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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Unorthodox is a drama about a young woman who leaves her marriage and her Hasidic community in Brooklyn to move to Berlin and make a new life for herself. The Hasidic community is not demonized, nor are its members; audience members understand why their customs are so strict and so counter to typical American traditions, even though they ultimately make Esty's life unhappy. Much of the dialogue is in Yiddish, with some English and German. Many of Esty's problems with her marriage are sexual; there are many uncomfortable scenes of her and her husband attempting to have sex as she grimaces and cries with pain. There are also scenes of her instructions about being a good wife in the sexual sense, and how to ritually clean herself after her period each month. Men visit a brothel and a sex worker strips down to her bra and offers various sex acts. Same- and opposite-sex characters kiss passionately. A woman is visible nude during a ritual bath (we see her breasts) and a man is briefly seen nude from a distance before skinny dipping in a river. A character gives a gun to another, telling her she can use it to kill herself later if she wants to. Adults drink wine at dinner and at ceremonies; one character has a drinking problem and acts oddly, including a scene in which he falls down during a wedding dance. One character smokes cigarettes frequently. Themes of courage and integrity are painfully visible, as characters struggle to find a life that will make them happy, whether or not that suits tradition.
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What's the story?
Loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir, Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots, UNORTHODOX tells the story of Esty (Shira Haas), a 19-year-old woman who flees her Orthodox Hasidic community in Brooklyn to make a new life for herself in Berlin. Raised by her loving grandmother (Ronit Asheri), Esty had a happy enough childhood despite the instability of her father (Gera Sandler) and her mother (Alex Reid) defecting from the community. But when the local matchmaker puts her together with Yanky (Amit Rahav) and the two marry, Esty's life begins to narrow unacceptably, particularly when she and Yanky have trouble consummating their marriage and her family members and in-laws begin pressuring her to get pregnant as soon as possible. When circumstances conspire to push Esty's concerns to the limit, she sees no other option than to make a drastic change, and Yanky sees no choice other than to try to locate and bring back his wife with the help of his troubled cousin Moishe (Jeff Wilbusch).
Is it any good?
Shira Haas is extraordinary in this gripping tale of a woman who flees a life that leaves her miserable in favor of a future that's uncertain at best. Unorthodox takes place in a fascinating world that few viewers will have more than a passing familiarity with; just getting an eyeful of its customs -- Esty's wedding, the ritual mikvah she takes before it, the extraordinary shtreimel hats worn by the community's men -- is riveting. But when you add in Esty's story, truly a heroic quest, with an actor like Haas, who shows Esty's every emotion in her great staring lamps of eyes, the effect is positively riveting. From the moment Esty seizes her sneakily collected wad of cash and her identity documents before heading, shaking, out the door, viewers will be with her; the flashbacks to what she's had to endure up until this moment seal the deal.
For though Esty's Satmar Hasidic community is close-knit and often quite loving, the collective trauma of the Holocaust echoes terribly through their modern lives, with young women like Esty married off as soon as possible to become, as one of Esty's new friends in Berlin says, "baby machines." As we soon learn, Esty's marriage was neither brimming with love nor easy on the physical level. And, as she tells that insensitive friend, huge eyes flashing, "I am not a baby machine." But she escaped, right? She was never in prison, Esty says. She left without telling anyone, and now she must find her own way. She understands the good intentions of her community, even as she couldn't handle the oppression. And watching her find her way is nothing short of magical.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about religion and belief systems. Does Unorthodox make Esty's Hasidic community seem strange and unacceptable, or familiar and understandable? What customs took you by surprise? Which seem to serve the interests of the people in the community? Which don't? Is it easy to understand why Esty would leave? What about understanding those who are happy to stay?
Who are the villains in this series, if any? Do you understand why characters do what they do? Is there anyone who intentionally acts in a negative and unkind way? Can actions undertaken with good intentions still have negative effects?
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