‘Brooklyn’ is the story of a young woman named Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) living in a small Irish town in the early 1950s, who have little opportunity and few options. Her older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), arranges to haves a kindly priest in Brooklyn sponsor Eilis and help her get a job and a life in the United States. Having seen the trailer, I knew she would go to Brooklyn, make a life there and fall in love before tragedy (Rose’s sudden death) would strike and she would return to Ireland to help her mother. I knew that she would have to make a choice as to whether Brooklyn or Ireland was where she truly belonged. The film actually keeps viewers guessing right up until she has an epiphany and makes her decision. After seeing the film and reflecting on the various scenes, there were some heavy clues cleverly embedded throughout. It should have been obvious all along, but it wasn’t. That is some good story telling.
In the early scenes set prior to Eilis sailing for Brooklyn, people other than Rose are mildly to harshly critical of her. Her employer is a nasty grocery store owner, who is even rude to some of her customers. She makes Eilis neglect customers who had been waiting for a while to help a woman who had just entered the store and pushed in front of the others. She then insults a woman who wants to buy shoe polish. When Eilis tells Miss Kelley that she is leaving for America, Miss Kelly basically fires her. Her mother is mildly critical and even her best friend teases her about not putting much effort into her appearance for a dance. This makes Eilis a somewhat passive and timid girl. One the trip across the Atlantic, she is roommates with a passenger who seems harsh at first. The roommates had actually been living in the United States and had returned for a visit to Ireland: she states that the trip was a mistake. She shows Eilis some kindness, helping her with some sea sickness, then giving her advice on how to act at the immigration check point and on settling in the new country. This of course foreshadows Eilis’ actions in the final act of the film.
In Brooklyn, she is very homesick at first. She does learn to adapt. Some people are critical of her, but it is in a much more constructive manner and there is a lot of kindness that goes along with the criticism. Her supervisor at her retail job seems cold at first, telling her she needs to interact more with customers, but shows her kindness when she is clearly homesick. Her sponsor, Fr. Flood, recognizes that she is intelligent and enrolls her in college classes on book keeping so she can have a better job. Even her somewhat catty housemates help her prepare for a date. She meets an Italian boy named Tony and begins to date him. This clearly makes her happy and eases the pain of leaving her home in Ireland. She begins to feel at home in Brooklyn and discover her own identity. She seems to feel guilty and uncertain about settling and feeling at home in Brooklyn, especially with Rose back in Ireland. Things become more complicated when Rose suddenly dies and Eilis isn’t even able to get home in time for the funeral.
She decides to return to Ireland to visit her mother. Tony, fearing that she may not return proposes that they secretly get married before she leaves. After some reservation, Eilis goes through with the marriage at a civil courthouse. When she returns to Ireland, it is clear that the people in her home town are trying to get her to stay. Her mother talks her into staying a week longer than originally planned because her best friend is getting married. That same best friend talks her into a night out disguised as a blind date with local eligible bachelor Jim Farrell. Rose’s old employers ask for help filling her sister’s vacant book keeping position. Jim also mentions that the local gulf club is starting an award in honor of Rose and they want her to present the first one. During this time, Eilis isn’t opening or answering any of Tony’s letters. She appears to be contemplating staying in Ireland, or perhaps she is merely putting on a show to keep everyone else happy (this indicates that she has never truly been able to be herself in her place of birth) until she is confronted by Miss Kelly (think Umbridge in the fifth Harry Potter book) about her secret marriage to Tony. Miss Kelly clearly has some nasty intentions, but Eilis finally decides to stand up to her and doesn’t give her chance to do anything nasty. It’s a moment that deserves applause. Eilis says goodbye to her mother and returns to her life with Tony in Brooklyn. One her way back, she offers advice to a girl making her own initial journey across the Atlantic. Eilis needed to be in a place where she can make her own life where the people encourage, rather than try to manipulate her. Brooklyn is definitely worth watching. It will show at the Greene Sunday evening just before this year’s Oscars air. It will then be available on March 15 on DVD and blu-ray.