'Brooklyn' the Movie: Finding Love, Vanquishing Fear

There is a moment in "Brooklyn" -- the recently released 1950s period semi-romance -- when one naive and worried young Irishwoman turns to a slightly less naive and worried young Irishwoman and asks her what America will be like. The response is heartfelt, immediate, true and not quite true, all at once: "Like Ireland, but no one knows your Auntie."

And that is Brooklyn -- and Ireland -- in a nutshell in the 1950s.

Brooklyn -- the borough -- in the '50s is very much an immigrant borough. Irish enough that a young Irish woman can feel at home. American enough that it is a place where an ambitious young Irishwoman would want to make her home in the 1950s.

Brooklyn -- the movie -- is a story about choices. And also a story about the lack of choices.

Eilis -- beautifully played by the lovely Saoirse Ronan -- is a clever young woman slowly suffocating in 1950s Ireland. Opportunities are few and far between, jobs are nearly impossible to come by, and the future seems bleak at best for the young and old alike.

Eilis' older sister, Rose, a lovely, clever young woman lucky enough to have a decent job, has already settled into her generational role as the wage-earning spinster daughter slated to look after their humorless widowed mother.

But, Rose -- successful, despite the cage of Irish expectations that has left her to live out her life like a ship on the rocks -- has decided with that stereotypical mix of Irish self-sacrifice and unwavering stubbornness that Eilis, at least, will have the chance of living a life of choice. Even if that isn't a choice Eilis wants.

And so it is that Eilis starts her journey with a barely full suitcase, a steerage-class ticket to America, a place in a -- solidly Irish -- women's boarding house and a job, both in Brooklyn. Eventually, there is a man, too. (Not Irish.) But this isn't a schmaltzy love story. Or at least, not simply a schmaltzy love story.

No spoilers. This is a story as much about finding a way to escape fear as it is about love. Yes, Eilis finds love. But far away from the disapproving aunties and the vindictively gossipy widows of 1950s Ireland she also finds a home. And a way to move on because Brooklyn is not the end of Ireland for Eilis, and neither is it simply the beginning of America.

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Tags: 1950s, Arts, Cinema, Emigration, Film, Immigration, News, Reviews

Comment by Joe Gannon on December 10, 2015 at 9:27pm

I have to agree with your review, Sarah. My wife and I saw this movie on Thanksgiving weekend we both loved it. Saoirse Ronan really is an extraordinary actress. One of the goals any leading actor has in any movie is to make the audience care what happens to the character they are playing. After Saoirse has been on the screen for about 10 minutes she’s already “got you” on that count. It’s really amazing what an accomplished actress she is at such a young age.

She truly reminds me of a young Meryl Streep, and unfortunately I don’t need to depend on seeing Streep’s old movies on TV to make that comparison. I saw them when they were new. The first two things I remember seeing Streep in were the TV miniseries “Holocaust” and the hit movie “Deer Hunter.” Saoirse commands the screen the way Streep did then, but Streep was nearly 30 when those films came out. Saoirse won’t be 22 until next April. Like Streep she is also able to look somewhat ordinary at one point, and then breathtakingly beautiful in another. She can say nothing, and yet make you understand what she is thinking with her eyes and her expressions.

There’s a lovely scene where she and Tony are on the trolley car and he asks her to a movie the following week:

EILIS I’ll sign up for two movies.

TONY Really?

EILIS Yes. Even if the first date is a disaster, I’ll give it another chance.

That answer is so quintessentially Irish, and she delivers it with such a wonderful impish look on her face that if you’ve spent a good deal of time in Ireland, as my wife and I have, it’s bound to make you exchange a smiling glance. The movie is full of wonderful moments like that, usually delivered by the brilliant Ms Ronan, but occasionally by others as well.  She’s recently been nominated for a leading actress Golden Globe for this movie, and it’s well deserved. When we left the theater I told my wife I thought she would have to get an Oscar nomination for this film.

I’m not sure if this film will play in a theater close enough for all our readers to be able to see it, but if not they should definitely look for the video of this gem of a movie later, or try to find it on any online service they might have. They won't be disappointed. 

Heritage Partner
Comment by That's Just How It Was on December 11, 2015 at 11:26am

You make it sound so good Joe Gannon that I will look out for it 

Comment by Jim Curley on December 11, 2015 at 3:06pm

Saoirse was fabulous in her role. I don't think I've ever seen a movie in which one actor is in so many of the scenes and carries them off so well. As Joe pointed out, the trolley scene with Tony are memorable. There is so much teasing between the two of them, without a lot of words being spoken. The scene near the end of the movie with the shrew in Enniscorty is a brilliant one that shows how much Eilis has grown. One day, the loneliness falls away, as the priest predicted, and a quiet confidence arises. Eilis has discovered saoirse,

Comment by Claire Fullerton on December 13, 2015 at 9:39am

I have loved Saoirse Ronan from the moment I first saw her, and Joe, you are so right in comparing her to Meryl Steep. I believe she is an actress for the ages. And I loved your comment on the quintessential Irish line delivered on the trolley! I completely get the wicked Irish humour! I'm looking forward to seeing this movie.


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