Chronic Fatigue Syndrome sounds like a condition a lazy college student would use in order to get out of a final when they actually just didn’t study. But even though its sufferers may look perfectly healthy, speaking in coherent sentences without any visible scars, sores or other visual ailments on their body, the disease is undeniably real. It just so happens that nobody knows about it.
That’s what Jennifer Brea, a woman with the disease, is trying to change with her documentary “Unrest.” Brea gives us an intimate look at her daily life, struggling with the disease as she’s cared for by her husband Omar Wasow. Brea is able to occasionally go for walks and sometimes even dance with Wasow, but often she’s completely bed-ridden, unable to move, sometimes with the pain of her disease so unbearable she can’t even speak. They talk about their day-to-day difficulties of coping with the disease, with Wasow noting how the worst moments aren’t those spent with each other, but when friends watch from afar and pity the couple and their shared burden.
But the movie isn’t just about Brea and Wasow. We learn about the struggles to identify the disease, the prejudice/ignorance of it, and meet other individuals like Brea who are afflicted by it, and some who have even been oppressed because of it. Their stories are somber and wide-ranging, and we get an intimate look at their lives and how they’re managing with the disease, having to live their lifes from a bed. The most tragic, however, is when the movie depicts a young man named Whitney, one who isn’t even able to speak. The other individuals talk about their life stories, with home movies or old photographs appearing as they speak. For Whitney, he lays silent in bed, as photographs he took or those that were taken of him flash onscreen. Another scene shows Whitney’s family carrying him as music from a home movie of him dancing with his baby sister plays in the background. It’s the single most emotional, heartbreaking moment of the film.
There is a moment in the movie that is a bit jarring, when it goes on to note the impact the disease has had on women, and the history of mistreatment by the medical community against women in general. Eighty-five percent of individuals who suffer from this disease are women, which is an important fact. But in this sequence, the movie makes the argument that mistreatment and misdiagnosis against women by the medical community is the reason, or at least a reason, for why the disease isn’t taken seriously. It’s the first time the movie tries to make a hard political and social statement and feels out of place, especially since the topic isn’t addressed again later in the film.
The movie leaves a strong emotional impact, a peculiar combination of skepticism and hope. We’re skeptical that the world will ever take this condition and its sufferers seriously, that those who suffer from it will continue to be ignored, oppressed or forgotten. But there’s hope that the people and their families who are suffering from it like Brea and her interviewees, will persevere, that they’ll stay resilient and fight the good fight and stay alive, by their individual and shared determination to keep moving, even when they’re staying still.