Many of the films of our era have fed the craze for romantic love triangles; from Casablanca to Twilight, it seems like audiences just cannot get enough of torn romances. Brooklyn plays on our heart strings differently, however, with the main protagonist, Eilis (Saoirse Ronan), being torn between two places rather than two people.
The film, an adaptation from Colm Tóibín’s 2009 novel of the same name, is set in a historical context that few people truly know about: Ireland in the 1950s. During this decade, many Irish immigrants moved to America and settled in places such as Boston and New York. In this case, Eilis settles in Brooklyn in the hope she will find work, until tragedy back home results in her being torn between the two places. Her division between her Irish town and Brooklyn effectively comes to comment on the reality of immigration between the two countries.
Initially, one might be critical of how the film does not show the severity of immigration at the time. The reality was that many Irish men and women that were able to go to the US still struggled to find work. Many did not understand English and were left unemployed. It may also be said that this reality is undermined by the love story that develops. However, it is the emotional torment that Eilis’s relationships resonate that highlights how difficult life was in the 50s. The church is portrayed as a devoted crutch to those unemployed immigrants in Brooklyn, with a priest being the individual who first finds Eilis a job.
The movie also reflects on the Irish and Italian tensions that existed, as she develops a relationship with Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian man. Amusingly, this tension is playfully acknowledged by Tony’s eight-year-old brother over the dinner table. This light-hearted approach is used towards much of the historical elements in the film, and the wonderful effect of this is that we only care more for the difficult situation.
What only increased Brooklyn’s emotional intensity was the potency of our main protagonist. Whether this resulted from the fact Ronan herself is Irish-American, or the talented way Toibin crafted her character, she wonderfully touches all she meets throughout her journey and, therefore, the audience. Her character is ambitious in a time where we’d expect women to still be submissive – for example, she takes night classes in hopes that she can eventually become a bookkeeper. Her classy composure explains why she is so desirable by all, and consequently, makes the 1950s woman one that is admirable.
It is this strength in character that intensifies our own attachment to the relationships she has both in Brooklyn and in Ireland. Which, to refer back to film’s setting, only reinforces how emotionally-charged life was for Irish immigrants.
Brooklyn is an astounding adaption of the novel which loyally reflects on a difficult historical period through the tools of emotional torment and love. The result is a movie that has the power to remind any audience that only we ourselves know what is our “home” and, therefore, where our hearts truly belong.
Brooklyn was released in cinemas on 25th November 2015. Watch the trailer here: