Lady Bird and Brooklyn: Love and longing in Saoirse Ronan’s Oscar-nominated movies

Oscar-nominated movies Lady Bird and Brooklyn, both starring the talented Saoirse Ronan in lead roles, are love letters to nostalgia and a cultural, personal past.

Written by Anvita Singh | New Delhi | Updated: March 4, 2018 10:02:12 am
Saoirse Ronan in Lady Bird and Brooklyn Both Lady Bird and Brooklyn deal with the same theme, of a sense of belonging and homesickness.

Saoirse Ronan is only 23 years old, and she has already had three Oscar nominations to her name. Ronan’s latest film Lady Bird has been nominated for five Oscars, including that of Best Actress (Ronan), Best Supporting Actress (Laurie Metcalf) and for Best Picture. Ronan has been nominated for an Oscar for Atonement, Brooklyn and Lady Bird. Two out of these three movies deal with similar themes of love and longing. Love and longing for a place – Sacramento in Lady Bird, and Ireland and Brooklyn in Brooklyn.

There are other parallels that can be drawn between the two Oscar-nominated movies, that of a strained relationship with mother, and the theme of finding yourself, your roots.

Brooklyn is a heartbreaking tale of a young woman caught between the love for her new city and the people she fell in love with while discovering the said new place, and for her old home, where she was born and raised. Ronan is excruciatingly beautiful as Eilis Lacey in the period drama. Her face, in scenes where the camera closes in on her, is luminous in its portrayal of a sense of sadness, realisation and rootedness. What will Eilis choose? Romantic love of a new city across the seas or the love and warmth of nostalgia, of her Irish home?

A still from Lady Bird A still from Lady Bird

Not many describe John Crowley’s Brooklyn as a coming-of-age film. But Brooklyn ticks all the boxes of the genre – a young woman tries to find herself as she moves to another country, as she struggles through relationships of all kinds and a new job. What can be more ‘coming-of-age’ than all of those things?

Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird is also, as it has been described by many, a coming-of-age drama. It deals with a teenager Christie who insists on calling herself Lady Bird, because she wants to carve a space for herself which is not dictated or defined by her parents. So she begins anew by giving herself an outlandish name. She is also not fond of Sacramento, where she lives. Sacramento is not big enough for Lady Bird to spread her wings and fly. Lady Bird wants to leave the place and move to where Brooklyn’s young Eilis had relocated to — New York City, where “the writers live in the woods”, Lady Bird tells her upset mother during one hilarious scene.

A still from Brooklyn A still from Brooklyn

Both Eilis and Lady Bird share a somewhat pinched relationship with their mothers. Their mothers do not want them to move to New York, but they defy their mothers and ‘carry on’ nonetheless. Of course, Lady Bird’s mother (played wonderfully by Laurie Metcalf) is more vocal about how disappointed she is with her daughter’s decision.

The heroines of Brooklyn and Lady Bird have dreams, which they more often than not selfishly pursue. Dreams which help them realise the importance of their hometowns. Lady Bird, towards the conclusion of the movie, says during a conversation with her mother over the phone what she actually feels about Sacramento. She then goes on to eloquently discuss about the feelings she first had while driving into the place.

A still from Brooklyn A still from Brooklyn

“I had always wanted to make a movie that was basically about home, what does home mean? The way it is difficult to see it clearly when you are there, and it’s not until you’re gone that you look back and understand what it was,” Lady Bird director-writer Greta Gerwig had said about the movie in an interview with People.

There is a conversation that Christie aka Lady Bird has with her teacher Sister Sarah Joan, that is especially meaningful in establishing the kind of love-hate relationship Lady Bird shared with Sacramento:

Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I do?
Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I was just describing it.
Sister Sarah Joan: Well it comes across as love.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: Sure, I guess I pay attention.
Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?

A still from Lady Bird A still from Lady Bird

The big difference between Eilis and Lady Bird’s love for their hometowns is the manner in which they express it. While Lady Bird couldn’t care less, Eilis goes overboard in claiming her love for both Brooklyn and Ireland. Take for instance, the scene where Ellis guides another woman on how to overcome her homesickness for her place of birth:

Eilis (while instructing new immigrant): “You have to think like an American. You’ll feel so homesick that you’ll want to die, and there’s nothing you can do about it apart from endure it. But you will, and it won’t kill you. 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”.

As far as romantic love is concerned, both Lady Bird and Eilis have their fair share of ups and downs, but their first passionate affair with their birth place occupies a good deal of reel, and most splendidly.

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