Literature and films on love are often based on a couple’s relationship but seldom do they cover the different types of love besides that of two partners. But it is precisely the many types of love that is sentimentally and beautifully celebrated in director John Crowley’s Brooklyn. Based on the novel of the same name by Irish author Colm Toibin, this story is so much more than the love between young people; it is a total and affectionate embrace of the love of homeland, nostalgia, and ultimately the immigrant experience.
While the current political climate around the world and the United States suggests a growing distrust of migrants, Brooklyn proudly proclaims its full-hearted adoration of what it means to be an immigrant (and all its ups and downs).
In the 1950s Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan in an Oscar-nominated lead role) faces a bleak future in an Ireland with little prospects; like the millions of other immigrants who left their countries behind, Eilis chooses to set sail for America in the hopes of chasing the enigmatic “American Dream”. Along the way, audiences follow this young ambitious woman through her struggles with adjustment and homesickness and her budding romance with a charming Italian American named Tony.
When she returns to visit Ireland however, she finds the landscape has changed and suddenly her new life in Brooklyn may not house the future she thought it would. Interspersed with moments of humor and tenderness, Brooklyn truly is a love letter to the human condition.
Anchored by strong and sensitive performances, especially from Saoirse Ronan, the realism of this story adds to its heartbreak and beauty; there are no cliche elements here, only genuine snapshots of the difficulties that entail leaving one love behind in search of another one.
Whether it be seasickness, securing a job, battling insecurities and persistent memories of home, and trying to adjust to a new country, the entire film is like a giant slice of life. Although set in the 1950s, its themes are not only universal but timeless. Eilis’ story is the story of America (and Canada), and the waves of immigrants who brought and continue to bring with them their fears, hopes, and talents. As a child of immigrants, witnessing Brooklyn was like looking at my own family’s journey, and with the lineage, so many of us share with migrants, it makes this movie such an endearing work of cinema and social commentary.
Our wonderful protagonist grows to love both countries together; Ireland for the gift of life and family, and America for the gift of opportunity and new joy. And so as viewers we are asked, is it possible to have two loves? Love two lands? Two families? Two sets of social customs? Eilis Lacey loves her family and Ireland with all her heart, but through great strength also finds room to love New York, her American husband and the promise of a fresh start.
For all its admiration of immigration however, Brooklyn is also surprisingly a patriotic work. It showcases the feeling that what has made the United States so successful is the work and dreams of millions who have strived to make their new home one of the greatest possible places on earth. This is a movie (and novel) that announces that a love of country can indeed have positive results, for both the homeland and the newly discovered skylines.
The old saying is that “home is where the heart is“, and for Eilis Lacey and all those past and present that continue to make the difficult decision to leave home behind for something new, it is the heart that keeps them going. But we also learn that home does not have to be confined to just one place, circumstance or set of people, but many of them. And so the immigrant story shows us that we can make our home anywhere, and despite whatever challenges lay ahead, with hope, love, and optimism, the heart will be sure to follow.