The “Alien Dream”: Reassessing Value in In America (2002) and Irish Jam (2006)
Immigration, Irish Cinema, Irish-American films
University College Cork
(at time of presentation)
Loretta Goff is an Irish Research Council PhD candidate in Film and Screen Media at University College Cork where she also teaches in the School of English. Her research interests include film and identity, genre, stardom and representations of contemporary Irish-America.
This paper interrogates the economic versus social conceptions of the “American Dream” as framed by the “alien” experiences of immigrants in the films In America and Irish Jam. While the paths of migration are reversed in these films—with an Irish family emigrating to America in In America and an American emigrating to Ireland in Irish Jam—they similarly expose the failures of an economically focused dream, alienating their protagonists from it.
In America further reinforces this alienation with the “alien” theme that runs throughout the film, from the Sullivan family’s status as “illegal aliens” in New York to the inclusion of numerous references to, and metaphorical uses of, E.T. (1982). In Irish Jam, the idea of “being alien” is similarly present, though not directly referenced—instead embodied in the African-American protagonist who comes to Ireland and is initially cast as an Other—in a culture that is alien to him and where his differences make him alien. As is the case in numerous films with American protagonists who ultimately move to Ireland, he only fully belongs after trading in the capitalist “American Dream” for a more socially centred Irish one.
Ultimately, I argue that the economic struggles and failures of the protagonists in both films are cast aside in favour of successful familial healing, implying that this (social conception) is the real dream.