Brooklyn is a beautiful film, and the more I think about it the more this word seems the best and most appropriate to describe the movie: beautiful. It is a real film, authentic and honest, compassionate and perfectly paced.
What is Brooklyn about? It is set in the early 1950’s and follows a young woman named Eilis (played by Saoirse Ronan) who leaves her small hometown in Ireland for the better opportunity of Brooklyn, New York. As time passes, Eilis grows in confidence, pursues her aspirations of becoming a bookkeeper, and falls in love. However, when she returns to Ireland, she is torn again between two worlds, and a love triangle develops as well, throwing into confusion all that once seemed certain and forcing her to decide how she wants her future to unfold.
Some of these quick details from the plot make Brooklyn sound analogous to a long list of other movies, all featuring romance, love triangles and difficult decisions to determine the future of the protagonist. However, I would argue that Brooklyn is different, separated by a wide chasm from most of these movies. The distinction lies not strictly in what happens throughout Brooklyn, but in how these things happen. To put it concisely, Brooklyn depicts ordinary human experiences (to love and to lose; to start anew and to yearn for the past) in a way that appeals to our shared humanity and touches us, distant as we are by circumstance, by space and by time.
Part of this “how” that makes Brooklyn so extraordinary is accomplished in its pacing. The movie does not rush forward, leaping from one plot point to the next. Instead, it moves along slowly, meandering through pivotal moments and unremarkable events alike, treating them equally and imbuing each one with significance and beauty. This also has the effect of making the movie feel like real life, rather than some carefully manufactured product designed to manipulate the emotions of its viewing populace.
The love story in Brooklyn is, in my mind, one of the most convincing and full portrayals I have seen on a screen in a long time. This is due in some measure to the pacing of the movie, since the unhurried movement allows time for relationships to develop and deepen in a meaningful way. I think the love story also owes its merit to the strength of the acting and the nature of the dialogue. Ronan is captivating as the main character, and her real brilliance is evident in her ability to communicate a depth of emotion and meaning without the use of words. Often we expects words to do all the work: we give people credit for the things they say. But words can lose their impact sometimes by their very excess. In Brooklyn, Eilis (Ronan’s character) is a woman of few words, and the film is comfortable with the experience of silence (something we cannot often say of our contemporary culture). Because of this, we experience the image (so integral to the medium of film) and feel a kinship to Eilis based not only on words but on her silent yet luminous expressions and on the words she does not say.
It would be both reductive and neglectful, however, to say that Brooklyn is a film only about romantic relationships. More than anything, Brooklyn is a film about home: the reality of home and the idea of it, and how these two can both converge and diverge. One key consideration, I think, is important to keep in mind here. We are currently living in a time of instantaneous communication which makes our world seem, in some senses, smaller than it actually is. However, this was certainly not the case in the time period in which Brooklyn is set, and so we must separate ourselves from assumptions and projections that could prevent us from entering into the story and appreciating it of its own accord. In the film, Eilis inhabits two different worlds: that of her small native town in Ireland and that of Brooklyn. These worlds, in the time period, are almost completely closed off from one another, which only increases the difficulty for Eilis to bridge the gap or choose between the two.
Overall, the summary of events that take place throughout the movie and whether they are predictable or new, commendable or condemnable is not what really matters and is not what gives it its greatness. If we expend our energy and attention solely on these aspects of the film, we will miss its true beauty. Brooklyn’s strength is that it seeks to see the beauty in the reality of life and in human beings, treating each individual with compassion and sensitivity. It matters not (or should not matter) whether we agree with the choices the characters make or the actions they take. What matters is that we can understand them, even if only a little, and empathize with their triumphs and struggles, experiencing with them ordinary and extraordinary moments that strike a chord in our own soul, from over half a century away.