Words: Giulia Lombardo
Set in the protagonist’s native country, Enniscorthy, Southeastern Ireland, ‘Brooklyn’ (directed by John Crowley and based on the novel of the same name by the Irish writer Colm Tóibín) is the story of a girl, Eilis, who in the early 1950s departs for New York, to escape from a life without career prospects, leaving her mother and a sister, for a secure job and hope for a better future. Hers is a story like so many and deeply present, as she leaves with a heart and mind full of emotions: with the fear of the first time away from her family, the excitement of the unknown, the hope of a future in a place where to soon feel at home again. For Eilis, emigration coincides with the end of adolescence, with the discovery of love and people like her in search of their own pioneering conquest of a unexplored land.
In New York, she hardly settles down and fights with an irrepressible nostalgia until, she meets an Italian boy, named Tony, with whom she will fall in love. When the death of her only sister, who stayed in her homeland to look after her mother will force her to return home, she will realize how much of herself she left in those places and how much the charm of a life there, in that world that now seems far from the modern but not quite-like-home America, but that is still strong in her. With her heart split in two, Eilis faces one of the most incredible and complicated dilemmas that characterize our ever changing modern world: finding the way to match the place we come from with the one we dream of.
During her stay back home – which was to be short – as a result of new opportunities both work and sentimental-wise, she is assailed by doubts about which life she wants for herself: whether to stay close to the mother in her native land and with easy prospects of work and solid marriage with a good local party, or to return to her true love in the United States.
The advice to “think like an American”, given to the protagonist (Saoirse Ronan) to overcome the controls of Ellis Island, is in fact declined in “think of immigrants as an American of the time”, with the aforementioned sample of clichés; the simple description of the rigidities of her country of origin, the difficulties of living in a context and with obliged companions, is a starting point that fortunately is quickly and easily metabolized (and without indulging in unnecessary dramatisations), leaving room for the slow emergence of other weaknesses… The need to be loved and the doubt that this need can influence one’s choices leave a door open for a drastic turning point, and various questions. A door that the protagonist Eilis Lacey crosses several times, in regret and then in the denial of their roots.
‘Brooklyn’ (which received three Academy Award and was also nominated for a Golden Globe) is a linear story, a melodrama with no breakthrough scenes, no evil antagonists between heroin and happiness. It just simply focuses on Eilis, her choices and the ability to gain courage from experience, from the natural obstacles placed on the path from life. No inhuman employers or jealous colleagues, even the boy she met at a parish ball does not prove to be an alcoholic ready to beat her. It’s a simple story, intricately normal. If anything, she comes from another world like any of us.
It is the story of a migrant and her impact with a society that, however, is only slightly different from her native country, when compared to the current phenomenon of immigration and its conflict between two options of the future, which she will resolve by making the most honest choice, sacrificing a comfortable and safe future in the name of a love and a life to build up from scratch.
You can listen to the ‘Brooklyn’ soundtrack here: