When I read a bothersome review, I rarely respond, recognizing we all have rights to our opinions. However, when a review is misleading, like one recently posted here, I have to address what I consider unfounded. (I’ve referenced the title of that review in my headline.)
First of all, there’s a suggestion that a lead character is mentally ill. It is true that when the exiled Ronit asks Esti how she was after she (Ronit) left, Esti says she was ill in her head. However, she is not indicating she has an ongoing mental disorder. She is like nearly 350 million people worldwide each year who experience a depressive episode, often triggered by a trauma. (a teenage girl caught in bed with her girlfriend by her orthodox rabbi who banishes the girlfriend and strives to “cure” her...yeah, that qualifies as a trauma)
Secondly, the writer gives the impression that the film ends definitively. On the contrary, one reason why “Disobedience” is so engaging is that the open-ended closing scenes allow us to interpret the outcomes for Ronit, Esti and the other lead, Dovid. There are only two things certain: Their lives are significantly altered (no one is going back to the way things were) and they are bound inextricably for life. All three will likely face challenges while carving out their futures, but there is no reason to assume they will live unhappily ever after. Actually, we have better reason to believe they will lead more authenic lives and that the women will continue coming to peace with what they have been suppressing.
And, third, it is a disservice to others to dismiss the film as depressing. I could only justify grading a film depressing if it offered no hope for the situation, characters or culture represented. “The Children’s Hour” is such a film for me. It sets out to show the devastating effects of malicious gossip; however, in the process a main character hangs herself, not because of the gossip but because she realizes it contains a truth— she is gay, which she views (like everybody else in the film) as unnatural, sick and dirty. Overall, the film indicates the best way to destroy a person’s life and reputation is to accuse her of being gay. Now, that’s depressing.
Granted, “Disobedience” does not end in bliss, but then it shouldn’t; the circumstances and issues are too complex to be quickly surmounted. And as a drama, its intent is to help us view our world with greater wisdom and empathy, not help us retreat into the rom-com fantasy realm where our romantic ideals are indulged. Don’t get me wrong. I love romantic comedies and recommend the underappreciated gem, “Saving Face.” Nonetheless, we must have different expectations for dramas from romantic comedies. To help us better understand our world, dramas often take on disheartening subjects in repressed settings. Like “Philadelphia,” for instance. It deals with the struggles of AIDS, homophobia, hospitalization and the death of the ravaged main character. Still, it wasn’t dismissed as depressing. In fact, we felt heartened as Denzel Washington’s bigoted character came to realize he and Tom Hanks’s queer character are more alike than different and as he came to respect a loving, committed relationship between two gay men.
“Disobedience” takes on another struggle for LGBTQ folk (and still sometimes for women), that of people of faith being shunned by their spiritual communities unless they hide their truths and observe tradition. The film may be set in an ultra orthodox Jewish area in London, but the core of this conflict is all too familiar to us who grew up in the Bible Belt or in other acutely conservative pockets all over the world.
Certainly, we can find this struggle frustrating, even painful at moments, but the film is not bleak. It is fundamentally about the transformative power of love and freedom. It is love that arouses two reticent souls made wary by long separation, misperceived rejection and the absence of societal affirmation. it is love that reconciles a child with the father who blew out her candle. And it is love that converts a man’s bitter heart into one of compassion and forgiveness. But it is freedom...the freedom to choose what we think, how we act and who we are...that makes these loves possible and separates us from other beings.
As Dovid says, “There is nothing so tender or truthful as the true feeling of being free.” For me, that’s not depressing, that’s hopeful.