Director: Jennifer Brea
Written by: Jennifer Brea, Kim Roberts
Cast: Jennifer Brea, Omar Wasow, Jessica Taylor, Leeray Denton, Karina Handsen, Ron Davis, Nancy Klimas, Paul Cheney
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,
Opens: September 22, 2017
Millennials should be the first to see this documentary. Ironically, for the most part they will skip it. Why so? “Unrest” deals with a serious disease, and of course people do not get diseases before the age of forty, so why bother? Except that this is not true. Young people ignor Obamacare, since why should they pay insurance premiums when only old people will need it? Yet the folks under Jennifer Brea’s focus are young, like the director, who also stars in a film co-written by Kim Roberts.
After many visits to doctors, Brea had good news and bad news from a neurologist. The good news is that she now knows what she has; the bad, that there is no cure. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, known scientifically as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), is quite a bit more deadly than what you might think, if, that is, you think that the afflicted people are simply couch potatoes who sleep a few extra hours each night. The writer-director found herself confined to bed rest. At times, she could not speak with any sense; her words came out like gibberish. Brea tries to escape her fate with her vivid imagination, remembering her travels around the world, a woman whose curiosity became crushed by her disease. She is an educated woman, having been enrolled in Harvard and Princeton, going for a Ph.D degree before she was felled. The disease must be taking a toll on her husband, Princeton professor Omar Wasow, who as her husband takes on much of the burden of caring for his fatigued wife.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which afflicts one million Americans (that’s about ¼ of one percent of our population) has reached out around the word to seventeen million others (quite understated, since most people, especially in developing nations, have no diagnosis and since the poor countries are more likely to consider the sickness “all in their heads.”)
Bea’s symptoms started with a fever of 105, chronically exhausted, having spastic movements like a teenage woman with whom she communicates through her computer and whose father has to lift her gently from bed to get her simply to stand. You’re probably guessing that doctors, parents, friends and the sick individuals themselves have been accustomed to blaming psychological problems for their distress.
A welcome change of venue finds us watching the case of Karina Hansen, a Danish patient who is seized by police and taken to a state hospital for CFS/ME, which is erroneously called a psychiatric affliction. Per Fink, a Danish doctor, calls the disease a psychosomatic one, which, considering that women are more likely to have it than men and therefore are suspected of playing mind games. Because of this “all in your head” bias, CFS is poorly funded, meaning that there is hardly a race for the cure as there is with various types of cancer.
Like its patients, the film lacks energy, which could be considered a compliment, I guess, since Brea makes no attempt at charisma but is content to allow its viewers to take the doc seriously and not as a form of entertainment.
So you twenty-somethings out there. Will you now sign for Obamacare?
Unrated. 90 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B