Released in 2015, Brooklyn is a Sundance film that was directed by John Crowley, with a screenplay by Nick Hornby that’s based on Colm Tóibín’s novel of the same name. It tells the story of a young Irish immigrant named Eilis (Ay-lish) Lacey, played so beautifully by Saorise (Ser-sha) Ronin, who also starred in last year’s critically acclaimed Ladybird. If you’ve seen the movie, you may be scratching your head right now trying to remember a bar scene. If you’re coming up empty, it’s okay because there isn’t one. However, there is a pivotal scene that involves drinking in a public place that contains elements that are very bar-like. There’s a great deal of laughter and camaraderie, music, beer and whiskey, and a few men who end up passing out on tables. You’ll let me slide, right? The reason why I chose this scene is because it’s so important to understanding what’s at the heart of the movie, and the way in which that meaning is conveyed is a thousand times more poignant than merely putting it into lines in the script. Eilis has been struggling with her new life in America. We’ve seen her sadness, and we’ve seen her efforts to continue to look forward and not be pulled back by thoughts of home. She’s been asked by Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) to help serve Christmas dinner at the church to over 200 needy Irishmen. The scene opens with the men walking in and Father Flood explaining, “These are the men who built the tunnels, the bridges, the highways. God only knows what they live on now.” The night proceeds well; there’s a great deal of food, drink, and cigarettes, all of which the men seem to be thoroughly enjoying. Father Flood calls for everyone’s attention, and as a way of thanking the ladies for their hard work, he points to Frankie, “a great singer in the room” (Iarla Ó Lionáid), who stands to perform a sean nós (old style) song for them, called “Casadh an tSúgáin” (The Twisting of the Hayrope). It’s a gorgeous, haunting song and soon every pair of eyes is on Frankie. I’ve included a clip here for you to watch it. The song captures what all the men in the room, and most especially Eilis, are feeling, and it does so in such a poignant way. They are all well aware that America is their home now, but they allow themselves to be transported back to Ireland for those few moments while Frankie is singing. The longing on their faces is so evident even though it only lasts for that short period of time.
Eilis goes on to find love in a young Italian named Tony (Emory Cohen) and her entire outlook on life begins to change. She marries him, but tragedy brings her back home where she feels the pull to remain, and nearly does, until she realizes that America is now where she really wants to be. In the movie’s final scene, Eils is in on the ship traveling back where she counsels a young terrified girl. “You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it, apart from endure it, which you will, and it won’t kill you. Then one day the sun will come out, you might not even notice straight away, it’ll be that faint, and you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone who has no connection with the past, someone who’s only yours, and you’ll realize that this is where your life is.” The difference between the scene in the church basement that is so dark and smoky, and filled with such sadness and longing, and these final sun-drenched moments is so powerful that the movie’s entire meaning can be felt in their brilliant juxtaposition. It also makes us realize how universal the film’s message is, and how it moves beyond just the experience of immigration. Life offers us such beautiful moments that touch our souls so profoundly, but in order to feel them we must be equally aware of the times that we’ve been brought to our knees with sadness. It’s in the balance found in that awareness of these two opposing forces that we find our drive to push forward toward what we know is our future, and not be be pulled back by people or places that offered us no hope of that. And in the instant when the clouds break and we see it all so clearly, our hearts are filled with utter joy.
Todays’s cocktail is a riff on a Manhattan that incorporates spirits that are both Irish and Italian. The base of the drink Redbreast 12 Irish whiskey, and I’ve substituted the Italian Amaro Nonino in place of the traditional vermouth. I also used two dashes of DRAM Black Bitters and one dash of Cherry Heering liqueur to symbolize the bittersweetness of this film and the entire process of living that it calls to mind for us in such a deeply moving way. Cheers everyone. Happy Monday!
This Is Where Your Life Is
Add all the ingredients along with ice to a mixing glass and stir until cold. Strain into a chilled cocktail coupe and garnish with a cherry. Enjoy!