If there are two words that cause many Americans to pause, they are “religious fundamentalism.” For some, they bring images of Islamic terrorists while for others they are a hard core source of political division. This new movie, “Disobedience” may be the most important film of the year because it tackles the subject unashamedly from a woman-centric perspective. That means it takes head on two of the most important subjects of the 21st century — women’s rights and religious fundamentalism.
Perhaps a more intense way to look at the movie is it takes on religious fanaticism. The chosen religion for the movie is Orthodox Judaism, but it examines the subject from a non-violent perspective. Two characters, played by Rachael Weisz and Rachel McAdams, are sisters who have gone their separate ways in the following of their Jewish tradition. One remains faithful to their upbringing and community, while the other ventures out into the secular world to pursue a career of becoming a professional photographer.
All this seems rather benign until the infidel returns home to discover her father is dying. No one has informed her of this, which sets up a multidimensional conflict between faith, family, and a woman’s right to choose their own life. Keep in mind that the Jewish community is usually a tight knit group, very devout to the time honored practices of the faith. Turning your back on the faith is equated with turning your back on the community.
The movie focuses on the conflict between the two sisters, both seeking to understand the dynamics of their personal choices in a world where the idea of religious fundamentalism has largely taken on a negative context. Women in particular have difficult choices to make as many accept the tenets of their faith without question because there are few options. That is, unless you end up discovering that you own family has basically regarded you as dead.
Where the movie becomes critically important is that it takes on what many people avoid — an honest dialogue about what religious fundamentalism means in the context of the world around it. This same theme can be extended out to racism in America, where the problem often is rooted in the unwillingness to have an honest dialogue between two groups of people who have very different views of the culture in which they live. “Disobedience” can be said to open a door to the possibilities of people recognizing that hiding under the bed about certain topics does nothing to heal wounds or reunite divided families.
Whether you like the movie from a critical, theatrical viewpoint or not, viewers should walk away with the dominating theme of the movie. The right to choose in any religious community – Judaic, Islamic, or Catholic — needs to be done within an atmosphere of understanding and acceptance. In the absence of these qualities there is likely to be long term consequences not only for the people involved, but for their children as well. We like to think that our culture and our world define what the world is about. “Disobedience” shatters that presumption and makes us all wonder about the importance of our own rights when it comes to matters of faith, community, and family.