I’m not against complex plots, on the contrary, I tend to gravitate toward those types of stories. Though, as I grow older, I’ve noticed a growing love for simpler tales told in minimalist styles. Everything has a place. There’s a place for complexity and a place for simplicity. I think we need to train audiences to appreciate and come to love, both methods of storytelling.
Brooklyn’s plot is almost too easy, but it works. Basically, we’re following Eilis, a young Irish woman, through her immigration process to America in the early 1950s. She struggles terribly with homesickness only to have it lightened by falling in love with an amiable, blue-collar Italian boy. That sums it up!
That’s not to say, however, that within this elementary plot there isn’t dramatic density. After all, being a young woman at any time, especially the 1950s, comes with a wide array of obstacles to understand and overcome. Eilis (played to standing-ovation excellence by rising star Saoirse Ronan), like many women her age, has little idea of who she is or what she wants. It’s the standard coming-of-age journey, yet somehow it feels fresh and new here.
This film is wonderfully old-fashioned, and that’s to its credit. It’s not ragging on and on about the unfairness or inequality of its time. It’s just telling a story. The immersive world created John Crowley and Nick Hornby transports the audience to a deliciously nostalgic time. Maybe it’s the quiet magic of the story, or maybe its Emory Cohen’s channeling of Marlon Brando in his role as Tony, but I felt as if I too was in 1951 watching this film at some quaint movie house.
The cinematography is soft and sumptuous, emphasizing the exquisite use of color in the set design and costumes, particularly greens and blues with pops of red. This tells us to feel calm, and serene, but there’s always a bit of passion and danger on the edges. The color wheel of the film really defines Eilis’s journey and personality.
Speaking of which, Eilis is a wonderful character and very singular in comparison to the louder female roles we typically see. She’s a demure introvert who begins very passive and sort of just lets life happen to her. Coming to America wasn’t even her idea, it was at the encouragement of her sister, Rose, to seek a better life for her. Eilis’s journey is all about just that, making her own way and her own decisions.
She gets a rare opportunity to see two sides to what her life could be. There’s a lot of contrast between her life in Ireland and her life in America.
When a tragedy brings her back home, Eilis sees just how effortless life could have been for her had she stayed in Ireland. She even finds herself under the charms of Jim Farrell (played by the equally charming Domhall Gleeson). Jim comes from money and already has a house to call his own. Everything was already laid out, the routine was there, and it was comfortable and familiar. Yet, even with that in mind, is staying in Ireland have been the right course? A smooth passage isn’t necessarily always the best way.
This contrasts with life across the sea. Brooklyn and her dear Tony are on the tougher side. Tony comes from a working-class, yet loving family. He has dreams to build a company with himself and his two brothers at the helm, and even makes his future home with Eilis the first project of this dream. Even in their relationship, Tony puts effort into his pursuit of Eilis and goes out of his way to get to know her. Life in America is all about working for it, especially during the time period. Working, dreaming, achieving.
Eilis realizes that’s who she wants to be, someone who works for it, not someone who continues to take whatever is being given to her. It’s quite a powerful message though you don’t really think about it until after the lights come up. Eilis discovers not only where is home but who is home as well. Though the film is hushed about it, the tension lies in watching this butterfly emerge from her chrysalis. A slow process, but glorious and thoroughly satisfying in the end.
The film is called Brooklyn, not just because it takes place there most of the time, but because of what the city represents to the character. Ireland was childhood, Brooklyn is where she grows up and learns to carve her own way, even if it’s a small and humble path. We cannot choose the home we are born to, but we can choose where and who we want to be for the rest of our lives. And that, after all, is the heart of the American Dream.