I saw the movie Brooklyn last night and it was gorgeous.
Not just the way it was shot but the direction, too. Just the right amount of time was spent on every significant moment. Nothing was milked or overdone. Nothing was rushed before you could get a handle on how you felt about it. And the whole story was especially poignant to view as an expat.
Brooklyn (based on the novel of the same name by Colm Tóibín) is about an Irish immigrant named Eilis who moves to Brooklyn, New York at the behest of her older sister, Rose. Rose arranges a job and a place to stay for Eilis in America because she wants a better life for her little sister than she’d have in their small town. So Eilis leaves her sister and widowed mother behind to make a new life for herself. At first, she’s terribly homesick. She can’t even manage to fake-smile through her shifts at work. But one day, she meets an Italian plumber and they fall in love. She grows into her life in Brooklyn and finally begins to feel at home. Until something terrible calls her back to Ireland for a visit. While there, forces conspire to make her stay. She must decide what’s most important to her in the end: the familiarity of Ireland, or the life she’s built for herself in America.
I cried like a baby watching this film. Everything about it is lovely. And what added another dimension to it for me was knowing that Saoirse Ronan, the film’s star, is Irish. I wondered how it must have felt to put herself in the place of her forebears. Watching this film allowed me the safe space to think about my own ancestry and what living back then might have been like for those I descended from (without the harsh imagery of what I know they experienced).
At the end of the film, Eilis says some beautiful words about leaving home to go elsewhere. She talks about that feeling, of finding someone who isn’t connected to your past in any way, someone who is just yours, and by extension, a life that is just yours. I realized that’s exactly the reason why I’ve moved around as much as I have. Finding a place that no one who knew you before is familiar with and making it your place. And knowing that all the people you meet only know the you in front of them now, not the you who existed before. There is something so alluring in that, in building something new that no one from your past has any claim to. It’s an attempt to build a better version of yourself. The you that you’ve always wanted to be. But the internal struggle between this new life and the comfort of your old life will always be there, rearing its head from time to time. But like Eilis, I think it’s important to look ahead. Own that commitment you made to yourself to start fresh. Because there’s a reason you went away in the first place. And whoever you are, and whatever that reason is, it’s probably a good one.
So trust yourself and your judgment, fellow expats. Know that, however hard it gets abroad, you made the best decision available to you at the time, and that wherever your life is headed, it’s someplace better.
Hope you’re having a good Thursday 🙂