This is more an alert than a review. Unrest (MC-80, NFX) is a documentary that has been shortlisted for an Oscar, which was shown on the PBS series Independent Lens on January 8th (in most areas), and is now available for streaming on Netflix. My temptation is to call it must-viewing since it profiles a little-understood and unfortunately-named disease, from which my daughter suffers. “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” became the butt of jokes, and Myalgic Encephalomyeltis is not much more helpful (and a government committee’s stab at “S.E.I.D.” was a complete nonstarter).
Jumping off from her own experience with the disease, director Jennifer Brea, who was stricken while a Ph.D. student at Harvard, began by filming her own struggles with the severely debilitating effects of the disease, and medicine’s flailing (and frequently derisory) attempts to come to grips with its nature and etiology. Various doctors had little idea, based on minimal research funding or findings, as to its cause and cure. Historically belittled as “hysteria” and “all in your head,” the condition has taken a while to be recognized as a post-viral disease that attacks the immune system in multiple ways, with perhaps a million sufferers in the U.S. and as many as 17 million worldwide.
Jen Brea, with strong support from her husband, tries all sorts of treatments, and reaches out by video chat to many other afflicted individuals and families around the world. Her film has become a rallying point for an organization called ME Action. It is a compassionate and reasoned plea for more public understanding of the disease and its victims, and for more medical research and training.
Your experience of the film will be different from mine, but I think that you’ll agree that it is moving and well-done, perhaps eye-opening as well. For more on my daughter’s experience, see my compiled essay on “Rachel’s condition.”