The Stories that Haunt Us

m-brooklynThis weekend I was all set to write a book review for my next blog post. I had one drafted, I’d given it a lot of thought, and then on Saturday night I found myself with a rare stretch of time and no pressing tasks or engagements. Now what, one might wonder, does Veronica do when she’s got time to herself? Well, I should be writing, buuut … nah. Movie night! And I’ve been dying to see Brooklyn.

Do you know Brooklyn? Have you seen it? Ever since I first saw the trailer, it looked like a movie that would be right up my alley. It’s a historical drama, a love story, an Irish story, and it stars the object of my girl crush: Saoirse Ronan (I mean, really, what can this girl not do? Whether she’s precocious Briony Tallis in Atonement, murdered teenager Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones, or the bad-ass government-agent title character in Hanna, she’s a brilliant, sensitive actress with an fresh, honest beauty … but I digress).

Back to Brooklyn … I LOVED Brooklyn!! I watched it three times on Saturday night, and then twice again on Sunday (not counting the two additional times I fast-forwarded through the film to watch my favourite parts). As far as the story goes, there’s not much tension or suspense, romantic or otherwise. But that’s okay. This is the kind of movie where you don’t need suspense. Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is a young woman bound for America against the backdrop of 1950s Ireland. It’s a time and place where economic possibilities for talented young women are regrettably limited. Battling a crushing homesickness and having no friends or family to lean on, Eilis struggles to acclimatize to her new life in Brooklyn, New York, before meeting Italian-American Dodgers-loving plumber Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen). Slowly, without even realizing it, Eilis allows Tony to show her that home doesn’t have to be a place. And it takes her a trip back to Ireland and a glimpse of the life she might have had to realize where her home truly is.

The story itself was achingly sweet. And the likability of all the characters drew me in. I fell in love with every member of the supporting cast (which includes Julie Walters as Mrs. Kehoe, Jessica Pare as Miss Fortini, Domhnall Gleeson as Jim Farrell, and Jim Broadbent as Father Flood). I even liked unlikeable characters Miss “Nettles” Kelley and odd-bird Dolores. Most importantly, I appreciated that the integrity of the story was not diminished by having any one character be the conventional antagonist. Instead, it was Eilis’s homesickness that was the source of conflict.

But I have to own up here as the die-hard romantic that I am: It was the love story between Eilis Lacey and Tony Fiorello that did it for me. That was what made this story stay with me above all. Saoirse Ronan and Emory Cohen were magic together! From the moment he sees her, Tony is head over heels in love with Eilis. And my goodness, didn’t that have me squealing and sighing and giggling all the way through and well into the next day! Just take a look at this exchange between them, and tell me this isn’t adorable:

Eilis: You remember that, after I had dinner at your house, you told me you loved me? [Tony nods, sombre and nervous.] Well, I didn’t really know what to say. But I know what to say now. I have thought about you. And I like you. And I like being with you. And … maybe … I feel the same way. So the next time you tell me you love me – if there is a next time – I’ll … I’ll say I love you too.
Tony: Are you serious?
Eilis: Yes.
Tony: Holy shit! Excuse my language, but … I thought were having a different kind of talk.
Eilis: Can I go home now?
Tony: You love me?
Eilis: Yes. But don’t ask me anything else. And don’t talk about our kids being Dodgers fans.

… Gosh, I love Brooklyn!

Watching one movie five(ish) times in a row was enough to get me thinking. What is it that makes some stories stick with a person over others? We all have our weaknesses, of course – mine is a good love story. It is my Achilles Heel, and I won’t apologize for it. But not all the stories that stay with me are love stories. There are those rare outliers that, for one reason or another, grab at my soul and won’t let go, even though they have nothing to do with romance. And as much as I hesitate to admit it (you know, given my profession and chosen genre) … it’s those stick-in-my-head non-love-stories that are more meaningful in the end. Their power to haunt me is more enduring.

Here are a few stories, in no particular order, that have stuck with me over the years and which have nothing to do with romantic love. Once you see mine, I’d love to know what your stick-in-your-head stories are.

Watership Down

Written by Richard Adams and published in 1972, Watership Down is a literary classic in which the characters are rabbits. Yes, rabbits. The plot follows the adventures of a group of rabbits through the English countryside after their warren is destroyed and they must seek to establish a new home elsewhere. In the book, the rabbits are anthropomorphized, and have a culture and language of their own. While this type of novel is not my typical pick for entertainment, I have to admit I was drawn into the story and kept there long after I’d read the last page. The depth of each character in the novel is profound, and the fact that the characters are not even human adds an intangible quality to the story that make it truly haunting. It was intense, deeply moving and ultimately wonderful.

The Crow

I was in the ninth grade when I saw The Crow with my best friend (on VHS, on her small TV in her childhood bedroom). Musician Eric Draven and his fiancee are brutally murdered the night before their wedding by members of an inner city gang. On the anniversary of his death, Eric rises from the grave to become The Crow, a supernatural avenger. Now, if you know the movie, then you may be tempted to assume that the reason this story stuck with me is because of its connection with actor Brandon Lee’s untimely accidental death. Believe it or not, that’s not it. There’s something about the combination of the story, the set and the music that I couldn’t get out of my head. It’s the forlorn little graveyard in the middle of a decaying gothic city. It’s the persistence of beauty in the midst of ugly violence. It’s the innocence of youth and the refusal of love to die despite time and distance. It may be based on a comic book series, but The Crow in its cinematic iteration is a visually and musically mesmerising, soul-wrenching story.

The Crying Game

I only saw The Crying Game within the past year, even though it was released in the early nineties. It was the premise of the IRA which inspired me to give it a try (I am intensely interested in “The Troubles” of Northern Ireland) but it was not the IRA connection which ultimately drew me into the story. When IRA member “Jim” bungles a kidnapping and indirectly causes the gruesome death of his victim, he makes a trip to England to find his victim’s girlfriend, Del. Though it wasn’t his intention originally, Jim begins a relationship with her … only to find out that Del is actually a man. From there, Jim and Del’s conventional romantic relationship comes to an end. But that is only the beginning of a relationship between them which is based on less definable parameters. The deep mutual respect between Jim and Del is unforgettable and profoundly moving. Theirs is neither a romance nor a friendship, but something that floats somewhere between the two. And that is something which I find amazing and captivating.


Sleepers is a dark tale about stolen innocence. It has harsh themes including organized crime, judicial punishment and rape, and is difficult to watch at times. Ultimately it is about the bonds of friendship that endure through time, and about how doing wrong can sometimes be right, if it’s done to even the score. When childhood friends Lorenzo (“Shakes”) Carcaterra, Mikey Sullivan, Tommy Marcano and John Reilly are sentenced to a year in a juvenile detention centre for a prank gone terribly awry, they are singled out and sexually abused by four of the guards at the facility. The boys promise one another never to talk about what happened, but the experience leaves its scars with each of them. Years later, Tommy and John are on trial for murdering the head guard, Sean Nokes, and Mikey and Shakes hatch a plan to not only free them, but expose the crimes of the guards, and the horrors of the facility in which they worked. For me, it was the characters of Tommy Marcano and John Reilly that endured. As men they are hardened gangsters, murderers, drug abusers, and all-round bad guys. But even though we know that about them, we cannot forget the innocent young boys they were, nor can we forget the scars they carried which forged the men they became. If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, then I won’t tell you how it ends. But I will say that the final scenes are deeply moving and very sad.

So there they are: Four stories that have nothing to do with romance, but which I’ve never been able to get out of my head. What about you?

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