The story is simple- Girl in Ireland leaves her family to leave for the United States with hopes for better opportunities for her future, she misses home, meets a charming Italian fella, they fall in love, but then she has to go back home suddenly and then she meets an Irish lad, and here comes the tipping point- the choice to be made between a life in two cities, one at home which offers security,comfort,predictability & the other where struggle is virtually guaranteed in exchange for a limitless,wild existence.
I loved it. Not because I’m this pretentious fool who enjoys agreeing with the wise board of the Academy Awards. So even though I’m terrible at writing reviews for books and movies, as an attempt to challenge myself in this project I’m going to elaborate on why this film moved me. It will be somewhat like a patchwork quilt of randomness with no clear structure, but bear with me.
Brief of the character names that I will be using frequently- Lead role- Ellis (pronounced Ay-lish ), Italian lover- Tony, Irish suitor- Jim.
Let me start by talking about Ellis. Here is a person whose beauty shines from how ordinary she is. She’s not very pretty or charming or even an obstinately hard-working person. It’s always fascinating to see how writers create these characters and flesh them out at a gradual pace over the span of some 100 minutes, building them through their interactions with other characters and how they handle circumstances. They don’t give it all away at once and make you wait for pieces to fully understand them. Her love for her elder sister, the self-conscious awkwardness at a mixed singles dance, a pure bright but rare smile she shares with the man she’s falling hopelessly in love with, blue eyes that don’t hide a single emotion.
The central idea around which the movie is sculpted is the idea of ‘home’. What is home? Is it where you grow up? Where your family lives? Is it even a physical place or just something we carry with us and deposit wherever we find solace? When Ellis leaves her town in Ireland to a somewhere that is oceans away, she literally drowns in homesickness in a city that is too crowded, fast-paced, and is left feeling like a shrinking flower under the intolerable brightness of the sun. When her manager at the department store tells her to look happier in front of customers, she tries her best to but just can’t; another trait that I respect so much- the inability to pretend.
And then she meets him. When I saw the scene where Tony sees Ellis for the first time and has this smile on his face as he’s watching her dance with another man, I fell in love with him. Then he talks with that mildly casual Italian drawl that radiates such honest warmth and you know Ellis doesn’t really stand a chance either. He waits for her outside her evening book-keeping classes and declares with such yearning, “All I want to do is just travel home with you, no food no drink no nothing, I’ll take you to your house and say good-night, otherwise… too long a wait.” How can you not melt in the arms of a man who woos you with such desperation for your time and words? Tony is the antidote to all of Ellis’ loneliness and we watch the remarkable glow that comes about on her previously pasty, morose face. Oh you must not miss the part where they’re riding the bus together and she’s bursting with happiness and he’s so enamored by her, possibly my second favorite scene in the movie. Her letters to her sister shift from reflections of loneliness to joy at meeting someone who walks and talks with her.
Like every girl who lusts to watch the inevitable translation of romance into sex between lovers, I sat at the edge of my couch waiting with a tingling tummy as Ellis lead Tony into her room on the night before they decide to get married. While I was mildly disappointed with their lack of tenderness in bed together and also the swiftness with which everything was over; when I reflect critically, it really was a wonderfully honest manner of showing restraint in caresses and honing in on the pure sexual hunger of the moment.
Ellis kisses Tony goodbye and returns to Ireland for her sister’s funeral, promising to be back. This is the part where my nail-biting started. She gets back home to her mother, meets Jim who is great on paper and in person, gets offered a job she really wants and realizes how much she misses the tranquil beauty that her town is. As she’s walking on the beach with Jim she asks him, “Why weren’t things like this before I left?” Oh how I could sympathize with that morose frustration of timing not being in your favor. After all, in the end that’s what it all comes down to right?
Things start clicking in place, gently persuading Ellis’ dilemma on the matter. To leave this life which encapsulated everything that one desired and return to a city just for the man she married? Tony’s letters to her remain unopened in her nightstand. Jim asks her to stay back, nudging her with the possibility of a better life with him. He’s sweet, loaded and loves her; what on Earth is she going to do? This is where the beauty of the direction of the movie comes in, where the audience is left feeling as torn as she is, unsure about whether Tony is worth giving up all this for? I was rooting for him all along, but then Jim ruined it for me with his gentle, polite longing for Ellis and a portrayal of a quiet man dealing with his own struggle of defining his ambition.
She gets her answer in the form of a reminder by the woman she used to work for, who attempts to blackmail her with the knowledge of Ellis’ secret marriage. That’s what it took to make the choice a clear one, the realization that this town was too small for her dreams. Tickets get booked, goodbyes said and she sails back to her true home.
Now we come to my favorite scene, the ending. Tony sees Ellis across the street, drops his tool box and runs towards her and they embrace; with Ellis’ final words as a voice-over, “You’ll feel so homesick you’ll want to die, but you will endure it and it won’t kill you. Then one day the sun will come out, you might not even know it straight away, it’ll be that faint. And 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.”
And I can’t help but cry with relief for the choice she’s made.