This Sunday, February 9th, will not be the first time that Saoirse Ronan makes history when she walks the red carpet at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. The 92nd Academy Awards see the Irish-American actress as a nominee for best actress for her work as Jo March. While the Little Women remake is being hailed as a triumph for a number of reasons including its costuming and its visionary director, it is Ronan’s breath-takingly raw performance which arguably defines the entire film.
But nabbing such a coveted nomination is nothing new for Ronan: as of now, she’s become the second youngest actress ever to receive four Oscar nominations by the age of twenty-five. Though she’s yet to win the category, that is still an incredible accomplishment for one so young; many Hollywood veterans have yet to even be considered for such a title. I do realize that the academy does not have the best reputation in regard to inclusion-many roles and films go unrecognized are, in my opinion, some of the best pieces with the most impactful stories to tell. However, in Miss Ronan’s case, an exception can be made. Throughout the course of her career, Ronan has not only entertained us, but captured our deepest and most valuable emotions by means of being brave enough to share her own on screen.
Such an inherent gift was first recognized in 2008 when Ronan was nominated for her supporting role in Joe Wright’s Atonement. Sharing scenes with the likes of Keira Knightley, James McAvoy and Vanessa Redgrave may see like a daunting task for any relatively unknown fourteen year old, but it is her character Briony Tallis, who accuses her older sister’s lover of a heinous crime, warping a once-clandestine love story into a doomed one, that people are quick to recall should they think of the film (also that green dress but, details). The natural meddlesomeness of adolescence can lead to discoveries both wonderful and terrible. Keeping secrets comes at a cost but one’s yearning to entangle themselves in the midst of such a sticky web can be far more consequential, and Ronan’s flowering curiosity as an emerging actress at this time, and as a developing young woman in her own right is beautifully executed in this particular piece. Ronan’s character, and her misled beliefs, build upon the unique blend of confidence only found in a preteen is what opens the film and sets its tone. Upon closer study, the path that Ronan follows script-wise, is a an indication of the road she takes later in life: her films, whether critically acclaimed or not, have significantly shaped the past decade of entertainment, serving as multiple staples for the importance of telling stories cloaked in novelty and ones grounded I the everyday ordinariness that we can all relate to. Atonement saw Ronan breaking into the forefront as a rising star. Now, more than a decade later, she has evolved to become a rarely sophisticated and enviable presence.
It was eight years later when Ronan would re-emerge onto the award scene. This time, it would be for best lead actress. During her absence from the Oscar circuit, she went on to star in City of Ember and The Lovely Bones, both based on the best-selling novels of the same name. The latter solidified Ronan as a courageous and ambitious actress, seeing as she was cast in the titular role of Susie Salmon, a fourteen year old murder victim, who watches over her family whilst grappling with her reluctance and the necessity of moving on into a whimsical but lonely heaven. Ronan continued to star in book-to-film adaptations-Stephenie Meyer’s The Host and Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now-juggling work on less sensationalized pieces including 2011’s Hanna, which showcased her as a fascinating new action lead, starring in the mother-daughter vampire flick Byzantium, as well as the drama Stockholm, Pennsylvania.
Each of these roles are vastly different from one another, but I wanted to mention them because they are obvious indications of the full spectrum of Ronan’s range, and her dedication to learning. She is commanding in each scene not only with her body language and the vehemence with which she delivers her lines, but with her eyes. Silence is a dimension riddled with vulnerability, unease and toughness, and it takes a seasoned performance to transcend its boundaries and secure oneself in that challenging landscape-a single look can convey a torrent of emotions, of history, whereas words are often limiting. Ronan has been able to conquer said space and conquer it beautifully. Her gaze alone is enough to compliment a film’s mood, reinforce a character’s convictions or hint at the universal ghosts quietly tormenting our souls. The aforementioned anguish is a trademark within Ronan’s filmography, crawling along and clouding the hearts and minds of her characters, whether it be journeying far from home, feeling oppressive conditions or struggling to choose between love and responsibility.
For her role as Eilis in John Crowley’s period drama Brooklyn, Ronan was awarded her second nomination. Unfortunately, she lost to Julianne Moore. The immigration background belonging to her character gave Ronan the freedom to pay tribute to her own journey, while opening herself up to tell it at the same time. Ronan’s Eilis is a young Irish girl who relocates to 1950s Brooklyn, where she is eventually made to choose between the two lives that she’d built: one with the welcoming strangers she’s grown to love or her grieving family back across the ocean. Ronan’s own experiences with pursuing what lies beyond her childhood home gives her a sure foundation to lay everything on the line and make known the importance of acceptance and the strength found in following adventure. In Brooklyn, we are given a glimpse into her private life-a commendable decision on Ronan’s part, which pays off, as viewers are able to see the humble roots she’s planted and the trying, eventful roads she’s overcome. That, is another indication of a proficient storyteller: the ability to bury inklings of your genuine, imperfect self in the skeleton of your work, notwithstanding the possibility of facing harsh judgements in the aftermath. Ronan is arguably the most exposed she’s been in in this film, and nowadays, with Hollywood taking great pains to display a flawless surface to the masses, it’s extremely refreshing and comforting to be reminded that those who we idolize are timid, susceptible human beings too.
As an avid film lover, I’ve grown up alongside many noteworthy actors, such as the Harry Potter cast, Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens, and pretty much everyone on Disney channel. But I’ve also grown up with Ronan. Her films, like those of Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia or Twilight, hold a special place in my childhood and teenage years, even continuing on to influence my early adulthood. As an aspiring writer-perhaps struggling writer would be more appropriate-who gravitates towards content and issues drenched in unfamiliarity and taboo or rawness, having someone exhibit the willingness to dive deep into those particular waters is both reassuring and encouraging. Perhaps, however, the greatest gift that Ronan has given me thus far was a single, simple reminder. A reminder that my boring, tedious, sometimes too-difficult-to-face, humdrum life is valid, and I am too. Which brings me to Greta Gerwig’s 2017 directorial debut Lady Bird. Though Ronan is practically a walking manifestation of the girl-next-door trop, she’ proves it to the world in this comedic coming-of-age tale set in Sacramento. Her charisma is fluid and timeless, bringing together an accurate portray of life in 2002 and yet, everything about her desire for change and her rebellion against strict but loving parents creates the impression that she is living in the 2010s or 2020 now. That she is living as I do.
I once read somewhere that our favorite characters are our favorite because they remind us of ourselves. I think that’s true. When I went to see Lady Bird, I didn’t know much about it except that Ronan was in it. Once the credits began to roll, I was left speechless. Though there’s many fictional characters that I heavily relate to, there’s never been one that I identified with entirely. When I left the theater, I remember thinking: Saoirse and Greta made a film about my life, she made it for me. She was me. I knew neither did no such thing, but my heart told me different. Ronan effortlessly and humorously documents the mundane struggles of an artistic near-adult, with a crush on a “bad boy”, who tries to change herself so other girls will like her, is a good student but isn’t extraordinary and navigates a rocky relationship with her mom. It’s almost scary how accurate Ronan’s performance is. Many of the arguments Lady Bird gets into with her mom are the exact ones I’ve had. Lady Bird questions if who she is is the best version of herself, which is a question I’m constantly asking. Ronan was able to accurately explain how I was feeling in a way that I could never-and still can’t-explain. When I watched Ronan with my parents, it felt differently because the subject matter was told through the eyes of a girl like me, and highlighted things parents don’t always wish to acknowledge.
I know I’m biased, but Ronan is nothing short of perfection, not because of all golden globe she won or the records she broke on Rotten Tomatoes (it’s one of the best reviewed films of all time), or even the money made at the box office. Ronan very literally took a piece of me and shared it with the world. And though we don’t know each other, I’ll forever be grateful to Saoirse Ronan for not only listening to, but proudly advocating for a story like mine, through her eagerness and love of reaching others by means of her hard work. While it’s safe to say that I was immensely sad she didn’t win the Oscar that year, it did nothing to diminish my respect for her and her acting style.
I did not think Ronan could top her own performance, especially following Lady Bird, but she proved me wrong once again. She brought another much-needed breath of fresh air to our screens with Gerwig’s second project Little Women, in which Ronan carries the weight of the film, and the classic novel, on her shoulders. Ronan is very well suited for historical dramas; she is versatile and clearly very open to reinventing herself to better capture the essence of her characters, whether it’s adopting a new accent, surrendering herself to layers of strange and wild fashion, or donning new hair and makeup on each new set that completely strips away her friendly doe eyes and sweet dimples. And Ronan is more than happy to do so to bring literary heroine Jo march to life. It seems to me that Ronan is now equally adored as Alcott’s character is, so could there have been a better casting choice? I think not. From the opening scene, Ronan’s individuality and persisting youthfulness spills over through the camera, and is especially evident whenever Jo sits down to write and refuses to bend to society’s urges for her to get married. She may be situated amongst the A-list crowd, but she stands out, and no one can ignore her presence of the ripples it casts long after the lights go up. Ronan is an actress who leaves the audience thinking and that is probably the third, and most vital indicator of a remarkable actor.
As I write this, I can’t help but realize the full extent to which Saoirse Ronan has impacted my life and my tastes towards film. In the wake of this year’s Oscars, I feel very lucky to be able to learn and mature with her and her characters. She has, and I know she will continue to, give a voice to those who need it-those who deserve it-by giving up her own. And, if I dare say, that makes her a unique sort of hero-not one who saves lives but preserves them in the permanence of film. When the award show airs this Sunday, I’ll be hoping that Miss Ronan is finally given the opportunity to mount those steps and give the acceptance speech she is entitled to. Not only would it serve as confirmation for herself, but for every girl like me who feels at home in the bond she weaves between dreams and reality, patron and artist, human being to human being.
By Kacy Hogg
Kacy is an English Lit student living in the Great White North (no not Winterfell unfortunately), Canada. Her favorite films include the Harry Potter series, Cinderella, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Hangover, and Lady Bird. She’s also an avid binge-watcher of Game of Thrones and TheWalking Dead. You can follow her on Twitter here: @KacHogg95
Categories: Feminist Criticism