The film begins as Brea herself is struck down with a mystery malady whilst studying for her Ph.D at Harvard University. The illness robs her of her mobility, her concentration and of the active life she shared with her husband, Omar. Inexplicably bedridden, Brea starts filming her experience from her duvet as she tries to work out what is happening to her.
After a few misdiagnosis (including the incredibly ignorant and dangerous ‘it’s all in your head’) Brea finally discovers she has myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME). Sadly, however, there is currently no known cure for the illness and not nearly enough recognition for victims from both the medical community and from society in general. With this in mind Brea starts to talk to other sufferers of ME via the internet and, eventually, begins a new wave of activism in an attempt to alter the status quo.
Unrest is a wonderful film. Brea’s story is heartbreaking and watching her progress through her illness was eerily familiar to my own experience with ME (struck down as a postgraduate and bedbound). Stories of other sufferers are woven into the narrative beautifully and you begin to get a real feel for the devastation millions of victims and their loved ones suffer through on a daily basis. One such person, Jessica Taylor, recounts that she has grown four inches in the years she has spent bedbound after developing ME as a fifteen year old. She wonders what standing up at her new height would feel like.
After the film Jennifer Brea took part in a Q&A and the audience were able to ask her questions about the film and her activism. Given that the audience included many people with experience of ME, the session was an emotional one. However, Brea answered everything compassionately, talking intelligently about illness and the mistreatment she, and many others, are fighting against. Overall, it was a wonderful night and I would implore anyone and everyone to seek out Unrest and to check out the #MillionsMissing campaign.
To read a short story about my experience with ME, click here.