Reflections on Love and Digital Age in 'Brooklyn'

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Since childhood, people are conditioned to find love. It is a concept we are all expected to express, yet many are unable to clearly explain what it is or means. The more people talk about love, the more its lines begin to blur. Even for the young, the idea of love stems because someone is fulfilling a need for them; parents are safeguards since they are the ones meeting all the needs of a child. After that point, love is taught to be more complex and meaningful than a need, but people don’t reach that level of emotional intelligence at the time they find themselves “in love” anymore and haven’t in any recent history. In the film Brooklyn, John Crowy, the director, originally written by Colm Toibin, constructs the idea that love is formed due to convenience and selfish desires as opposed to genuine and continuous affection. Soon after Ellis first arrived in America, she began searching for someone to connect with that understood this new world and Tony presented that chance. For this reason, her pursuit of him began as a selfish act. Once she’s transitioned into her new environment, she starts to doubt her feelings but tries to ignore it because now she feels an obligation to love him. This is parallel to today in America, where relationships are not formed through a deep connection and instead created through misplaced emotions and desires.

The Theme of Love in 'Brooklyn'

In the 1950s, love and marriage were seen as hand in hand. With over 90% of men and women between 1950 and 1960 having been married at least once (Lunberg and Pollak 31), someone may be inclined to think that it would equate to higher levels of love; however, with the average age of marriage being around early twenties (U.S. Bureau of the Census), it is difficult to believe these commitments were made due to genuine love and affection and not as an attempt to compensate for the prime psychological issues facing an individual. One cannot be expected to fully grasp the idea of it when the brain is far from fully developed at that age; love is a response to the psychological developments the individual is facing at that time. The first to understand these changes was Erik Erikson who published Childhood and Society in 1950. The book outlined the primary psychological issues people experience at any age (Myers 202). In the film Brooklyn, the director depicts these internal struggles through Eilis’s romantic and social life. In her early 20s, Eilis is in between two stages: the first being “identity vs role confusion.” Her struggles with migrating to a completely new environment reflect this as she is becomes further detached from her home country. Before this time, Eilis has never made decisions on her own, everything from her job to the trip and housing was arranged through an external source. This dependence on other people is what eventually leads to her face role confusion; for the first time, she is required to act on her own and accept its consequences. During this “identity crisis,” she meets Tony, someone who offers the chance to become her tether for her new world. Her dependence on him is almost instant. Even during their first encounter, Eilis requests for Tony to take her home so she doesn’t have to confront her flatmate; she quickly views Tony as another decision maker for her life. Her relationship with Tony is also in line with the next psychological issue: “intimacy vs isolation.” Their ages would indicate that they are struggling with the idea of intimacy as well. With the marriage age at this time being very early 20s, people of this time feel leads to people believing that if they’re experiencing intimacy than that must be a sign of love when in actuality it is just a fulfilment of a psychological desire/challenge.

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Love is far from what has been distinguished as an emotion; research has shown that when people experience “love” it is from the same receptor of the brain that regulates factors such as hunger. Love is used as a drive, similar to how when someone is hungry food is all that occupies their mind, yet people don’t make life altering decisions based off of skipping breakfast.

Depiction of Love in the Novel and Film

Evolutionary psychology offers up another depiction of love and why it’s not as special as society makes it out to be. Steaming for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, this form of psychology aims to uncover the reasons for human behavior and mind sets. Love is viewed as something that can break all bounds but in actuality it is far less important. As David Buss, a University of Texas at Austin psychology professor states, “Love is a psychological adaptation.”(Lentz) Essentially, love is something human ancestors eventually developed as an attempt to solve an issue, most likely relating to reproduction. In ancient times where survival was based on issues have mostly been solved in the broad sense, such as shelter and food, humans found themselves a need to stay together to reproduce. Like all mammals, the end goal that has been implanted into human’s DNA is to have children. This need eventually generated what the world now recognizes as love. Love is not something that can only occur when certain personalities or people meet; it happens because of a deep-rooted need in human society to continue it. Marriages then occur because it suggest protection and safety to an individual, another evolutionary trait. They often happen with the expectation of children supporting the instinctual need to reproduce. Love in recent society has taken on unnecessary gravity in the way people live their lives. Even in the film Brooklyn, Eilis finds herself accustomed to the security Tony and later James offers. She sees herself as “in love” because they both fulfil her basic human needs.

The Effect of Technology on Love

Technology has essentially changed every aspect of life in the modern world. With this distinct change, it is to be expected that the nature of relationships would morph as well. In an investigation done by Christopher Mims explains this concept shift. Mims interviewed several teens where their “serious relationship” involved a partner they had never met face-to-face. Some of these couples even declared they were in love before seeing each other in real life. According to Robert J. Sternberg, there are three criteria that have to be met before love can truly exist: “These three components are intimacy (the top vertex of the triangle), passion (the left-hand vertex of the triangle), and decision/commitment.” Following this theory, what current society describes as love is far detached from the genuine experience. Without any physical aspect of a relationship, it can never be considered true. A similar circumstance befalls Eilis in Brooklyn. During her return journey to Ireland, Eilis finds herself falling for James. Throughout the stay she continuously ignores Tony’s letters. The distance present between her and Tony allows her to act without the thought of consequences because she cannot witness the harm her actions would cause him. Similarly once she leaves for America, she again avoids consequences by simply writing James a letter to explain her actions.


These patterns are still what is seen in the present. This physical distance creates a barrier from true emotion. In both cases, she can’t witness the harm she’s doing. This disconnect is what is seen presently. Over the internet, people can form themselves into whatever they want to be because essentially the accountability on the individual is gone. Due to this, any strong emotions are a result of the person the other one wants to be, not who they are. People even develop fear over meeting their significant other for the first time because there is a possibility of disappointment from both sides (Mims). What they are actually experiencing is a temporary fulfillment of desires as relationship typically come with the obligation of a physical connection (Mims). If this method of interaction continues to grow, actual love with begin to dissipate from society.

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