Sundance 2017: ‘Unrest’ Is An Emotional Look At Human Strength

Posted by January 23, 2017 Comment

Unrest
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Summary
Jennifer, a Harvard PhD student, was signing a check at a restaurant when she found she could not write her own name. Months before her wedding, she became progressively more ill, losing the ability even to sit in a wheelchair. When doctors insisted that her condition was psychosomatic, she picked up her camera to document her own story and the stories of four other patients struggling with the world’s most prevalent orphan disease.

Director: Jennifer Brea

Unrest takes a very frank look at the often misunderstood illness known as ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ that is both informative and hard to watch.

There is nothing worse than being told ‘it’s all in your head’ when you know you’re sick. Anyone who has suffered from an unknown illness can tell you that those words are extremely hard to hear. That is something that the documentary Unrest is trying to help us all see, because there are times that illness isn’t as easy as finding the answer and then fixing the problem. Sometimes there aren’t any answers and it means hearing a lot of people disregard you as ‘stressed’ or ‘depressed’ or ‘hysteric’. Jennifer Brea began to fall ill one day but no one was able to figure out what was wrong. She decided that since no one was listening the best way to prove something was wrong was to film everything that happened. The documentary opens with Jennifer lying on the floor and physically crawling back to bed like it’s the hardest thing she has ever done.

Jennifer Brea appears in Unrest by Jennifer Brea, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jason Rothenberg.
Jennifer Brea appears in Unrest by Jennifer Brea, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jason Rothenberg.

The film then follows Jennifer and her husband, Omar, as they look for answers and eventually find a way to look out into the world to find more people like her. A lot of the documentary is conducted through Skype conversations with people from all over the world. It makes for an interesting watch, even if we rarely leave the various interviewees’ beds. It can be hard to watch and we can really feel how hard it is on the people that have loved ones suffering from this illness. A true stand out moment is when Omar is filming Jennifer very slowly pull herself up the stairs and he says “this is the least chivalrous thing ever done”. He wants to help her, but Jennifer knows how important it is that the camera catches how hard all of this is.

Ruby Taylor and Jessica Taylor appear in Unrest by Jennifer Brea, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Christian Laursen.
Ruby Taylor and Jessica Taylor appear in Unrest by Jennifer Brea, an official selection of the U.S. Documentary Competition at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Christian Laursen.

In the end we see a protest formed over the internet with people from around the world forcing themselves to leave their rooms despite the pain it causes. We see them laying out the shoes they can no longer walk in because it’s too hard. We see that this illness is older than we think and how little progress we have made over time. The fact that the documentary ends with little progress aside from raising awareness is a bitter pill to swallow, but as an audience member you feel more connected with these people who can’t leave their beds.

Unrest is a documentary that exists to give names and faces to an illness that it just now moving away from being a punchline. It’s real for these people, and Jennifer has put her own suffering out there for all of us to see so we can learn from it.

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(Last Updated May 9, 2018 6:51 pm )

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About Kaitlyn Booth

Kaitlyn is the Editor-in-Chief at Bleeding Cool. She loves movies, television, comics, and political satire. She's a member of the UFCA and the GALECA. Feminist. Writer. Nerd. Follow her on twitter @katiesmovies and @safaiagem on instagram. She's also a co-host at The Nerd Dome Podcast. Listen to it at http://www.nerddomepodcast.com

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