This isn’t going to be a normal review. There will probably be spoilers. So just go see the movie.
“Brooklyn” (2015) is a film about moving on. It’s a metaphor for the idea of moving on and the often cyclical style of coping with change.
Change always has a catalyst, an event or decision to spur and accelerate the change. In the case of this movie the catalyst is Eilis’s (Saoirse Ronan) decision to abandon her stagnant and comfortable Irish lifestyle and move to America. She chooses to leave her family and the life she had cultivated for years to try her luck in a brand new and unknown world. While this is a grand and completely life-altering decision, everyone can relate to this concept. Everyone (I’m speaking largely for myself here) has experienced the loss of comfort and familiarity be it through a break-up, the loss of a job, the start of a job, starting a new school, death in the family, leaving home, etc.. The universality of Eilis’s sacrifice is what commands attention and substance for much of the rest of the film.
In the moments directly following change, the world moves twice as fast. A whirlwind of emotions subvert the usual familiarity of life and open a void of heartbreak and realization. Often in these moments, we look to those who seem to have no problem coping with the change. Here, Eilis meets a well-traveled Irish woman, Georgina, on the boat who is going back to the states for good. She understands what will happen, both in specific detail and broad context, giving Eilis advice she’ll only understand farther down the line. Eilis is overwhelmed by Georgina’s capacity to adjust.
The next step in the cycle tends to be the hardest. I’ll just let Eilis say it for me.
“You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it.”
After the separation from the person, place, object, or lifestyle; we find ourselves feeling empty or lesser and we turn to what we know to be true only to find the truth to be a little different. In Eilis’s case, she realizes that her home isn’t the home it used to be and that terrifies her. She attempts in every way to make this new lifestyle completely worthwhile. The weight of her family and past, however, induce long stints of homesickness and loneliness.
The major shift in her idealistic lifestyle comes when attending night classes for bookkeeping. Not only does this give her more to occupy her mind, but it also challenges her in ways comparable to what she desires for her life. And then in walks the boy. Apart from being a really fantastic drama about change and immigration, “Brooklyn” is one of the greatest recent love stories. In an artistically cynical world, it isn’t often anymore that a largely romantic and touching film is produced without a sarcastic tone or mass media prescription. Eilis’s love interest is a young Italian man Tony who she met at the local Irish dance. Emory Cohen plays Tony with an understated James Dean cool that is possibly the most charming performance I’ve seen in years.
Back to Eilis. Through her and Tony’s romantic entanglements, busy schedule with her job, and night classes; she is able to catapult herself past her fears and reservations of this new life and fully embrace the lifestyle she chooses. Unfortunately moving on is never that simple.
The idea of backsliding into relationships or addictions often floods the mind of the one struggling. Sometimes it’s caused by the threat of not moving on and other times it’s caused by an inexplicable occurrence or event. For Eilis it is the death of her sister.
She must return to Ireland briefly for the funeral and to spend time with her mother. After arriving back in Ireland though, she is quickly swept back into the flow of everyday life (not necessarily by her choosing). She decides to stay for her friend’s wedding, she takes over her sister’s old job on a part-time basis, and she even starts going with a popular fellow named Jim (Domhnall Gleeson) from the rugby club.
Falling back into the familiarity and comfort of life before said change is one of the most challenging aspects of moving on. You may get back together with the person you broke up with, but you still broke up for a reason and that reason haunts whatever lies ahead. Same goes for addiction and leaving home.
One of the last moments in the cycle of moving on that “Brooklyn” explores is the event that causes a person to realize that they’ve backslid into their previous lifestyle and that it’s finally time to move on for good. An old acquaintance of Eilis’s confronts her with the knowledge of one of her secrets and Eilis snaps back to reality and decides to return to the states and to Tony.
It’s the moment of reconciliation that moves me the most. Eilis confronts both her past and her present and chooses to proceed with her life in Brooklyn with Tony rather than lag behind in her comfortable and familiar life.
“And one day, the sun will come out you might not even notice straight away-it'll be that faint. And then you'll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past. Someone who's only yours. And you'll realize that this is where your life is.”
While the pain of moving on still scars her, Eilis manages to circumvent the reliable cycle of change and moves on to the life she originally wanted to live.
Warning to cynics and cinephiles: this film is utterly disarming.