Robert Frost wrote that home was the place where, if you had to go there, they have to take you in. Whether the guest wants to stay permanently is another matter entirely, and it’s at the heart of Brooklyn, a lyrical film about a young Irish immigrant to that titular New York City borough, who ultimately must decide where she geographically belongs and wants to call home.
Directed by John Crowley, with a screenplay adapted from Colm Tóibín’s novel by Nick Hornby, the movie centers around Eilis Lacy (Saoirse Ronan). We first meet her in 1951, in Ireland’s County Wexford, working in provisions shop commandeered by a die-hard, social-elitist battle axe. Eilis’ older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) – a bookkeeper who’s keenly aware of the principles of contraction and expansion, lack and surplus – initiates a contact with a Brooklyn-based, Irish priest (James Broadbent) who executes paperwork to get Eilis onto on a boat headed for a country Rose believes will offer her younger sibling more opportunity.
Eilis survives the boat trip across the Atlantic, but doesn’t quite fit in at the boarding house, run by an Irish mother-hen (Julie Walters) and that’s bursting at the seams with giddy, gossipy Irish lasses looking for husbands. And she’s miserable behind the sales counter at the posh department store, under the watchful eye of her sophisticated and chic supervisor (Jessica Paré).
Eilis’ malaise changes radically, however, when she meets Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), a young man with a thing for Irish gals. She heads for night school, excels at bookkeeping, and looks to be on the path of connubial bliss with her new beau. However, a family tragedy in Ireland forces her to return to her roots. Mom expects she’ll stay, an accounting firm is keen for her skills and, worst-or-best of all, a newly eligible man, Jim Farrell (Domnhall Gleeson), is eager to give Eilis the solid, Irish life she deserves.
Brooklyn’s power is in its investing each character with root-worthy traits. You root for Eilis and her future happiness; for Tony who, rightfully, is afraid his gal will never return to him; for Jim who, as an upstanding gent, would offer a girl of modest means a financially secure future; and, of course, for Eilis’ mother, who, like a country embracing its citizenry, does not want to part yet again with her flesh and blood.
In addition to the Lunar archetype of home, the film credibly and pleasingly highlights two other vying archetypal forces, represented through the day-to-day actions, and even destinies, of its players. One is Saturnine contraction, represented by parents’ expectations of children’s behavior, often based on nothing more than a tradition with decades of minimal maneuverability, aside from inheriting a home and continuing in its ghosts’ footsteps.
The other is Jupiterian expansion and the future, involving going beyond limits both physical and educational. As Rose tells Eilis, “I can’t buy you the future, the life you need.” Indirectly, though, Rose does “buy” Eilis the American Dream, allowing her to connect with Tony, an ambitious plumber who, with his brothers, anticipate building houses on a wide expanse of land on Long Island. (Turns out Tony’s unafraid to set sail, either.)
One character, early in the film, tells Eilis, “Think like an American: you have to know where you’re going.” It’s an exhortation antithetical to keep doing what you’ve always done. Eilis is an Irish girl in name only. She carries a huge archetypal challenge – stay put or go big – and that makes her a universal figure. Contract, expand: as natural as breathing.
Archetype: Immigrant. Adventurer. Roots. Mother Country. Optimism. Security.
Astrology Archetype: ☽♃ ♄ (Moon, Jupiter, Saturn)