Brooklyn is a Canadian-Irish Co-production based on the novel written by Colm Tóibín in 2009. The narrative, set in the 1950s, is about a young Irish woman named Eilis Lacey who makes the difficult decision to leave her family to move to Brooklyn, New York where she will be able to work, study and build a life for herself. Since I did not read the book before seeing this film, I had no idea what to expect and after seeing the trailer, my expectations remained rather low. I put the movie on one night after getting ready for bed so that I could fall asleep to it in case I thought it was nothing special. Imagine my surprise just over an hour and a half later with my mind spinning and traces of tears on my pillow. This film truly has the power to hit you in moments you least expect it. Or maybe that’s just me. This story and the way Crowley brings it to life on the screen is stunning and deeply moving in its simplicity.
The film explores the various adversities and blessings that Eilis experiences on her journey as a result of moving to Brooklyn. The simplicity of the narrative reflects Eilis as a protagonist because she is an ordinary woman with ordinary dreams and ambitions. She is studying to become a book keeper so that one day she can become an accountant like her older sister. Her actions and responses to her circumstances are compelling because we immediately understand them. We witness Eilis experience a collection of different emotions and inner struggles as she becomes increasingly torn between two homes and it is the emotion that is so strongly emitted, that I imagine anyone can relate to. More importantly, Saoirse Ronan who plays the protagonist is the one who gives Eilis’s character this essence of familiarity and innocence.
Ronan carries herself with this very gentle grace throughout the film which allows the protagonist to carry the film’s tone on her shoulders the whole way. The timid and reserved composure is endearing which was highly effective in that when Eilis was happy, I was happy. When Eilis was crying, I was crying. Her character does not ask for sympathy from the audience because she does not need to. The purity that resides in Eilis’s every move is so evident that we cannot possibly question our natural urge to support her and want what’s best for her.
Not only is Eilis’s character ordinary in nature, but so is almost everyone else in the film. The narrative does not present these characters in a multidimensional way and normally that would be a big issue for me. This is a story of ordinary people with ordinary hopes and desires which makes their motives crystal-clear. The things they do and the choices they make can be taken as genuine without question. It definitely does not hurt that the entire cast seems to assume their roles with as much ease as Ronan. Perhaps their acting is so good because again, this is a simple story that anyone can find some way to relate to it.
I am particularly fond of Eilis’s love interest, Tony. He has this interesting combination of shyness and confidence to his character that comes off as very charming. Aside from this aspect of his character and perhaps his physical appeal, he’s an average joe with imperfections like everyone else. He does not come from a well-off family and therefore has not been given the luxury of a fulfilling education. His reading and writing skills are not very good and he supports himself and his family through his full-time job as a Plummer (not your typical male protagonist). He is also shorter than Eilis, though barely enough to tell, which is refreshing as it does not fit the ideal Hollywood movie couple.
Now, I thought I would be ready to wrap it up by now but it turns out I’m not quite finished expressing my appreciation for Eilis’s character. There are many instances in the film where the camera focuses in on Eilis for a rather long time, reflecting on her circumstance, catching her in a highly emotional moment. Normally at this point in a film, we would hear our protagonist begin to narrate their thoughts as the camera comes into a close-up, however, in Brooklyn this is not the case. We sit and observe Eilis reflecting in silence and with just a carefully calculated acting job by Ronan, the audience knows exactly what’s going on in her character’s head and instead of waiting awkwardly and impatiently wondering why the camera is lingering here for so long, we are captivated by her inner thoughts being expressed with merely a meaningful look in her eye. Again, it comes back to the simple fact that Eilis is like us, and for that we can easily understand her.
As far as directing goes, Crowley’s depiction of such a colourful and historical revolutionary time period made me feel as if I was there. I know that’s cliché but I really do think he did a fantastic job in bringing this era to life, requiring absolutely none of my own imagination.
I cannot say enough about the film’s natural ability to make you feel everything that Eilis is feeling. This story is filled with heart-ache, homesickness, discovery, joy, and most of all, the inner struggle of being torn between the things you love most. It reminds us to be courageous and believe in ourselves even when our current surroundings are telling us otherwise. I thought I loved it so much the first time because I was getting ready to move to another country on my own as well, but each time I’ve watched since, It always hits me just as hard. I hope you get hit real hard too.