This is a film marinated in the questions of honesty as they apply in highly conservative religious communities. Ronnit is the daughter of a great Rabbi. Alas, she is also gay. Esti is her first love and now the wife of Ronnit’s cousin Dovid - the heir apparent to her father’s flock.
When the Rabbi dies, the estranged daughter, now an apostate from the faith and community, Ronnit returns for the funeral to many surprises. One of them is that her friend and long lost first love esti is married to her cousin and two is that Esti has committed herself to her God and her religion and strives to live out that commitment in the context of a hetero-sexual marriage. Both women, it is easy to see, have disconnected themselves from their affections. Neither has figured out how to incorporate their souls into their sexual lives either as a single person in a big secular city or a religious housewife in a closed orthodox Jewish religious community. Sex is not a means of connection for either of them.
“It is a terrible, wretched thing to love someone whom you know cannot love you,” Naomi Alderman writes in the novel the film is based on. “There are many things that are more dreadful. There are many human pains more grievous. And yet it remains both terrible and wretched. Like so many things, it is insoluble.”
Eventually, “the truth will out” and bringing the two infatuates together destroys the façade that Esti has tried to maintain for ten years. One gets the idea that she made sure that Ronnit was invited because she understood the need to dynamite herself out of an impossible situation. The stakes rise as Esti’s husband is offered the esteemed deceased rabbi’s position. Dovid cannot, at first, understand why Esti is “chosing” to return to Ronnit, given the consequences to him and the fact that they have been married for almost a decade and convinced as he is that all decisions are choices that we can make. “We have always been honest with each other” Dovid says to her.
“Have we? Have we?” Esti responds.
. . . Implying that they never have.
Most movies of this nature celebrate the person who is coming out as the hero or heroine. They are the ones who are fighting for freedom from oppression I guess you could say. In the film Dissobedience, neither the parent, the religious community, or the spouse want Esti to be who she is and they are quick to blame Ronnit for tempting her to be something other than what is convenient for them for her to be. I was not unable to find her courage inspiring. And yet, I could not be me without empathizing with Dovid. His identity, his connections to his community, his marriage, his sexuality, his very mission in life is being torn down like a sandcastle before a large wave.
Amity Pierce Buxton, in her book, The Other Side of the Closet, lays out the psychological consequences of the coming out process on the partners and spouses of gay people who, at some point in time, thought marriage might be a “cure” for what ailed them. “Most spouses endure their pain in silence on their side of the closet,” she says, "while their gay, lesbian, and bi-sexual partners find support from their respective communities. The commin out – a cause for celebration for the partners – unintentionally creates profound tension for their spouses.”
I can empathize with Dovid. From his faith, he came to believe that decisions of this nature were choices. It is a cruel reality to wake up to when one finds that they are not.
The longer the disparity of knowledge exists in the relationship, the greater the damage, Buxton writes, “and the greater the anger.” What ultimately resulted from the lack of honesty was a situation where the straight but unknowing partner always had permission to try but never to succeed at making someone happy. “To be given false information about important choices is to be rendered powerless.”
As the film Disobedience draws to a close, we are left to wonder what will happen to Ronnit, Esti, and Dovid. We are unsure what decision Esti will make. All we know if that Ronnit has invited her to leave and Dovid has given her freedom to leave. But ... there is a chiold involved and ... and Esti's perception of God's will for living an ethical life.
Question for Comment: When people propose and accept proposals of marriage, what should they say and not say about who they are and thus who they are likely to be?