By Pratyusha Jain
If you haven’t already watched the movie Brooklyn, you’ve atleast heard of it. With its wide acclaim and multiple Academy Award nominations, I doubt it’s possible to have missed it, unless you live under a rock, of course! The film centers around a young Irish immigrant who comes to the US in early 1950’s, and her struggle to choose between the old and the new. It’s a well-made movie with stunning cinematography and great performances by all. I watched it last year when it just came out with a friend who is American with Italian heritage. After the movie she said to me, “You must be able to relate to it way better than I can“. She was right in a way. Immigration is not something most people personally experience in their lifetime. Although America is, in essence, built my immigrants, most modern-day Americans have only heard second- or third-hand retelling of their ancestors’ journeys that all began at Ellis Island (almost). So like love-at-first-sight, which most people don’t personally experience, immigration is next to have been romanticized by movies. But often times movies only show the best possible outcome of a situation, and in a way that is very convincing.
Eilis’ story certainly pulls at the heartstrings- the sorrow of leaving behind family and friends, and the home where she grew up, homesickness and fear of the unknown, feeling lost and lonely in a sea of people- these are all sentiments that we can empathize with. What’s more, Eilis is a charming yet bashful girl who instantly wins over the audience. She is smart and talented, and we find ourselves rooting for her. She left her hometown for its lack of prospects. She was ambitious and had outgrown what the town could offer. There is no reason why she shouldn’t have her share of the American Dream! And then love comes along. It’s not love-at-first-sight or anything cloyingly sweet; it’s very believable. We’re pleased for her because no matter what we say, most of us still consider marriage one of the touchstones of success, especially for a girl. So now that she was settled in her job and taking classes, it was natural that she should fall in love.
But things aren’t the same when she visits Ireland. She now has prospects- job, and a potential husband with considerable wealth. If she really loved Tony, she wouldn’t even think of this as an option. But she does think. She carefully considers it, and for a rather long time too. What ultimately makes her change her mind is a meddling neighbor, making her realize that it wasn’t the prospects, but the closed-mindedness of the people that had driven her away. So she wasn’t really torn between two men, she was torn between two places; she didn’t pick Tony, she picked New York. It’s a movie so we are left to assume that they lived happily ever after. But had this been real life and not a movie, I imagine a rather different ending.
Anyone who has been following this blog knows that immigration is a constant theme around here. It’s one of the reasons why I started writing in the first place, because my experience with the process of immigration over the last several months has been anything but rosy. No one, myself included, had any idea that it can be this tedious until it all happened to me. If my life were a movie, my playboy would have fallen in love with me, we would have married and all my troubles would be over forever (yes, he is a US citizen). Sadly though, that’s not the case. Now I don’t imagine immigrating to the US was nearly this complicated back in 1950’s. But what was also not the same was the social status of women. Eilis couldn’t have imagined living in New York all on her own for an indefinite length of time like a girl can today. So when Tony came along, I think she made the sensible choice, she followed her head and not her heart. Had she chosen to follow her heart, she’d probably be in a situation similar to mine. I’ve dated other men during these last three years, whenever my playboy and I were going through our break-phase. A couple of them really liked me and were ready for long-term commitment. But I chose to follow my heart and left each time. They were citizens too- you get the idea. For Eilis, things weren’t easy because she was a single girl, for me things aren’t easy because I’m an immigrant. So would her story have been any less touching if she had simply moved from countryside to the big city, without ever leaving the country? I guess not. Her story is not about moving to a new country, it’s about moving to a new place, and it’s not about finding love; her story is that of survival. To answer my friend’s remark, yes, in a way I can relate to Eilis’ initial struggles better than many. But the fact that she was an immigrant lends almost no significance to the overall storyline.
This, of course, is my interpretation of the movie. I have not read the original book that the movie is based on, so I am sure there is a lot more to the story than what has been captured in the film. Someday perhaps I will write a story that truly captures what it means to be an immigrant, until then let’s romanticize it!