – she needs to.
It is an ordinary story, but also an extraordinary one.
It is also a story told with colour. Eilis begins her journey in muted greens and browns, in contrast to her seasoned bunkmate on the ship to New York, who seems to be the picture of perfection, topped off by red lips and neatly coiffured hair. The colours seem brighter in Brooklyn than in Enniscorthy, and this is set in motion by a flash of light surging through the royal blue doors that welcome Eilis to America. At first she is drab compared to the other girls in the boarding house, but working at Bertocchi’s certainly seems to serve her well, and by the end of the film, she is dressing in light blues, oranges, yellows and pinks, colours which make her stand out against a backdrop of Irish men and women. Through it all, Eilis is still the image of decorum – yes, even when she is wearing a spot or two of makeup.
Eilis’ story is relatable for many women, both young and old. There comes a time when we realise we need to grow up, whether we like it or not. That the world will move on with or without you, and it is up to you to make of it what you will. There will be choices along the way – tough ones, and you might even stumble and fall – but in the end, all that matters is that you find something or someone you love, and somewhere you can truly call home.
The story of Brooklyn is everyone’s story. It is an ordinary story, but also an extraordinary one.