Awards season is in full-swing, and Saoirse Ronan, star of the Irish-film Brooklyn, is poised for her second Oscar nomination at the ripe old age of 21 (previously nominated for Best Supporting Actress in Atonement).
Brooklyn is a love story that is so much more than that. This is a story based on the life of a fictional Irish immigrant, Eilis (Ronan), who leaves everything behind in Ireland in the hopes that she will find a better life in America. The movie itself is heartbreaking in its extremely accurate portrait of life as a young immigrant. Eilis finds the transition difficult at first: from a vomit-inducing boat ride across the Atlantic, to her new life in a boarding house run by the kind but strict Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters). Eventually, she falls in love with an Italian plumber (insert Mario/Luigi jokes here), and although she still saves money to travel back, she forgets how much she misses her home across the ocean. Of course, the life of an immigrant in the 1950’s is never simple, and the life of an Irish immigrant is never just smiles and rainbows. Tragedy strikes hard, and Eilis is soon forced to choose between her new life in America and her old life in Ireland.
The technical aspects of the story are wonderful: costumes, production design, cinematography all contribute to make this film feel as Irish as St. Patrick’s Day. It is the story and score, however, that really makes the film Irish. The obvious emotional Irish music is used to its fullest extent in the film, making the audience feel just as torn, sad, and miserable as Eilis does at key points of the film. The sorrow in Irish films is always conveyed through the fiddle, but here, it feels more like deep depression. It won’t get a nomination for Best Score, but I certainly would vote for it. The key aspect of the film, however, is the story. “There is nothing more heart-wrenching than having to leave your home forever.” This is the mantra of my ancestors: my grandfather, his five brothers and sisters, my grandmother’s parents, and their siblings. To hear from them about what it was like to leave Ireland, knowing in their hearts that even though they said they would return that they would not, is devastating. To see it so accurately depicted on the screen is tragic. Imagine, then, what it must feel like to those who experienced it.
Thousands of Irish immigrants left the comfort, the familiarity of their nation and home to try and make it in America. One scene in particular will hit you like a punch to the stomach; it made me cry like a baby. It is the scene in which the inevitable question is answered: “What if you don’t make it on your own?” It is here that we see the shining star that is Saoirse Ronan. Her emotional performance breaks your heart slowly, mostly without her having to utter a word. She breaks slowly and steadily, and your heart breaks along with her until the end, leaving you feeling somewhere between absolute misery and complete happiness. This is what it felt like to be an Irish immigrant. Until today, Ireland’s finest actor had been Brendan Gleeson (Gangs of New York, Troy) and half of three-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis (My Left Foot, There Will Be Blood, Lincoln). I say confidently that the finest is now Ronan, who was the youngest Irish actress to be nominated for an Oscar, and will be the youngest actress ever to have two Oscar nominations.