Why Teach 'Brooklyn' by John Crowley?
Brooklyn is a 2015 romantic drama directed by John Crowley. Saoirse Ronan stars as Eilis Lacey, a young woman who emigrates to Brooklyn in the 1950s where she falls in love. When tragedy forces her to return to Ireland, the strength of her love is tested, when she finds she must choose between her husband and another man.
Why teach 'Brooklyn'?
• Many students will identify with Eilis and her struggles. Her emigration, homesickness and indecision make her an appealing character, and her story is authentic and relatable.
• Eilis’ choice between Tony and Jim provides tension and suspense, and her dilemma is an interesting discussion point.
• The film is straight-forward and easy to follow from a plot perspective.
General Vision and Viewpoint
The overall outlook in Brooklyn is quite mixed. On the one hand, the film is full of positive, loving relationships, and Eilis overcomes her homesickness and loneliness in New York and makes a life for herself. However, this is balanced against the secrecy surrounding Eilis’ marriage, and the fact that her relationship with Jim is a betrayal of Tony. Also, the film is characterised by the loneliness of characters’ lives, as seen in Rose’s illness which she keeps secret, and Eilis’ mother’s isolated existence. Characters fail to communicate openly with one another and suffer alone. Even Eilis’ decision to return home has a negative note, as Miss Kelly forces her to own up to being a married woman. In many ways, the film’s outlook is quite negative. The story ends happily, with Eilis and Tony joyfully re-united, but overall, the general vision and viewpoint is quite mixed. This gives Brooklyn an interesting position from the point of view of comparing, it compares well with both more positive and more negative texts, as it has strong elements of each.
As a movie, Brooklyn is a visual text, and is easy to follow and understand. The storyline is straight-forward, without any complicated twists, but the use of tension surrounding Eilis’ choice between Tony and Jim makes it exciting. Rose’s death is a significant plot point, as it is a sad moment in the text, while also being the reason for Eilis’ return to Ireland. Eilis’ character is well-developed and engaging. Her story, and the choices she makes, feel very real, and the audience becomes invested in her life decisions, making the film engaging. Eilis’ character develops significantly over the course of the film, which makes for interesting discussion from a literary genre perspective.
There is a very broad range of relationships portrayed in Brooklyn, ranging from the extremely positive to the extremely negative, making it a very interesting theme to consider. Eilis enjoys very positive relationships with her sister Rose, Father Flood, and Tony and Jim. Both her friendships and romantic relationships show warmth, support, compassion and understanding. However, we also see Eilis’ stilted, flawed relationship with her mother, and her destructive, conflict-rich relationship with Miss Kelly. Indeed, even the positive relationships are marred by poor communication and secrecy. Overall, this makes for a very interesting exploration of the theme of relationships, as there is so much to talk about, with many varied examples to choose from.
Cultural Context/Social Setting
Brooklyn is set in Ireland and New York of the 1950s, and is characterised by the values of the time. Characters show a formality and reserve in keeping with their world. Eilis emigrates due to lack of opportunity in her hometown of Enniscorthy and goes to live in a boarding house full of Irish women in Brooklyn. Marriage is very significant in this world, it is something expected, a permanent, public bond. It is seen as the logical way for relationships to develop, with both Tony and Jim wanting to marry Eilis. The traditional, 1950s setting in Brooklyn could be contrasted in interesting ways with other texts from the prescribed list.
Hero, Heroine, Villain
Eilis is a vulnerable, naïve character with little experience of the world, who develops into an independent, confident woman over the course of the film. She is likeable and relatable, struggling to make the right choices and find her way in the world. She is guilty of misleading and hurting the men in her life, but this is due to not wanting to hurt them, rather than out of any malice. Her actions in relation to Tony and Jim add depth and complexity to her character. The choices she makes, and the way she grows and matures over the course of the film makes for interesting discussion.
Brooklyn is engaging and well told, and the challenges and decisions Eilis faces are highly relatable. It is a straight-forward story, focused around Eilis’ choice, and gives plenty of scope for interesting discussion and comparisons with other prescribed texts.