When I went to see Brooklyn yesterday, I wasn’t expecting to be so reminded of myself. Yet Soairse Ronan’s character, the young Eilis who moves across the ocean from County Wrexham, Ireland to Brooklyn, NYC in the 1950s to make a better life for herself, embodied all the emotional turmoil so familiar to me when I boarded a flight to California, three years ago to the day.
The difficulties with such a move are obviously far less drastic today than they would have been then. We have omnipresent wifi in the global north; we have telephones, Skype, whatsapp, email and even letter-writing. If all else fails, there are affordable flights abound which will jet-set us around the world in under 24 hours. Yet, as someone wisely pointed out to me, while your mind and heart might coexist in multiple locations, your body can only ever be in one place physically. Making the decision to live, and not just exist, where you physically dwell – well, that’s the tough bit.
Because, like me back then, Eilis’s troubles begin when she finds herself torn between places. Her pained decision, in the end, boils down to a brutal choice between her ailing, lonely mother back in Ireland and her gentle, kind-hearted new husband Tony, who waits for her anxiously in Brooklyn.
I’m also reminded of the Murakami novel Norwegian Wood, in which the protagonist, Toru, faces the agonising pull of a beautiful, broken girl into the darkness of her ongoing depression – even as he is drawn to a different girl who glows like a light, and makes him happy. He must choose between a future full of potential, or a past love which promises nothing.
In the end you have to choose. You have to make a decision, or you risk staying the same while the world moves on around you. I have some big decisions to make this year (haven’t we all); this is the time when I shape the outcome of the rest of my life. Eilis knows this. It’s the decisions we make now that matter, that we might not feel the full effects of for another 20 years. But decisions we must make. That, if we want to keep developing, is unavoidable.