When I first watched this movie, although I liked it, I thought it was pretty decent, but once it ended, I kind of went, “Well, what was the point of that?” I waited for some time and watched it again and now I’m trying to figure out exactly what this film was about.
I think the point of it was to show how this passive, somewhat naive, sometimes socially inept young woman matures from her experiences in two different countries and – while she may not definitively “take control” or anything of that sort, so she doesn’t actually undergo a complete 180 of her character by the end, but she at least finally stops allowing people to control her life. The ending deliberately mirrors the opening where she meets an Irish woman on the boat and she says something like “it was a mistake going back in the first place” referring to going back to Ireland. That line is deliberately written and delivered as a throwaway line but actually it sets up most of the second half of the film where we see Eilis going back home and experiencing changes that, in the final scene, turns her into that Irish woman from the beginning whom she met, and this time she’s the one giving advice to another young Irish woman going to Brooklyn and leaving home for the first time.
The second half of the film that’s spent in Ireland sees almost every person in the town trying to subtly and sometimes not so subtly manipulate her into staying (a plot element that I found strained credulity a bit) and although she seems to realize what’s going on, she allows it to happen anyway, she allows herself to be taken in and swept away by this wave. She did the same thing before going to Brooklyn, she did the same thing in Brooklyn, now she’s doing the same thing as well. She seems confused as to what she really wants, but once she realizes just how bad her hometown is thanks to that Mrs. Kelly, she realizes she has to break this cycle and make the right decision for herself on her own, so for better or for worse, she decides her “home” is with Tony (whom she does seem to love) and decides to go back there.
I do think that it was problematic seeing Tony goad her into marrying him before going back to Ireland, I did find that bit uncomfortable and also a bit confusing because at first it seems like the script may be positioning Eilis as a more “progressive” character (relatively speaking, considering it is the 1950s), when she tells him to stop pushing her and stop talking about their kids and whatnot, but that doesn’t seem to go anywhere and ultimately she lets him manipulate her into marrying him. Now, it’s true that this was a different time and these kinds of things probably did happen back then, but my source of discomfort remains the fact that I can’t quite figure out whether or not the film itself approves of this aspect of its plot and thinks of it as a good thing or if it sees it as being problematic but also something you can’t do anything about because it was just a symptom of the era the movie’s set in. I wish the film were a bit clearer about that. But like I said, Eilis does seem to love him sincerely and his love for her seems sincere as well, so I guess it’s fine.
Apart from all that, as I’ve already said, I did like it. I thought it was a nicely made film, good production values and all that, it’s well directed, and there’s really not a lot of bad to say about it, I think. I don’t think it’s great by any means – it’s decent – but Saoirse Ronan is wonderful in it and remains the highlight of the film.