I stepped out of the theatre and called a Lyft. “You speak Arabic?” was the first question my driver asked me. He was Moroccan; been living in the city for two years he said. “I had the best days of my life in Tunisia; my ex-girlfriend was from there, and I am still in love with her.” He told me all about her, and asked me not to speak in my Tunisian dialect so much because it reminds him of her. We spoke about the bled (in French) and what it meant to us. Excited conversation was followed by a pregnant silence: you know, the kind where you realize that too much had been said but that it was all too sincere. About a minute passed before he finally said, “But I will go back to Casablanca of course. I have no business here. I have a huge house there — you know it cost me about a million dollars to build. It’s home for me.” I tell him I understand the sentiment well, and he continues: “Plus, my mother lives there and I am her only child. I must go back, it’s unfair to either of us to be so far apart.”
In the film Brooklyn, Eilis’s relationship with her mother is what weighs the most in her attachment to her homeland, Ireland. Following Eilis’s sister’s death, the mother finds herself alone — the house is empty and her last remaining relative is across the Atlantic. Eilis visits Ireland to grieve her sister’s passing, and is tempted to stay — if only to keep her mother company at such old age. After all, her sister’s death took a toll on her, too. In the film, we witness the gut-wrenching moment of Eilis realizing that she cannot attend her sister’s funeral service because it is too arduous and long of a journey to make it before the sister is laid to rest.
I’ve been there myself. My grief was multiplied when I found out that I was unable to go to Tunisia for my grandmother’s funeral. She was my shining light and my closest relative. Being incapable of seeing her one last time — unable to bid her farewell and honor her presence in my life — still remains a seemingly insurmountable source of pain. When Eilis visits her sister’s grave, she tells her: “I cannot believe that I’m married to someone you’ll never know.” We are unable to reconcile facing such grave finality with the glistening novelties life offers us. They will never know.
Yet it is those very same emotional ties that push Eilis back to New York. She sails back to New York because her heart pulled her back. Eilis began creating something new for herself there, and she must continue building on it. Complicating matters is her marriage to Tony, the Italian-American she met in Brooklyn. She fell in love, and she decided that she couldn’t leave the dream they are pursuing behind.
The film cuts right into the heart of transatlantic senses of belonging and love (and how they overlap). It demonstrates the confusions we are confronted with when experiencing love that is mired with arbitrary geography that is still bigger than us. A heart that feels home here, and there. Brooklyn narrates the necessity of embracing the inevitable when crossing that ocean. It is a human story about, as the Lyft driver describes it, the unfairness of being torn apart between two homes.
Such a humanizing film on the immigrant experience could not have been any timelier.