Based on the acclaimed novel by Colm Tóibín (pronounced tohi-BEEEN), Brooklyn secures the cinematic future of Saoirse Ronan (pronounced SEER-shuh), and swan dives into an exploration of the answer to “What kind of life do you need?”
Here we meet young Eilis (AY-lish) as she prepares to leave Ireland for America, courtesy of her elder sister Rose, who did the footwork of connecting with a Brookyn priest who secured her a job and a place to live. Knowing that Eilis’ future is pre-determined in their provincial town and that Eilis is wired for something different, Rose lets her go and creates for her a new path – or better said, a new forest in which Eilis can cut her own path.
And cut it she does, with a little help from her friends – specifically, the aforementioned Father Flood, boarding house proprietor Mrs. Kehoe and the other residents, and surprising new sweetheart Tony. The wider life Rose had in mind for her begins to take shape – until the shape of the one she left behind changes radically in its own right, presenting new pressures and opportunities, and throwing all into question.
As a moviegoing experience, Brooklyn could hardly be more perfect. Cinematographer Yves Bélanger (bay-lauhn-ZHAY) gives Brooklyn a vibrant yet substantial feel not unlike that of Titanic, and Ronan (onscreen and in high focus in very nearly every frame) delivers an iron fist in a glove of the softest velvet imaginable. Director John Crowley brings a lyrical feel to the presentation, and though Julie Walters’ performance may or may not catch awards attention, it certainly deserves to (hey, William Hurt was onscreen for about thirteen minutes and landed it, so anything’s possible). Buttressing Ronan are strong performances from both Emory Cohen and Domhnall Gleeson (“rhymes with tonal,” he says), the two suitors vying for Eilis’ affections and providing powerful arguments indeed.
It would be a mistake, however, to classify Brooklyn as a romance – though wonderfully romantic it is. Rather, it’s a story of worlds, one’s place in them, and the place one wants in the world. Here it’s Ireland and America, but it could just as easily relate to any clash between one’s upbringing and one’s personal truth.
How, then, does one maintain perspective when pulled by powerful forces of one’s history vs. the promise of one’s future? How does one evaluate one’s choices when new information comes to bear, information that changes the construct upon which one made earlier decisions? How does one sort the new information from the existing facts – what is truth, and what is illusion? Where is a better life to be found – is it across the horizon, or next door?
As Eilis discovers, one does it by remembering the life one needs, and being willing to see clearly every facet of one’s situation – both the sweet and the bitter, and being clear-eyed about which version of life’s inevitable bittersweetness one must pursue according to one’s nature.
Which side of the Atlantic does she choose? I’ll never tell. But as we learned in meeting Eilis, never assume that simplicity and delicacy mean lack of power. Brooklyn is Far from the Madding Crowd with a non-traumatic touch of Titanic, and a gem not to be missed.