Brooklyn Parent Review
It is unlikely teens will be drawn to this mundane account of an ordinary character who wavers on a sea of uncertainty.
They say, “Far away pastures always look greener.” And this perspective is certainly true for Eilis (pronounced A-lish), a young woman (played by Saoirse Ronan) living in 1950’s Ireland, who has no prospects for marriage or full-time employment. Her sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) is anxious to provide her with better opportunities, so she makes arrangements for Eilis to immigrate to New York. Thanks also to the generosity of their Catholic community, all that is left for Eilis to do is pack her meager belongings and say her good-byes to her widowed mother (Jane Brennan) and beloved older sibling. The farewell is particularly sorrowful as the trio realizes just how long their parting may be.
Green does indeed prove to be a good way to describe the United States –because that is the color Eilis turns as she endures seasickness caused by the rocky boat ride across the Atlantic (diarrhea and vomiting are shown). Once on shore she again faces feeling that shade of naivety as she adjusts to a new job, different cultural expectations and some catty personalities at her boarding house. This time her way is smoothed by the benevolent care of a local priest (Jim Broadbent) who enrolls her in a night class at the college.
Although homesickness makes the shores of Ireland seem even more emerald than before, Eilis does find at least one reason why Brooklyn might hold some attraction—Tony (Emory Cohen). He is a handsome Italian who takes notice of her at a church dance. But just about the time the transplant thinks she’s ready to take root in the new world, a family emergency calls her back to her old life. Surprisingly, the welcome home comes with lush possibilities that did not exist for her before. Now she is faced with a new dilemma: should she grow her future in the comfort of her familiar native land, or place her dreams in the far away promises of a foreign world.
At first glance Brooklyn appears to be the tale of the American experience. But that is just the setting, not the real focus of the story. Rather, the plot is more of a study on the human foible of indecisiveness. Looking closely at Eilis’s journey, you realize that she has always let someone else helm her course. Her sister decided she should cross the ocean. The priest chose where she would live, work and study. Her friends and acquaintances pick out her clothes and make-up. Even romance has come to her, instead of her pursuing it. (The only exception to this pattern is a sex scene where Eilis is portrayed as the one removing their clothes and asking the man to stay. Not only is this depiction out of character for her, it is also hard to believe that anyone with 1950’s sensibilities—and a practicing Catholic—would engage in premarital intimacies with no sense of shame.) Even the photography in this beautifully shot period piece emphasis this abdication. Frequent close-ups of Saoirse Ronan’s clear eyes and blank face leave it up to the audience to interpret her emotions: Is she happy, sad, angry, indifferent, or just stoic?
It is unlikely teens will be drawn to this mundane account of an ordinary character who wavers on a sea of uncertainty. Yet perhaps, for those looking beyond the surface, there may be a cautionary message here—one that subtly warns those who may be equally inclined to vacillate: True happiness is more likely to be found by picking your own pasture, than to be fenced in by someone else’s definition of green.Directed by John Crowley. Starring Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Zegen, Emory Cohen. Running time: 111 minutes. Theatrical release November 20, 2015. Updated May 12, 2016
Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Brooklyn here.
Brooklyn Parents Guide
Eilis lets other people make decisions for her. Why? Do you think she is happy with most of the choices? Are there any you think she has just accepted? What are the benefits of abdicating your personal responsibilities? What are the problems with that approach? How would you respond if you were placed in her circumstances?
When Eilis leaves the old country there are no opportunities for her to build a future. Yet when she returns, there are many possibilities open to her. What has changed during the time she has been away to account for this? Would these prospects have opened up for her if she had just stayed in her hometown? How do her chances for happiness compare between living in Ireland and Brooklyn?