Brooklyn - A Movie

Watching a movie with which you feel a connection, to a character or to the story, is a different experience than just watching a movie. And if the movie is a good one, that connection makes it all the better. Such was the case with the movie Brooklyn.

It begins in the early 1950s in Ireland, a poor country in those days, where lack of opportunity for the country’s young is causing them to seek it elsewhere, primarily in America. Eilis Lacey is one of those young people, wanting to escape not only the limitations but the narrow life Ireland offers. Urged on by her older sister who wants something better for her, Eilis is yet reluctant to leave behind her mother and sister, the only family she has, to make the lonely trip by herself across the ocean, to an America that holds out promise to her but is also an unknown and strange place where she knows no one. But make the journey she does, and this is the point where the movie grabbed me.

Ireland in its poverty in the 1950s was not that different from the Ireland of 1928, the year my father left. He was eighteen, the same age as her, and he made the same journey, also alone, leaving behind his father and an older sister and the only home he’d ever know in Cork. The similarities don’t stop there. As many, perhaps most, Irish did, he left from the same port as she, from the southern Ireland town of Cobh, to make the same trip across the Atlantic. Watching her during the long crossing, seasick and lonely and full of fears as she was, my eyes teared up as I projected images of my father into the same situation. Were his experiences the same as hers? Was he throwing up all the long way across the rough seas? Was he full of the same loneliness and doubt as she? Those comparisons and the performance of the young Irish actress Saoirse Ronan, who inhabits the character of Eilis with every part of her being, made the movie all the more poignant to me.

Her situation, once she arrives in Brooklyn, is different from my father’s, yet they are similar enough. Father Flood, an Irish priest in America, sponsors her for entry into the New World and secures for her a place in a rooming house for women, run by a woman from the Old Country. He lines up a job for her in a department store, and he offers her his counsel and spiritual comfort. For my father’s part, he had an older brother by nine years who had made the same journey from Ireland, and who sponsored him. My father lived with him after arrival and landed a job, with the brother’s help, as a laborer, a first step in learning a trade.

As Eilis’s story progresses, her outlook improves, though she misses her mother and sister fiercely and writes them all the time. With a career in mind beyond that of a sales clerk in a department store, she takes night classes in accounting and becomes more than proficient at it. She attends a dance with several of the young women of her boarding house, and there meets a young man named Tony, an Italian-American who is polite and decent in a way seldom seen in young men of today. He falls for her immediately, while her affection for him grows more slowly. At first they keep arms-length company. He takes her for an outing to Coney Island and a playful day at the beach. She meets his family at a dinner in their home. He tells her of his version of the American dream, of starting a business and building a home in a part of Long Island still covered with sand dunes and beach grass. He asks her to marry him. By then she is in love with him, beginning to see that his dreams could be hers too.

Then she learns from Father Flood of a family tragedy back in Ireland, and Eilis is compelled to return, a short visit is her promise to Tony. But once there, she slips back into her old life, though in better circumstances. Her mother convinces her to stay longer than planned, so she can attend the wedding of a best friend. Eilis takes a temporary job as an accountant in a factory, earning a decent wage now. Through the friend, she meets a young man and starts seeing him casually, reluctant at first but gradually warming to him. As she lingers on, the new job and the deepening relationship with the man has you wondering: Will she forget Tony and stay in Ireland now that she is immersed in the familiar life of her homeland, but with better prospects? Then an incident with the spiteful woman Eilis previously worked for in a small grocery in her village brings her situation to a head. “I’d forgotten,” she says to the woman, referring to the constricted, moralistic attitudes of Irish life, one of the reasons she’d left in the first place.

is a movie worth seeing multiple times, for the heart-rending story, and for the great acting of Saoirse Ronan as Eilis, Jim Broadbent as the kindly, wise-to-the-ways-of-the-world Father Flood, and Julie Walters as Mrs. Keogh, the caring Irish landlady of Eilis’s boarding house, who uses wit and a sharp tongue as she watches over her girls. On several counts Brooklyn is an Oscar-worthy movie.



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