When Brooklyn came out at the start of this year, I went to watch it in the cinema and cried for the vast duration of the film. Then I went home, downloaded the book onto my kindle, and devoured that too- yes more tears.
I adore cinema. I usually go once a week to see something- anything- on the big screen. There are no distractions in the cinema. It’s you, and the film. And for those two hours your mind is blank and you are completely caught up in another world.
So, Brooklyn follows the story of Eilis Lacey, a young Irish girl who leaves her small town (where everyone knows everyone and there’s no work and no real future) to go to New York. It’s 1951, and as Eilis settles down in her boarding house, into her department store job, night school classes; she slowly starts to sink into her new life.
Eilis is a hard and realistic character to read; she’s pretty but plain, her smiles are rare and she isn’t the witty, sassy, amiable character of Hollywood. She’s shy and for the first hour, rarely speaks; she fumbles, unable to make small talk, socially awkward. She is utterly believable, and whether you like her or not, you feel for her.
There’s a scene where she gets lunch on first day of work and grabs a sandwich at a local diner. A guy working there hits on her in a very typical 1950s New York way and she has no idea how to react. So she barely reacts. If anything, her reaction is a mild grimace.
Eilis struggles to fully embrace her new life. She misses home, and she feels as though she has abandoned her sister. In their small town, her sister will have to spend the rest of her life caring and accompanying their widowed mother now that Eilis has left.
Theirs is the kind of town where people don’t leave. They grow up there, stay there, and die there, as though the town boundaries are the edge of their own tiny universe.
Things pick up for Eilis though, when she meets Italian-American Tony, who basically falls for her immediately at one of the weekly dances she attends.
As a writer, love has always interested me. There are so many kinds of love, and I love being able to explore them. Therefore, it’s a pleasure when a romantic film doesn’t overtly advertise itself as such. Brooklyn is a love story; but that love story is a backdrop to the personal development of Eilis’s character.
I fall a little bit in love with Tony every time I watch this film because he is so completely good. His adoration of Eilis is utterly heartbreaking; he worships her, and it’s refreshing to see this role reversal where the man is so openly emotional whereas Eilis is reserved and hesitant- and uncomfortable- when it comes to feelings.
He wears her down with his boundless enthusiasm and gradually she starts to open up, letting him and others in. More than this though, she begins to understand her own happiness and allow it. There are some funny moments, the surround cast and characters are wonderful, and Eilis begins to embrace this life she’s created for herself.
And then shit happens.
Her sister dies, and Eilis blames herself; she blames herself for leaving, for the distance between them, and for never having had the chance to say goodbye.
And so part two of the film/book begins; Eilis decides to go home and visit her mother- but not before secretly marrying Tony.
When she arrives back in her little town, nothing has really changed. Her best friend has gotten engaged, her sister is gone; but that is the extent of it. It’s fascinating because in her New York clothing, with her new outlook on life, it’s Eilis who is the outsider now.
Wanting to keep her there for as long as possible, her mother begins to manipulate Eilis; she ends up taking up the “temporary” position as a book keeper (her sister’s old job), and is courted by Jim Farrell, the most eligible bachelor in town.
He’s kind and courteous- and a little shy. And as the distance really kicks in, Eilis begins to push out any life she’s ever had outside of this one. She doesn’t read Tony’s letters, she postpones her trip back to New York, and she carries on seeing Jim and developing feelings for him.
Personally, at this point in the film/book I’m facepalming to the max because TONY LOVES YOU WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO YOURSELF and it’s the ultimate self-sabotage. But as the cathartic moment finally hits Eilis gets a real slap to the face. It’s then when she has to make the decision as to which reality she wants to belong to.
Which home is home? What is home? Home is the heart of this story and it’s timeless.
It doesn’t matter if you know how the film ends, because your heart is still going to hammer for the entire journey there. The book is the same but worse because it’s a slower ride.
But yes, if you haven’t seen Brooklyn then buy it. And then watch it again, and again, and again.