“BROOKLYN”IS A a wonderful love story – heartfelt, honest and beautifully observed – that never has to rely on injected drama (say, a brutal husband, an unexpected pregnancy, infidelity etc) to express and evoke the passion and natural drama of love.
Set in the early 50’s, the story follows the fortunes of Eilis (an often wordless, Oscar-worthy performance from Saoirise Ronan, from “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Hanna”), a quiet, unassuming and underemployed girl. Egged on by her sister, she lights out from a depressed Ireland for New York in the hope of better. But she soon discovers that the adventure of hope is no compensation for the despair of the loss of family…of all that’s familiar. And Eilis, living now in Brooklyn, has to overcome the bouts of crippling homesickness every lonely emigrant experiences. Slowly, she builds a new life, finds love (with another emigrant, an Italian), grows in confidence and begins, as an accountancy student, to spread her wings beyond her limiting job (as a sales clerk).
It’s the non-Donald Trump story of America.
All is just fine until a sudden death drags her back home…back to all that’s familiar, the good things and the bad.
But, the story suggests, though the emigrant can return to the same country, too much has changed within, to ever return to the same place you remembered. When Eilis returns to Ireland, she is no longer the shy, dowdy girl who left. She returns as a confident, glamorous and (to her friends) worldly and well-travelled woman. The story explores how experience and maturity (in this case, the experience of a new life) alters both how we see and are seen. (As one of her friends back home laments, how limited and naive his understanding of the world must be when compared with hers). Eilis’ new found inner strength open doors that would have been closed before, and, to people she’s always known, she glows with a new heightened exoticism and appeal.
It all leads to an unexpected mutual attraction between her and the ‘catch’ of the town (Domhall Gleeson from “The Revenant”)
For “Brooklyn” is really a dual love story. Eilis must choose between Jim (Gleeson), a good Irish boy, who personifies all the values of her beloved mother country and Tony (Emory Cohen), an ambitious Italian plumber, who himself personifies all the values of Brooklyn, the brave new world. She has to choose between the creature comforts and easy wealth of her (wealthy) Irish beau with the potential hardships and struggle of her new world lover…her new world love.
Like every emigrant who has ever left the homeland for a distant shore, Eilis must work out for herself just where ‘home’ really lies… just which home/man to love. And for her, like so many others, the reality of Ireland must in the end give way to the pull of the heart: to Brooklyn…not just the home away from home, but suddenly, surprisingly, home itself.
This quintessential emigrant’s story is from the book by Colm Toibin… marvellously translated to the screen by the ever-productive Nick Hornby (“Wild”, “About a Boy”, “An Education”). Hornby and director John Crowley (“Closed Circuit”, “Boy A”) admirably balance the hysteria- free angst and agony of Eilis’ separation from the known, with the joy and thrill of the immigrant’s discovery of a new world… and of new, previous unplumbed caverns of the heart.
Michael Brook’s (“Into the Wild”) equally understated, but beautifully affective score complete the teamwork to give this gentle film great richness and a dense emotional timbre.
Brooklyn. With Saoisise Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent. Dir: John Crowley. Screenplay: Nick Hornby. Cinematographer: Yves Bélanger (“Wild)