Borders are crossed in the post-war immigration drama Brooklyn , whose protagonist Eilis (Ronan) follows in the footsteps of many of her Irish compatriots and travels to the other side of the Atlantic looking for a better future, removed from everyone she’s ever known. It doesn’t take long before challenges of all varieties start to manifest themselves. The real dilemma hits, however, when the young woman’s finally ready to settle down in the new world, but home beckons again with whispers of old obligations and promises of togetherness, stability, romance.
In the most complimentary sense possible, this is an old-fashioned movie. Without tricks, twists or stunts, Crowley pushes the story faithfully forward as characters and conflicts are developed. Instead of getting confronted with pre-packaged, sensational revelations, the viewer becomes slowly immersed in a place and time – as well as a state of mind – and the empathy just takes care of itself. Ronan delivers an understated, fully lived-in performance that reflects not only the character’s steely will, but also an air of innocence and guarded reservation that feeds into the general depiction of the era.
Through it all, nostalgia looms large as we’re reminded of the power a handwritten letter carried before the digital age or what a date meant with no texts or apps involved. The utter lack of cynicism or pretension makes those scenes of longing, affection and resolve lovely sights to behold. So while the film doesn’t necessarily break any ground in terms of scope or technique, it’s a tremendously moving tribute to the wounds and dreams, severed pasts and hard-fought beginnings of a generation of drifters, people who left everything behind to start over and, in the process, built America.
Brooklyn | Directed by John Crowley (Ireland, UK, Canada 2015) with Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson. Starts January 21.
Originally published in issue #145, January 2015.