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Cultural Mobility in the Film ‘Brooklyn’

'Brooklyn' (Image credit: Fox Searchlight)
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The film “Brooklyn,” directed by John Crowley, is a story rich in cultural fluidity. Set in Brooklyn, New York in the mid 1950’s, the movie follows the life of Eilis Lacey, a young woman from Enniscorthy, Ireland, and her cultural experiences in both the United States and Ireland. 

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight)

Actress Saoirse Ronan, who plays Eilis in “Brooklyn,” expressed her cultural fluidity in an interview with Kevin McCarthy. “I was born in New York … but I grew up in the country 20 minutes away from Eniscorthy,” Ireland, Ronan said. Her experience is similar to her character’s — they both interacted with two different cultures as they grew up. 

About the film

In “Brooklyn,” Eilis makes the brave decision to journey to America in hopes of beginning a new life and creating opportunity. Throughout the film, Eilis meets a variety of different people. The most influential one she meets is a man named Tony Fiorello, a young Italian-American man whose Italian parents had emigrated to the United States. 

A prominent moment in the film is the conversation between Eilis and Tony after they first meet. Tony offers to walk Eilis home from an Irish dance they had both been attending. Tony, a rather forward and audacious man, expresses that he isn’t actually Irish at all, but that he loves Irish girls. Eilis teases back saying, “You don’t sound Irish.” Their exchange encapsulates how many different coexisting cultures interacted during the immigration influx throughout the 1950s.

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight)

While the United States came to be known as a melting pot of a multitude of cultures throughout history, many of them organized their own exclusive cultural havens to create a semblance of the familiar environment in their original birthplaces. 

Halfway through “Brooklyn,” Eilis returns to Ireland due to a tragedy. Upon her return to her birthplace, she finds that she hardly belongs there anymore after having crafted an entirely new version of herself in the United States. Eilis’s internal struggle is a delicate dance between her love of her new life and her wistfulness of her old one.

TCK and CCK prominence

Both Eilis and Tony’s experiences exemplify the experience of Cross Cultural Kids and many Third Culture Kids. By the end of “Brooklyn,” Eilis, who is about nineteen or twenty in the movie, has meaningfully interacted with both Irish and U.S. cultures. She’s an immigrant–effectively deciding to leave her old world behind to live in the United States for a richer life in addition to a higher-paying job opportunity. Along the way, she had to learn the cultural norms that aided her in adapting to her life in the United States. For example, when Tony invites her to dinner with his family, Eilis’s American roommates teach her how to eat spaghetti without splashing the red sauce all over herself.

(Image credit: Fox Searchlight)

Tony’s experience is that of a CCK (some might say a Cross Cultural Adult, because he’s likely over the age of 18, but an argument could be made for either). He was born in the United States and raised by Italian parents. While the film primarily focuses on the blossoming romantic relationship between Eilis and Tony, one could logically infer that Tony grew up with the conflicting views of U.S. and Italian culture.

Fundamentally, Brooklyn is about the obstacles faced in the relationship between two young adults in an early America. But with a closer look, this film also explores the delicacy of both cultural fluidity and the resulting synergy between two complimentary cultural experiences.

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