Granny’s final words in Belfast hit close to home.
Every immigrant’s story will differ, but there are factors we all have in common—one day, you look back at your hometown, headed towards somewhere new, and unsure if or when you’ll ever return. Kenneth Branagh’s Belfast is a profoundly personal story framed around a young boy’s childhood during The Troubles in Belfast, Ireland. It’s a slow, quiet excavation of survival with family at its heart, leading to the type of ending many of us know all too well.
I don’t remember the ceasefire in Artsakh’s 1992 war, considering I was only a year old, but I remember the stories. I remember asking myself why my grandmother is so far away when everyone else’s is close by? I also remember the visits back home as an adult. And I remember the very last time. That’s why, sitting in a dark theater, hearing Dame Judi Dench’s Granny utter the words, “go, now—don’t look back” struck me to my core. At that moment, I saw my own grandmother. It was 2007 again, and I was looking back in the car, unsure when I’d return—unsure when I’d see her again. And time is a finicky thing. It passes quickly and somehow, not quickly enough, but one day, before you know it, it’s October 2019, and you’ve heard the terrible news that she’s gone. Next Summer, you tell yourself when life gets too busy, and you can’t take time off—next Summer, you’ll go back. You’ll see her again. But next Summer doesn’t come.
In the midst of my sadness, I was momentarily angry with the universe and why my grandmother lived so far away. Why didn’t she ever come with us? Why did she let her children leave after the war? Why didn’t she follow to America? Why didn’t she choose us? Why did everyone I know have a grandmother nearby when mine was thousands of miles away.
These are selfish thoughts brought on after realizing you’ve missed out on so many opportunities, and all you have are mere memories from when you were seven, ten, fourteen, and sixteen. The memories of the final few years where she couldn’t even talk to you on the phone because she’d cry after hearing your voice. Then you watch a film about someone else’s childhood, and it hits you.
How could she have left her home behind? The village neighborhood she’s made the fondest memories in, the massive garden she’s nurtured, adored, and poured her heart into day and night. The cobblestone streets she used to walk before her body betrayed her. The chickens that’d always been a part of her joy and a part of her story. She made the selfless decision to stay behind because someone had to. Because that’s what parents and grandparents do—they let go. They don’t want you to look back because they’ll do it for you. They’ll carry the crosses, so you don’t have to.
In Belfast’s Granny, I finally understood the piece of my grandmother that had always been a mystery to me. How could she leave it all behind when there’d be nothing for her here? Sure, we would’ve been enough, but she preserves a part of our family history, a part of our story, and she ensured that we’d be happier. She chose to be both selfish and selfless, and that’s a balance hard to find. It was never a decision she made lightly. It was the most challenging choice she ever had to make.
I didn’t think I could love or miss my grandmother more than I do now, but this happened. And that’s the best part of a film—it captures something so special I’ll always be thankful for Branagh’s vulnerability to tell his story because I’m sure I’m not the only person it spoke profoundly to, even if I’m not from Belfast. I’ll always be grateful for the amount of heart and courage Dame Judi Dench packed into those final words because it’s what makes the film a compelling, emotional experience. It’s a familiar heartache to be miles away from someone you love, knowing what darkness brought forth the initial separation and how you move forward honoring all parts of who they were and the love they instilled in you.
How did Granny’s final words in Belfast resonate with you? Let us know in the comments below. Belfast is now available for digital purchase.