Heaven and ‘Brooklyn’ Have Something in Common

Heaven and ‘Brooklyn’ Have Something in Common December 6, 2015

Emory Cohen and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, photo courtesy Fox Searchlight

(Caution: Spoilers ahead.)

Eilis found new life in America.

It wasn’t easy for the Irish lass, played by Saoirse Ronan in the excellent film Brooklyn. She comes to New York alone, not knowing a soul in this strange, new world. Thanks in large part to the Catholic Church, she has a job and a place to stay. Thanks to her sister, she has a suitcase full of sensible clothes. But you need more than that to make a life.

But slowly, she finds that “more.” She meets some friends (after a fashion). She found success in her job. She begins taking bookkeeping classes—a step toward a real career as, ideally, an accountant. Most importantly, Eilis falls in love. Tony (Emory Cohen), an Italian plumber with a soft smile, loves her back—maybe more than his beloved Dodgers, even. And in his eyes, Eilis sees the promise and potential of this new land. She understands that this brash, strange city is now home for her—a beautiful, boisterous, unreplaceable place where her future lies.

But when a family tragedy strike across the Atlantic, Eilis goes back to her provincial Irish community and finds it hard to leave. Her mother desperately needs her, it seems. She’s practically handed an accounting job—ironic, considering it was the lack of jobs that sent her to America in the first place. And even though she secretly married Tony before leaving Brooklyn, Eilis allows herself to be wooed by Jim—a young, handsome and relatively wealthy man about town.

She goes to the seaside with Jim and some friends, and she’s stunned by the beauty of the Irish coast. “I’d forgotten this,” Eilis says. And even as Tony writes her letter after anguished letter, Eilis won’t write back.

Poor Eilis. She’s between two worlds. Maybe the same could be said for us.

We Christians aren’t so different from Eilis. We, too, have been promised a beautiful, new life. Thanks to our faith (like Eilis), we’ve been given access to a place of promise and plenty. We’ve found heaven. And in the metaphorical language of the Bible, we’ve gotten married, too—binding ourselves to our Savior, no matter what might come.

Emory Cohen and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, photo courtesy Fox Searchlight
Emory Cohen and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, photo courtesy Fox Searchlight

But heaven is far away from us. Our Groom is unseen. We live in a familiar and, yes, beautiful world. It has its own comfortable charms, its own small promise. And sometimes, perhaps we wonder why we’d ever want to turn our backs on it.

“Do not love the things in the world,” Jesus tells us in Matthew. But I do love parts of it. I live nestled in the foothills of Colorado Springs. Snow covers the mountains as I write this. The sky is a brilliant robin’s-egg blue. It feels like home for me. And like Eilis, there are times when I look upon it and smile, marveling at its beauty. This place I live in is God’s creation too, is it not?

But it’s a fallen creation, mangled from His original ideal. And like Eilis, I’m sometimes reminded that my home—my real home—lies elsewhere.

As much as Eilis’s old Irish haunts try to charm her, Eilis realizes that there are other, less attractive, things she’s forgotten about the old place, too. The pettiness. The vindictiveness. It’s missing something.

Yes, it’s comfortable. But for Eilis, it all feels smaller now. Her world has grown bigger. More colorful. It’s interesting that when she returns to Ireland, her clothes are about three shades more vivid than the dowdy, greenish-grayish-brownish garb that seems to be in vogue in the village. Nothing against her hometown in Ireland, but she’s seen a brighter world. And some of that brightness clings to her.

Brooklyn is a pretty wonderful movie full of beautiful, resonant moments. But maybe one of my favorite scenes takes place pretty early on—when Eilis first arrives on Ellis Island. She goes through the gauntlet of customs, looking lost and nervous. And when the customs official finally welcomes her to America, she walks through a set of doors and into a blinding, glorious light.

She doesn’t know it, but she’s come home. And life for her will never be the same.

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From Brooklyn, photo courtesy Fox Searchlight

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