Spoiler alert for both Brooklyn and Master of None.
A while ago my sister and I left the babies with our husbands and went to one of those theaters where you can sip mojitos and gorge yourself on fried pickles while you watch your flick of choice. A truly indulgent, wholly recommended experience. We went to see Brooklyn, and even if there hadn’t been alcohol, greasy food, and the plushest of seats, the film would have still stayed with me long after I left the theater.
It’s the love story of an Irish immigrant named Eilis and an Italian-American boy named Tony, and it’s a simple, beautiful ode to the immigrants who built new lives in this country and, in doing so, helped build this country.
A few weeks after I saw the film, I binged the first season of Master of None, Aziz Ansari’s humorous but often dismal show centering on life as a millennial in New York. Watching the two of them side by side was like a comparative cultural study on young romance.
The first striking difference that caught my attention was how the leads meet in each. In Brooklyn, Eilis and Tony meet at a dance for the young Irish community–an event that is a means of providing a wholesome way for young men and women to foster friendships and courtships. There’s a good-natured priest chaperoning and the whole thing is completely devoid of drama. Afterwards, an innocently smitten Tony walks Eilis home and the scene is marked by their sweet conversation as they begin to get to know one another. In Anna Keating’s review over at The Catholic Catalogue, she notes how refreshing it is to witness a relationship unfolding unhampered by charmless technology there to complicate things.
The very first scene of Master of None depicts Ansari’s character, Dev, and a girl named Rachel in the midst of a hookup after having met at a bar earlier that evening. After the condom rips, they both panic and awkwardly sit in silence in the dark on their phones trying to find an Uber to take them to a convenience store where they can buy plan b for Rachel. When Dev insists on paying for the plan b pills, there’s a strange, inverted chivalry that stands in stark contrast to the aforementioned scene in Brooklyn. There’s more awkward silence in the cab and any dialogue they share painfully underscores how little they know or truly want to know one another.
Most excellently portrayed in both Brooklyn and in Master of None is the dilemma of commitment. Rachel reappears in Dev’s life several months after that first night. They eventually do date, have a long-term relationship, move in together, and talk about marriage. However, they’re both deeply fearful of marriage and have many inhibiting assumptions about it: that happy marriages are built on an easy love free of hesitation or fear and that saying yes to marriage means saying yes to a life of predictability and boredom. Ultimately, they are too scared to say no to other life possibilities, and so they are unable to say yes to one another.
In Brooklyn, when tragedy strikes Eilis’ family and she plans to return to Ireland for a short trip, Tony convinces her that they should get married. Despite her hesitations, Eilis happily agrees. When Eilis goes back to Ireland where nobody knows of her American marriage, she discovers that this place which previously didn’t offer her a hopeful future now does. She is forced like Dev and Rachel and all of us to choose between different possible lives. Unlike the characters in Master of None, however, Eilis has the courage to commit. And unlike in Master of None, there’s a lovely quiet implication that a good marriage is not boring and that people have a limitless depth to their being that makes committing yourself to one person an adventure in itself.
I think this excerpt from Carolyn Pirtle’s review of Brooklyn over at Notre Dame’s Church Life Journal sums up well the tensions of having to make these life choices:
“What Brooklyn shows us is that, while it is possible to imagine a plethora of life scenarios in which one might be equally happy, it is also possible to choose—and not just possible, but necessary. For if you never say no to anything, you never really say yes to anything either. Saying yes to the one thing may mean saying no to all of the other things, but ultimately, it gives you the freedom to pour your entire self into prolonging that initial yes over the course of a life by affirming it over and over again.
And one more quote that I find apt and would like to share:
“Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might be found more suitable mates. But the real soul-mate is the one you are actually married to.”
If I had to pick just one, I would whole-heartedly recommend Brooklyn as my movie night pick, but if you’re like me and enjoy thinking about cultural issues and social trends over a bowl of popcorn, I’d recommend both. Happy Monday!