The Unicorn Scale: Disobedience
Hey there, Unicorn readers! I hope this finds everyone well. So, like everyone, I believe variety is the spice of life, and that goes double for bi representation in media. I know in the past few months I’ve gone back a few years (or decades) to cover bi films, but recently I got so excited because I saw not one, but two distinctly bi movies out in theaters. Not only that, but they are films about communities or characters that we don’t typically get to see. So with that said, let’s move on to the first of these movies, the melodrama Disobedience.
Before I go any further, as always, I need to remind everyone that in order for me to give a proper review, I will need to include SPOILERS in this article. Oh, also, if you’re new to the Unicorn Scale or just need a refresher on how we rate these films, feel free to revisit the original article.
Disobedience focuses on the return of Ronnit (Rachel Weisz) to her close-knit traditional Anglo-Jewish community in North London, after she receives word that her father, the Rav, has passed. We gather that she was banished from the community, but don’t learn why until the story unfolds. As she comes back, to grieve, she is greeted by her childhood friends Dovid (Alessandro Nivola) and Esti (Rachel McAdams), whom have married and with whom she has a past. It is soon revealed Ronnit and Esti had a childhood romance which was forbidden by their religious community. Ronnit’s return for the funeral and hesped (eulogy) stirs up ghosts and suspicions within the community and the hearts of Dovid and Esti.
WHAT I LIKED
I enjoyed how casually Ronnit’s bisexuality is displayed. Even though we learn later on that she and Esti were (and are) attracted to each other, when she hears of her father’s death while in New York, she seeks comfort in sex with a man before heading home. Since she is in the more accepting New York community, she could have chosen to have mindless grief sex with a woman without much of anyone kicking up a fuss. Dovid later notes that Ronnit could go back to New York, “to her men.” Yet Ronnit’s attraction to Esti is the central relationship of the movie. Just because she does not experience the same amount of attraction to both genders, writer-director Sebastién Lelio is deliberate in showing Ronnit’s orientation within the narrative.
I also appreciated showing how LGBTQIA+ people bristle and endure within such a small, structured Jewish community. This is a demographic that doesn’t often get recognized or portrayed in mainstream media, unless in minor characters. And yet queer people move and exist within these communities – to what degree of acceptance, we have not often seen in modern film.
It was refreshing to see a fairly realistic sex scene between two women (minus the spitting sequence, which seemed a bit fetishized). The scene between McAdams and Weisz wasn’t gratuitous and felt necessary to further the plot and satisfy the built-up tension between the two characters.
Ronnit is also a fully realized character – while her being queer is in conflict within the community she left, it is not a conflict within herself. She is a three-dimensional person with thoughts, opinions, fears, but also enough bravery to speak up for what she wants.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
This has become far too common, but I would have liked to have heard the term “bisexual” used. I can understand Dovid and Esti’s community not breathing the word since the Rav treated Esti’s same-sex desires as a mental illness (boo), but Ronnit was living in, and moving in, modern artistic circles in New York. This film was made this year! Why is it so very hard to use the term “bi,” when that is the very crux of a character and she has no qualms about her orientation?
While this is a fine, surprisingly quiet melodrama with some fascinating themes, I’m really tripping up on the fact that the term “bi” isn’t used at all. While this is a moody drama with more sighs than lines of dialogue at times, this is a 2018 film – I know with film it’s often better to show than tell a character’s attributes, but this is getting absurd. Use the word, modern scripts – I promise it won’t get the backlash that you expect.