Written by: Sebastián Lelio & Rebecca Lenkiewicz
Starring: Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams, Alessandro Nivola, Anton Lesser
Religious paradoxes arrive in abundance, as these faiths exist to promote salvation and the worshipping of a higher being but will willingly cast out one of their own for bearing any differences to their ideal. It makes something meant to be welcoming into such an exclusionary practice, which could not possibly be what the higher being calls for no matter what the worshipped text state. This exclusionary practice makes those on the inside fearful to love everything if they happen to be different, which appears in the lives of two women in the touching and abrasive Disobedience.
Returning for her father’s funeral in an Orthodox Jewish community in London, Ronit (Rachel Weisz) hopes to attend the service, take care of her affairs, and promptly leave. While staying at an old friend’s house, she notices he’s married to Esti (Rachel McAdams), also an old friend of a different variety. As Ronit and Esti reconnect, they begin to rekindle the relationship that splintered them into different paths.
While this may speak to my limited scope of film viewing, stories focused on the Jewish experience not only in the United States and the world come with irregularity as compared to Christian-centric stories. They certainly exist but rarely do they get the spotlight and attention necessary. For those aware of the Christian faith, their views on individuals identifying on the LGBTQ+ spectrum have been well-documented but the Jewish faith does not get enough traction when discussing this identity. Disobedience attempts to shine a light on the exclusionary aspect of the Jewish faith, particularly the Orthodox variety, and the way it made Ronit leave and made Esti conform in order to not be abandoned by her community.
The film begins with a sermon done by Ronit’s father, speaking in free will as dictated by God before he perishes. Mentioning free will plays a large part in the story, but this death sets off the events of Ronit’s return. As the daughter of the rabbi, she wants to pay her respects but sees time does not heal all wounds and she still gets looks from people and grumbles because of the way she refuses to conform to this culture. She chose to leave and work as an artist in New York. On the other hand, Esti could not leave after the incident between her and Ronit when they were younger because of her faith. She loves her God and the community around her and the thought of being excluded harms her to the point she pretends to be heterosexual and enters into a marriage. Ronit’s path certainly carries sadness, but Esti’s proves to be so tragic because she decided to stay in this community but this decision means she’s surrounded by people who would banish her for her identity. Toxic to say the least, but this occurs in many religious factions where the community cannot be separated from the faith, which isolates anyone not fitting their parameters.
This permeating sadness covers the entire story and the visual landscape on display certainly matches. The use of dark clothing and somber lighting demonstrates the mood of these two women as they struggle to take what they truly want in life, which is each other. Perhaps the London climate contributes as well, but each day has such a dour environment because no one in the community feels comfortable with the presence of Ronit. She exemplifies someone who has successfully left the faith and refused to conform and be married off, as she astutely indicates later on in the story. Ronit indicates the possibility of freedom, which makes her a danger to what people get told about the outside world. This uneasiness sits right on the surface throughout the entire narrative.
The romantic elements of this story get summed up by the word passion. Ronit and Esti have been away from each other for so long, and they later admit to always longing for each other. This aching pain of not being in each other’s arms culminate in moments of combustible passion as displayed in the film. It occurs with Ronit being the initiator and Esti finally giving in to her true feelings about her old lover. Whether it be sudden bursts of affection or the planned moment where they fully let go, Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams perfectly encapsulate their respective characters. Having McAdams play a more meek character goes against what she has been made famous for and she stands out amongst the other performances like Weisz and Alessandro Nivola. She carries a delicacy and vulnerability to her work as Esti to effectively capture the shattered psyche of someone battling with possible alienation from her community and fully accepting her identity and desires.
Somber in its overall tone but fiery in the passion between these two women, Disobedience sheds light on the struggles of women, particularly LGBTQ+-identifying women, in the Orthodox Jewish faith. It demonstrates the impact of what it means to completely isolate and exclude someone because of their identity and how it will cause them either to flee or conform. An unfortunate circumstance but one strongly put together and worth experiencing for the performances and the overall message weaved throughout.