I heard about Brooklyn two hours before watching it. At that point, I had been living in this new country for three years and was just getting into film. I did not know the names of any directors or actors – I just followed people’s advice. I had heard good things about this melodrama with that actress from The Lovely Bones. So, logically, I just dragged my dad to the theater with me to see it. Little did I know “this melodrama” would become one of my favorite films and probably the one I can relate to the most.
The trailer from Brooklyn can lead to confusion, after watching it you may think it focuses on this international love triangle spanning from New York to Ireland. When in fact, this only occupies around a fourth to a third of the film. Some would say the main focus of this film is the beautiful love story between Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) and Tony (Emory Cohen). I would argue that, while Eilis and Tony’s relationship is wonderful, the focus of the movie is actually Eilis’s accustumation to New York.
Brooklyn portrays with rare honesty the feeling of being away from home, the different stages of adjustment and most importantly what ties everything together: time. Right after stepping onto the boat to set off for America, Eilis meets a fashionable Irish woman who quickly becomes her short-term mentor. By the end of the voyage, Eilis asks her how long the letters from Ireland take to arrive to America. To this question the woman replies, “They take a long time at first. And then no time at all.” This will echo with Eilis’ adaptation throughout the entire film. At first, she feels homesick, she has no friends, no real sense of purpose and the film shows one day after the other. All of a sudden, Eilis has found a new goal: to become an accountant just like her sister and it turns out her boss is actually quite fond of her.
As Winter passes, Eilis grows more comfortable in Brooklyn, not only from an adaptation point of view, but also in terms self-confidence. Now, time is not divided by days, but by months, and letters start coming as surprises instead of highlights. While she still misses her family in Enniscorthy, Eilis has inevitably become one with the New York crowd and this has turned into her new home.
Where Brooklyn makes the right choices is that it does the full trajectory. Being an immigrant is not only hard when you are away but strangely, it is also hard when you revisit. You see everything as it was before but different, you lose loved ones even though you swore you would see them again, friends get engaged and you do not feel like you belong here anymore. Coming back home makes you wonder if you should have left in the first place, as folks are doing just fine here too.
However, as nice as it for Eilis to see an empty beach again and getting to spend time with her mom and with old and new friends, rude store tenants remain rude, conservative people remain conservative and Eilis’ world has also kept spinning since she left. After all, her sister did send her to America for a reason.
Brooklyn takes us through the journey of this young immigrant woman while showing us the bad and the good with nuance through its contained but always clever writing and pacing. I am not Irish, nor white – but I saw myself in Eilis, as she said goodbye to loved ones with tight hugs and saddened smiles, as she cried wanting to see her sister again, as she aced her exams, made meaningful connections and started to call this new place her home.