Silly Sunday/Thinky Post: I Just Saw the Western Movie Brooklyn! Really Interesting Take on Immigration, and Romantic!

I watched this for a film class and it was on the one hand a romance, and on the other hand an odd interesting way of telling an immigration story that was almost entirely internal and emotional.

Okay, my first thought is that there seems to be two immigration stories. On the one hand, there is the immigrant who is trying to build a new life in a new place. And on the other hand, there is the immigrant who is trying to build a better life for the people left behind. Either looking forward, or looking back. Because I am a fool, I didn’t even know the second category existed really until I started watching the Indian films that dealt with the migrant workers living in the middle east. Well, that’s not quite right, I knew about the female migrant workers in America, the health care professionals and childcare and home care workers who had left their families behind and send money back and forth. But somehow I hadn’t fully understand the mental difference between “I am here so they can have a better life back home, that is how I exist” versus “I am here to build a better life for myself, I have to forget home to exist”.

That first option, that feels like a guaranteed sad story. Even if everything goes just as planned, the plan is for you to separate yourself from what you love and ransom your life and your time so your loved ones can have a better life. But the second tends to be told in black and white with no greys. You arrive in a new country, you are exploited, you are tortured, everything is horrible and nightmarish. Or, alternatively, you arrive in a new country and become rich and happy and everything is perfect. What makes this movie so unusual is that it tells this story in shades of grey. No one is exploited, no one is tortured, but that doesn’t mean everything is perfect and easy either.

And that’s why I am really interested to talk about how it could be reframed as an Indian-American story!!!! Because there are soooooooooooo many Indian-American immigrants, and so many Indian-American immigration stories, but somehow this particular story hasn’t been told. A young woman, alone, coming to a new country, and being not fully happy or fully sad as she tries to build a new life.

Okay, original plot! (skip if you are curious about the movie and want to avoid spoilers):

Our heroine is intelligent and educated and has no possible future in the small Irish town where she lives. Her family isn’t starving or in distress, there are just very limited options for a smart young woman. Her older sister makes the decision for her and makes the arrangements for her to go to America. Everything in America is….okay. She has a decent job at a department store, she starts nightclasses in bookkeeping, and she lives at a decent boarding house with other young working women who are open to friendship. But she feels deep misery of homesickness. It doesn’t really go away until she is distracted by a new relationship with an Italian American kind nice young man. She is finally seeing a future and a possibility of happiness in America. Which is when she gets word that her sister surprisingly died back in Ireland. Before going home to see her mother, she and her boyfriend secretly get married as a promise she will return. She goes back to Ireland and it is a strange sort of reset. She is offered her sister’s old job as bookkeeper, and a nice local boy seems interested in her. There might be a future at home after all, so does she want to return to America or not? Until she comes out of the fog when a local gossip confronts her and she remembers how small and petty this town is and decides for herself that she wants to go back to America and start her new life.

What I find fascinating about how this movie is developed is how passive our heroine is. She does not decide to leave home, her sister forces her out. She only starts the relationship with the boy because he falls for her so hard and pursues her so sweetly and determinedly. And that relationship opens up her ability to make friends with her housemates, to enjoy her job, everything good. She marries the boy because she is trapped by her grief and confusion. She returns to Ireland and almost lets herself fall into her old life just because it is easy. It’s only at the very end that she snaps and finds her voice and makes her own decision to go after the new life instead of the old.

That passivity allows for this to be a very internal story. It’s not someone who struggles and fights for their future, it’s someone who is forced into the role of immigrant and left to try to handle the culture shock, the homesickness, everything horrible, because of a choice she hadn’t even made herself. And then she is suddenly dropped back home and everyone expects her to just turn into the person she was before and that is an internal story too, she tries to please her mother and lets herself go along with the easy answer, but it doesn’t quite fit. That passivity also makes it a very female story. Almost the entire cast of the film is female. And it’s a bunch of people who are making the best of a life that they know they don’t fully control. The boarding house women who just want to get married so they can live in their own home again. Her older sister who is secretly sick without telling anyone and has to find the best way to handle that (which she does by sending her little sister away). And our heroine’s mother who is a widow being supported by her daughters and having to live with the decisions they make for their lives. Again, we are used to a very different immigrant story, the male immigrant who makes the decision on his own, who has chosen this life of exile and can choose to end it.

Anyhoo, does that explain why I am so interested in talking about remaking it? I want to look at the same thing in the Indian lens. Not an upper middle-class immigrant who comes to America with great wealth and success and power and so on. And not a working class one either, but somewhere in between. The one who takes a humble role in the new society but still sees more options and future than back home. And that push-pull of trying so hard to create a new life in a new place only to see the possibility of throwing away that new life and returning to the old.

This is a story that is happening in real life all the time, young Indian women leaving home and not returning, marrying outside of the country and outside of their culture, choosing to stay overseas because they fit there better than at home. We should see it in movies!

My remake would be straightforward. A family of an older and younger sister and a widowed mother in a village in India. The younger sister is smart and has finished school with good grades, but there are no job opportunities in their small town. Her older sister sends her to America for the possibility of a better future, more options. She arrives in America and lives with roommates who try to ease her into this new life. She works at a lowlevel job, let’s say a homecare situation, but with the possibility of more as she starts taking evening classes in nursing. And then she meets someone, someone unexpected. Maybe at an Indian cultural association dance, she meets a second generation Latinx-American. He is sweet and kind and takes her out of herself. She starts to fall in love, her roommates help her, she blossoms with love to distract her from homesickness. And then her older sister dies and she returns home. Her mother starts to guilt her into staying and she has the option of marrying a pleasant local boy. Until she decides for herself that she wants to go back to America.

For cast, I would do this:

Heroine: Sanya Malhotra or Sai Pallavi

Older Sister: Katrina Kaif or Parvathy

Widowed mother who subtly guilts them: Jaya Bachchan or Revathi

Nice boyfriend in America: Anthony Ramos maybe? From In the Heights?

Back home boyfriend option: Rohit Saraf or Roshan Mathew

And then I’d throw in some AWESOME song numbers, it’s a plot that is just begging for song numbers, from the loving sister song before she leaves home to some delightful courtship falling in love numbers once she starts to fall in love.

What do you think? About the original film, about the idea of the remake, and about this whole concept of immigrants either looking to the future or the past?

9 thoughts on “Silly Sunday/Thinky Post: I Just Saw the Western Movie Brooklyn! Really Interesting Take on Immigration, and Romantic!

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  2. Pingback: Silly Sunday/Thinky Post: I Just Saw the Western Movie Brooklyn! Really Interesting Take on Immigration, and Romantic! » Filmybilla

  3. Pingback: Foolish Sunday/Thinky Put up: I Simply Noticed the Western Film Brooklyn! Actually Fascinating Tackle Immigration, and Romantic! » Filmybilla

  4. I love Brooklyn too, its such an interesting movie about immigration that goes deeper than most on the immigration also Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic actress. Remake also sounds great and heres my desired cast:

    Heroine: Sai Pallavi (I literally thought about her immediately when I was reading the remake)
    Older Sister: Parvathy
    Widowed Mother: Revathy
    Nice Boyfriend in America: Anthony Ramos is perfect and also unconventional.
    Back home boyfriend; Roshan Mathew

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  5. Where I think Brooklyn really diverges from other immigrant stories is the….. privilege?

    Her immigration process is SO EASY compared to someone coming over from a place like India/Iran/Nigeria. The Catholic Church arranges her immigration, boat crossing, housing, settling into America, even getting a decent job. Her Customs (at Ellis Island) experience is very swift too. The only hard part of her immigration experience is homesickness and adjusting to America. For most most other immigrants, that’s the tip of the iceberg.

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    • See, that’s what I think is so interesting! In a vacuum, yes, I would be irritated by it. But we have so many stories of total privilege, the random rich person who just moves to London or Sydney or whatever. And on the other hand, we have the stories of immigrant struggle and so on. To have a story that is just sort of medium, not terribly tragic or terribly wonderful, feels radical to me.

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  6. I added this movie to my watchlist a while back but now I can’t remember why I did so. I think I knew it was a romance with Saiorse Ronan in it but I didn’t know anything else about it. But this does sound like a pretty interesting movie.

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    • It is pretty interesting! But only if you are in the mood for a slow romance, not a lot happens.

      On Mon, Feb 21, 2022 at 12:09 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

      >

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