OSCAR WATCH • Brooklyn: This is What American Exceptionalism Used to Be


Circa 1950s, a young Irish girl makes her way to America to find work in New York, and finds herself falling in love with the Land of Dreams.

Saoirse Ronan gives an Oscar winning performance in this simple tale of Irish immigrants in the Big Apple. It follows her course as a young single girl named Eilis in Ireland from a struggling fatherless family of her mother and sister. She receives a sponsorship from a Catholic priest in New York to help her find work in America.

She arrives in the Land of Dreams and suffers homesickness and loneliness, until she meets a young Italian boy at a local dance who fancies Irish girls. They strike up a relationship that carries through to the end of the film with true American simplicity and honesty. He’s a plumber in a family with dreams to marry and to buy land and a home on an empty Long Island along with his family members.

It is truly the American Dream in its least corrupted form: hard working self-reliance coupled with family devotion and ethnic community that offers the hope of making one’s way in the world. The essence of the goodness of the middle-class. It is what made America great. Where normal people could come for a chance to work hard without the oppression of race, class or gender that plagued all of history’s cultures before.

It is tempting to find in Brooklyn an analogy with modern day immigration issues. But if anything, it is a rebuke to the tribalist rhetoric that dominates current minority and immigrant exploitation, creates a lawless defiance of legal boundaries, and promotes social violence.

Read on to see why…

Rather than the modern day Christian-bashing in favor of alien religions, Brooklyn shows the church as a foundational element, not only in the social community, but in charity, as it helped people with compassion, but challenged them to rise. Surprise! The Catholic priest is a good guy who doesn’t try to molest Eilis! Rather than the modern day victimhood and blameshifting, we see minority communities that take responsibility for their behavior. Rather than the modern day incitement to hatred in minority communities, we see the Italians and Irish playfully acknowledge their differences. Sure, they have some bias against one another, but they don’t criminalize those differences. They can laugh at their weaknesses, and they know love transcends all. Rather than a welfare mentality and anchor babies, these immigrants demand their own responsibility to prove themselves through their hard work and dedication to America.

Racists, of course, will deny all of this in favor of condemning Brooklyn as a story of “white European privilege.” But that only uncovers their own racist hatred that paralyzes them from being able to see through the eyes of “the Other.” (And by those same P.C. standards, if you don’t like this movie, you’re a sexist misogynist, because it’s a female heroine, so there.)

The Privilege of Liberty

What it really should be called is American Privilege. The privilege of living in a country where everyone is free to better their lives and make their own way, unlike the moral and economic failure of socialist societies around the world. Brooklyn captures that American Privilege with a simple profundity.

Possibly the most profound aspect of all in this story is its implicit expression of just what makes America the best country on earth (I didn’t say “perfect,” I said “best”), namely the assimilation to American values as I described above. Rather than the modern day Anti-American tribalist warfare where immigrants defy the law and demand to impose their own cultures on everyone else, we see a different kind of understanding in Brooklyn. We see an attitude of respect for the law in these minority communities, and the desire to find a new home in the country that gave them opportunity, to become one of the American family who adds to the culture, instead of being greedy selfish outsiders who despise the very country from whom they take.

Perhaps this is what used to be meant by the notion that America is a nation of immigrants. Perhaps, this is what American Exceptionalism is about. Unity under a shared set of values and a common identity, not the disharmony of ethnic tribal warfare. The unity within diversity of E Pluribus Unum, not the division and hostility of multiculturalism.

After Eilis struggles with her homesickness and returns to her homeland for a short visit, she flirts with the thought of staying in her birth country. But then she remembers what had made her life so much better in America. She even counsels another young woman on the boat coming over with these words, as she remembers her love interest to which she returns in America:

“It’s just like home. When you get to immigration, look like you know where you’re going. You have to look 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 will be that faint. And you’ll catch yourself thinking about something or someone that has no connection to the past, someone that’s only yours. And you’ll realize that this is where your life is.”

And those words say it all. Rather than clinging exclusively to her past ethnic heritage, she looks to the future of a new, better identity of true inclusiveness. An American identity.

For all you museum curators, that is what American Exceptionalism used to look like before it was martyred by Political Correctness or Left Wing political theory in the government, education and media.