Have you ever asked yourself what home feels like?
Not the physical building as such; rather than sense of belonging that comes with a particular place and time where the people that matter to you are present, you have a sense of purpose and direction and your life feels fully lived in a way that nowhere else can provide.
Brooklyn, based on the novel by Colm Tóibín and directed by John Crowley from a screenplay by Nick Hornby asks us to consider what home feels like and how we know when we’re there.
It’s a question that vexes Irish immigrant to bustling New York City in the early 1950s Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) who discovers that discerning where you truly belong is not as easy as you might think.
Arriving in the gateway to the promised land of the United States as part of a flood of postwar immigration from a still-recovering from the Second World War Europe, Ellis finds herself swamped by an overwhelming sense that if there is a place she is most at home, it most certainly isn’t here.
But though she pines for life back in Enniscorthy, a small town in southeastern Ireland where she has grown up with her mother (Jane Brennan) and beloved sister Rose (Fiona Glascott), opportunities for advancement are few so she accepts an offer by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent), a New York-based Irish priest to live and work in the USA.
At first, she finds herself utterly adrift despite the support of her traditionalist but kindly landlady, Madge Kehoe (Julie Walters) and Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) and wonders if she has made a monumental mistake hitching her wagon to this brave new world, which bears no resemblance to the life she has left behind.
Home it most certainly is not.
But little bit by little bit as she begins to attend bookkeeping classes – she wants to follow in the footsteps of Rose, with whom she is close, and become an accountant – and meets a man with whom she falls in love, Anthony “Tony” Fiorello (Emory Cohen), New York begins to feel like it could possibly be a place she could call home.
But as she is pulled back to Ireland by a family emergency, and meets a man Jim Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) who could provide the means for a comfortable life in the place she has grown up in and loves, her allegiance to her new home, to which she has far firmer ties that she is willing to admit, is tested.
It’s a situation that anyone who has journey far from home and upended their once well-defined life can relate to and Nick Hornby does a stellar job of capturing the sense of dislocation and loss and then re-discovery of a sense of place and belonging that guarantees these turning points in our lives.
From the moment you meet Ellis, a shy quiet girl who works weekends in the shop of the ferociously nasty, gossip-monger Miss Kelly (Brid Brennan), you are drawn wholly and completely into her world, which is realised every step of the way through all its many permutations with a minimum of melodrama.
So completely does Roinan inhabit the role of Ellis, her expressive eyes expressing all the emotions of the moment in deeply affecting, relatable ways that leave you feeling as if you living through all the changes with her, that you drawn into every twist and turn of her saga.
Hers is the story of every person who has ever struck out on their own, whether through choice or necessity, who has left home uncertain of what awaits but knows there is not enough for them from whence they came, and every step of that archetypal journey finds an authentic echo in Ellis’s life.
What is so refreshing about the tale is that even though Brooklyn contains a dramatic lightbulb moment where Ellis has an epiphany where she knows exactly where home is and must hurry there urgently, this is simply one moment in a carefully-developed transition from smalltown Irish girl to big city dweller and possibly back again … or not.
It doesn’t jar or feel tacked on in some emotionally-manipulative way; rather, it feels like a natural organic part of her new life which can’t quite un-entangle itself, at least for a while, from her old life, enough that she can tell where her heart now really lies.
Complicated though the problem of discerning where home really is might be, Brooklyn makes it feel like a natural part of anyone’s life experience.
It’s difficult and traumatic at times sure, and you often question your sanity and good judgement but if you stay true to course, things usually work themselves out in ways you might never have envisaged when you were in the depths of homesickness and loss.
In fact, Father Flood assures Ellis at one of her lowest points that homesickness is like a disease – it afflicts you for a while and makes your life a misery before moving on to someone else.
And so it is for Ellis, and as she sorts through what she’s feeling and how much validity those feelings have in the light of all the changes in her life, you are swept gently along with her, relating to her every downcast moment, her every moment of seemingly crushing indecision, the joy when home finally and belatedly reveals itself at last.
Brooklyn is a film for anyone who has wondered, in the light of a move big or small, whether they will ever feel as sense of belonging again or whether home as they knew it, or once hoped it might be, is an elusive creature they will never find.
The film assures us through the life of one passionate young women in a time of great change and upheaval that if you’re patient and can weather the storm, that home, with all the love, security and belonging will find you and you will have to wonder no more about where you truly should be.