TORONTO — Even though “Brooklyn” is set in the early 1950s, actress Saoirse Ronan says she can “completely understand and relate to what Eilis was going through.” In the movie, her character Eilis Lacey leaves a tiny town in Ireland and moves to New York to build a new life in America. After settling in at her department store job and even finding her first big love, circumstances force her to return to Ireland to assume family responsibilities.
While back home, she meets a fellow who everyone wants her to marry, but there’s a twist I won’t give away here.
“Brooklyn” is scheduled to open in Chicago on Nov. 13 but screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday at AMC River East as part of the Chicago International Film Festival. For Ronan, born to Irish parents in the U.S. but raised back in Ireland, the film “tells a story that examines the tough choices a lot of people have to make in life when it comes to love, community or culture.
“I think all those things are sort of relatable universally,” added the actress.
“Just the other day, I met a man who is in a long-distance relationship, and he said he could really get that aspect of the story. … I’ve met parents who told me about sending their children off to college or to study abroad. And they could relate to that part of it as well.
“My own mother, though she came to a very different New York in the ’80s, told me she could relate to the homesickness experienced by Eilis.”
Part of the reason for Eilis being so overwhelmed and somewhat awed by her American experiences in the film is her lack of understanding of other cultures.
“Until the last 20 years or so,” said Ronan, “Nobody in Ireland — especially in a tiny town like Eilis’ — had eaten Chinese food at home. The same went for Italian food. Now, Ireland today has progressed so much. Now we’re a very modern country. But back in the early ’50s, a girl like Eilis would never have known any of that.”
The actress noted that, of course, the very limited media in the 1950s prevented people from learning about other cultures in many parts of the world. “America is so different from anywhere else. Anyone who goes there for the first time is in for a bit of a culture shock. It’s so huge and overwhelming.
“But it’s so amazing and such a wonderful melting pot of so many different kinds of people. … In the final analysis, that’s what Eilis comes to understand, and it’s why she makes the decisions she does on how she wants to live the rest of her life.”