A Look Back on Brooklyn: A Classic Film About Leaving Home

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This year, I decided to study abroad in Dublin, Ireland. Initially, I was only supposed to stay for the first semester, but after having made so many new friends and experiences, I decided to extend my study to the full year. During this time, I’ve been told about a film that many people here have seen and fallen in love with: Brooklyn.

The 2015 romantic drama stars Saoirse Ronan, best known for her roles in films such as The Lovely Bones, Lady Bird, and, most recently, Mary Queen of Scots. Ronan delivers a heart-stirring performance as young Irish immigrant Eilis Lacey, who travels from her hometown of Enniscorthy, County Wexford, in southeast Ireland, to the much larger city of Brooklyn, New York. Seduced by the promises of America, Eilis leaves the familiarity of her mother’s home—a choice which is followed almost immediately by a wave of homesickness. Soon, a budding romance with a local second generation Italian (Emory Cohen) helps Eilis feel more at home in the new, bustling world around her; but tragic news sweeps her back to her homeland of Ireland, where she’s faced with the decision between two countries, two loves, and ultimately, two lives.

At the foundation of this film lies a theme that everyone has to face at one point in their lives: change. There is a bittersweet reality to the concept of change. Growing up, much like the childhood of Eilis Lacey, we are surrounded by the faces of familiar people and we grow accustomed to our surroundings. We have a genuine definition of what we consider to be our “home,” but sooner or later, that definition changes.

The film takes place in the 1950’s, during an economic downturn that made many individuals compelled to leave Ireland due to the high rate of unemployment. Most of these people traveled to America in hopes that they would have a better chance of supporting themselves, Eilis among them.

A family tragedy requires Eilis’s immediate return to Ireland, much to the dismay of her Italian boyfriend. Upon her arrival, Eilis is met with a job offer for an attractive bookkeeping position. Moreover, she is  torn when she is romantically pursued by a charming Irish man (Domhnall Gleeson) who was a childhood crush. Ironically, it was the lack of a job and love interest that encouraged Eilis to leave her childhood home in the first place, and now she finds herself having everything she ever wanted handed to her in what she thought of as home.

In spite of these new opportunities in her old home, Eilis realizes that if she decides to stay in Ireland for the rest of her life she will be depriving herself of the opportunity to grow in ways she had while living in Brooklyn. Her life no longer solely belongs in Ireland; a big part of her resides in America, “halfway across the sea.” Eilis must now make a choice—to remain in her childhood home with a comfortable job and love interest, or to return to her committed relationship and career in her new home of Brooklyn.

Placing roots and forming deep intimate connections and friendships in a new place can make it feel like another home—presenting one with potentially difficult choices. But with change comes personal growth through the interactions and experiences that form the person you were meant to be. It is something I am proud to share with Eilis, given my travels and connections in Ireland, and it’s an experience that Brooklyn allows you to share whether your experience with change is occuring thousands of miles away, or just a town over from where you grew up.

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