Monday, June 13, 2016

You’ll realize that this is where your life is

Hello, all!

My summer holiday has begun, meaning that this book/film review blog is back in business!
I've accepted the fact that I won't be able to post regularly doing the school year; I still do a ton of reading and writing at school, but mainly for class. When I’m not wrangling with words, I spin poi/tumble with the circus and swing dance instead. All in all, college has been a wonderful time.

Anyway, I wrote most of this yesterday while on a plane back to Hong Kong. I was at an altitude of 31,000, the temperature outside was -56 F, and it was 7:38 pm Chicago time, but since we were flying over The Arctic Bay at that exact minute, who knows what time it really was. I peeked outside the window and saw the ice extend forever. Sunlight scorched the land, making the tributaries look like silver. Snow coated the ridges of dark mountains. The whole terrain was like a lithographic print. I would be on that plane for a total of around 16 hours.

I have yet again managed to watch another emotional, heart-rending film on a long-haul flight (other films I have cried to while in the air: Room, Short Term 12, 海角七號).

~ spoilers ahead ~

I heard great things about Brooklyn, but I’m glad that I watched it at the end of my first year of college (you’ll find out why by the end). In the film, Eilis, played by the brilliant and elegant Saoirse Ronan, leaves her home country of Ireland to work in Brooklyn, New York City. While she feels sad about leaving her mother and sister behind, her decision to go is greatly in her favor: there’s nothing left for her in Ireland, where she is stuck working for the awful Ms. Kelly and—despite her brains—will never be given the chance to engage in meaningful work.

Yet Eilis’s initial foray into Brooklyn is far from smooth. Wracked by homesickness (well-foreshadowed by her boat sickness), she is advised to “act like an American” in order to fit in, to be amiable at work, and to essentially settle in ASAP.  

But settling in isn’t so easy, and doesn’t get any easier until Eilis meets Tony Fiorello, a charming Italian who asks her to dance at a weekly Irish dance. The two begin dating, Eilis gradually becomes less reserved, and completely blossoms in Brooklyn: she passes her book-keeping classes with flying colors and falls deeper in love. It seems like nothing could be better.

Then, when Eilis’s sister Rose dies, Eilis is struck by the urge to visit home and returns to Ireland. Paradoxically, it seems like life there—for the month that she stays—will be even better than her time in Brooklyn. She has returned “a star,” strikingly competent and beautiful. Her time in New York was like a spell; Ireland appears to be where she belongs. She is courted by the wealthy bachelor Jim Farrell, offered a job, and encouraged by everyone to stay.

She is so preoccupied with wishing that this was the way life was before she left that she forgets—until an unpleasant encounter with the gossipmonger that is Ms. Kelly—what life was like in a small Irish town in the 1950s. Eilis remembers what drove her from Ireland in the first place and remembers that she has left her heart back in Brooklyn.

The film is a beautiful meditation on what it means to find a new home and create a new identity for yourself. It was slightly clichéd at times, but lovely regardless. I’m glad that I watched it after my first year of college because its last line resonates with me in so many ways:
And one day, the sun will come out you might not even notice straight away—it’ll be that faint. And then 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.
I’m not saying that I have immigrated to America and am going to live there forever with an Italian husband, but there are moments when I realize that I have made a life for myself in Chicago, in a library lounge full of swing dancers, in an open gym with people on silks/flipping/juggling/etc, in a room of friends who have become like family.  

And while I have yet to experience genuine homesickness while studying abroad, I resonate with the advice Eilis gives to the new immigrant she meets on the boat:
When you get to immigration, look like you know where you’re going. You have to look like an American.
I remember being nervous when flying to Chicago on my own for the first time, but I'll never forget how happy I was when I landed in Chicago after winter break and took public transport from O'Hare back to my dorm (ft. two luggages and a violin that has become like my fifth limb) while snow paved much of the ground outside. I'm so grateful that I have a life for me and a family in a city almost 8,000 miles away from the one that I live in now.

The next time I’ll be on another long haul flight is late September; who knows what movie I’ll watch and cry to then. Ah well, I’ll write about it when the time comes.

Happy summer!