Whether on purpose or not, 2022 has been chock full of heartbreaking reminders that we still have a long way to go in terms of women’s equality. Unruly, directed by Malou Reymann, about a group of women in 1930s Denmark imprisoned for their “questionable” behavior, deserves to be discussed. Maren, played by Emilie Kroyer Koppel, a teen who enjoys going out dancing, drinking, and making out at parties, is sent to an asylum on Sprog, where she is expected to acquire the virtues she needs to rejoin society because her family is at a loss for what to do with their outwardly rebellious daughter.
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Different Point of Views
The questionable treatment at the Sprog Ladies’ Institution has pacified many of the women who have been there for years. One such patient, SørineSrine, played by Jessica Dinnage, is concerned about Maren’s capacity to disrupt the status quo. Maren just grows more desperate to escape these limitations while the other ladies have grown obedient to Miss Nielsen, played by Lene Maria Christensen, the asylum’s administrator—a woman whose perspective influences some of these inmates.
The women are thought to be controlled only by their irrational urges and incapable of self-control in public. As a result, Dr. Wildenskov, played by Anders Heinrichsen, is in favor of a proposed new law that would sterilize these women who are not suitable for participation in mainstream society. Although many of the patients are ignorant of this potential law, for the audience, it creates a sense of urgency for these women, a reminder that not only is their present under threat but also their future ability to have children. We can see how easily these ladies can lose their ability to control their own bodies as a result of the government’s interference because of the law that hangs over them. There is always more at risk that may be taken away, even when it appears that they have taken a lot.
The ominous score by Lisa Montan, which creates an eerie atmosphere every time it is used in a scene, heightens the suspense. We are aware that something is wrong in this situation, and the score just serves to confirm our worst concerns. The viewer is also made to feel Maren’s claustrophobia on this island, a nightmare from which she is unable to awaken no matter how hard she tries, thanks to Reymann’s direction and the writing by Reymann and Sara Isabella Jonsson. Unruly resembles an unavoidable horror story in many aspects. It depicts a world in which the worst is always guaranteed since these characters aren’t like other members of society.
Koppel’s portrayal of this desperation shows when she first confronts the administration head-on before deciding to take a more methodical route to her escape. She makes an effort to establish her unique identity and voice even under this circumstance. Maren decides to sew her own dress from scratch after SrineSørine tells her that all patients must make their own dresses and that there are many patterns to choose from in an effort to maintain some sense of identity while incarcerated. Koppel’s acting is effective when she is yelling and screaming, but it is equally unsettling when she is thinking quietly about her next move or how she can gain an advantage in her predicament.
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Dinnage’s SrineSørine, on the other hand, begins as humble and submissive as she can, but once Maren enters the picture, she begins to realize her prison for what it is. Dinnage consistently portrays SrineSørine as restrained, so if she even hints at defying authority, it feels like a big victory for both SrineSørine and the institution as a whole. We begin to understand how SrineSørine’s compliance with the higher-ups is merely another trap that is much more difficult to escape as we discover more about her life before the institution and everything that Sprog has taken from her.
Dealing with Hierarchy
But as Unruly broadens its perspective to include those employed by the institution, we begin to witness the effect that the such demeaning treatment has on people in positions of authority. Even though the administrator is difficult to empathize with, as Reymann and Jonsson’s writing delves deeper into her life, we begin to witness the effects it has on others who are higher up the social ladder. Although Miss Nielsen is a tool in the process of using these women as human traps and maybe sterilizing them, she is conscious of her role in it and the toll it has on her soul. She claims that she is merely doing her job, but that justification will only get you so far.
Unruly feels like a crucial component of the discussion taking place this year regarding the lack of control women have over their own bodies. Even though Unruly is almost a century in the past, given the terrible decisions made in recent months, it still regrettably feels prophetic. Unruly demonstrates the dread and how helpless these choices may make the people who get them feel as if they are only living a partial life without basic liberties. Unruly frequently demonstrates that history favors the rebels.