Marriage and community in Brooklyn

Published by Curran on

When Abby and I watched Brooklyn (a really great film, by the way), maybe because I had preached on marriage the previous Sunday, it made me think about the importance of the community in a marriage: we make vows before witnesses because our feelings are remarkably fickle as a means of keeping us true to vows–which are actually the means of keeping us “happy” in the older and fuller sense of the word: fully flourishing.

[Spoiler alert!] Eilis Lacey and Tony Fiorello took vows in private; she loves him, is most happy with him, should be with him; but when she goes back to Enniscorthy, (Ireland,) to visit her mother she has community pressure to accept Jim Farrell’s pursuit of her, take Rose’s old job, and have the local version of the “good life” she may have desired growing up. She hasn’t said she’s married at first because she doesn’t want to let people down: there was to be a public wedding at some future time, maybe when more family could be involved, so she keeps the marriage secret, and the community works against it since they don’t know about it. When Ms. Kelly confronts her about the one shred of community involvement in the wedding (Kelly is distantly connected to the family Eilis and Tony randomly bumped into at the Brooklyn court house) the community does its work [in a way this is like Smith’s invisible hand] even though the connection was so tenuous and the intentions of the person who was the actual instrument were not honorable. Eilis’s declaration “I’m Eilis Fiorello” places her back in her correct place in the universe again; publicly the wife of the husband she loves, bound back to the new home she has made in Brooklyn…

(The fact that Tony’s family’s plan is to build a neighborhood on Long Island and extricate themselves from the community they are part of and settle in a place that requires ridiculous amounts of infrastructure to maintain, and where there is no community to join seems to actually break the continuity of the narrative since it means their goal is really to escape Brooklyn; but the film is putting authenticity over narrative on this point since it’s a historically accurate—if ultimately unhelpful—goal.)

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