[As this is an analysis post please be aware that this may contain spoilers. If you have not watched the film and you do not want to know what happens in the story then please do not continue reading.]
I was unfortunate to miss Brooklyn back in 2015. Despite it having been on my to-watch list, I never got around to viewing it, and the countless commending reviews left me regretting not venturing to the cinemas when I had the chance.
With Brooklyn, you are not just witnessing a story about an Irish girl immigrating to the United States in the 1950s. The narrative commands you to the centre of the girl’s growth, and what underpins this are the different influences in her life, which evolve her. Eilis (Saoirse Ronan) is the character we become accustomed to, and as soon as the film rolls we get an insight into her life. The film lightly touches upon that she is undoubtedly trapped in a town that offers zero opportunities. You feel the strain that she withholds due to the pressure from her close ones to provide, marry and live a sustainable life. We are witnessing a young lady who lacks confidence and flair and does not really understand her personality as of yet – then her journey begins; there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that light comes in the form of a sponsor by Father Flood who assures her she will find the life and full-time work in Brooklyn, America.
The central role that Saoirse Ronan takes on is memorable at best because you are convinced of her uncertainties of travelling to a country that she has never been to before. This is not travelling in the 2000s, where we have the luxury of technology that allows us to communicate regardless of long distance, and quick bookable flights to any country. This is the 1950s, and the scale of moving that distance for a better opportunity for someone as young as Eilis comes with obstacles. And Saoirse places that uncertainty on the screen by portraying various different emotions. She enables the viewer to understand her emotional state naturally, and with her growth throughout the film you gain that understanding that she is achieving goals in her personal and professional life.
Brooklyn makes you feel on edge for most parts because as soon as Eilis falls in love with Tony, the Italian man, you know that there is always the chance she will have to return to her former life, the life which she became repulsively home sick for at one point, but also the life that provided undesirable influences and false freedom. The man she falls in love with in America is not widely accepted by her peers. In fact, barely any of her close friends in America know much about him. In her former life, the town she lives in acts as a sickly community that forever knows other peoples’ business, and Eilis, who is young and ambitious, is easily led. You almost suspect as a viewer that Eilis understands this and her hesitation is apparent when she has to return to the Enniscorthy, the hometown she grows up in within southeast Ireland. Tony has offered her everything; love, hope and an opportunity to build a life. The terror you feel when she returns home, where she immediately gets the part time job (bookkeeping) that she has been aiming for, and conveniently meets a wealthy man with a lovely house lined up, with everyone applying pressure on her to date and marry. It’s horrendously obvious the ploys played by the community to bring her back in and not to return to America. Devastatingly, her return was signalled only by her sister’s death and her mother’s grievance and not by the desire to return to the town.
The story provides the trauma of balancing two different worlds with love intervening to cause a brutal dilemma. Despite it moving slowly it is an enticing film that allows the viewer to feel exactly what Eilis is feeling. She is the central character, but that’s putting it mildly – she is a wonderfully crafted and impactful character that with the help of a great performance by Saoirse graces the screen to enable a narrative worth discussing. The two worlds are shockingly different for the female, and the film benefits from highlighting the differences in intricate ways by the way of life, the way of integrating into the different worlds, and the differences and attitudes within the two communities.
The setting and costume design within this film stands out. You are wholly convinced by the time it is set and the clothing that is worn. For instance, there is a humorous scene between Eilis and her friend: one with a bikini set bought in Ireland, and one which Eilis buys from America. The girl becomes instantly transfixed by the differences of the style of the bikinis right there on the beach, and that is how much detail the film provides.
This film does not allow you to doubt the character. It allows you to learn and watch her grow, prosper and reach her achievements with the weight of a compromising love and a selfish community to which she grew up in.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.