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The Unspeakable Act2013

  • 3.5
  • passes the bechdel test
Set on a quiet tree-lined street in Brooklyn, THE UNSPEAKABLE ACT is an acclaimed, darkly funny film about a young girl's unusual coming of age. Jackie Kimball is a normal 17-year-old girl, except that for as long as she can remember, she's been in love with her older brother Matthew. The two siblings rely on each other for friendship and support, but Matthew doesn't share his sister's feelings. When Matthew departs for college, Jackie sets out to meet other boys, and for the first time, must contend with life on her own.

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3 members like this review

This would have been a different movie if Matthew had been as willing to follow his feelings as was Jackie. I see her as a Meyers-Briggs INFP (we often end up as therapists or teachers)and him as an INTP (they often end up in IT). I would love to see both movies, using the same sets and actors, as a double feature. I assume that most of you believe that Matthew made the right decision and that the version of the story of Matthew and Jackie actually filmed was the one with the happy ending. Such is the continuing power of the incest taboo, the sexual taboo that even those of us who get a perverse kick out of breaking most of the others tend to respect if we respect any at all. The alternative story I mentioned above is the shadow of this movie. The title is well chosen. The movie, in a serious way, using very ordinary people living in a world no different from the "real world" where most of us co-habit with people important to us, trying to be happy without doing so at their expense, making decisions that often amount to killing off a part of ourselves so that the rest can live in peace. That is what Matthew had to do and it was the right thing for him to do given who he was and what he wanted in life.

The shadow of the movie is an alternative happy ending that Jackie imagines and wishes to make real even as she says that she "has no expectations". Her expectations are feelings. Feeling are as undeniably real as physical pain for those who have them. But, at the same time, are as utterly subjective as anything can get. Jackie does not really feel incest with Matthew as the "unspeakable act" but as a consummation devoutly wished even though what she knows about reality, including what she knows about Matthew, tells her that the life she wants is not, all things considered, a life that she can have. But, are her feelings wrong? Can you imagine an alternative happy ending? This version would take place in a slightly different world which would still be close enough to our world to feel real. We might call this the life that Jackie wants but cannot have in the "real world" of this film. Imagine a film about an alternative reality where Jackie managed to make her devoutly wished consummation real.

I think that many people who felt comfortable with this version would find that version utterly perverse and extremely disturbing. The unspoken question that this movie casts as a shadow is a questioning of the incest taboo itself. This is done by making the character of Jackie both plausible and sympathetic. We do still like her and wish her well at the end of the film. We forgive her for wanting to commit what many of us, without needing the scare quotes, could still call the "unspeakable act". How many of us are hating the sin but not the sinner when we do this and how many of us feel those scare quotes, perhaps for the first time, because we can't think of Jackie as an awful person?

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top reviewer

Member Reviews (8)

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top reviewer

This would have been a different movie if Matthew had been as willing to follow his feelings as was Jackie. I see her as a Meyers-Briggs INFP (we often end up as therapists or teachers)and him as an INTP (they often end up in IT). I would love to see both movies, using the same sets and actors, as a double feature. I assume that most of you believe that Matthew made the right decision and that the version of the story of Matthew and Jackie actually filmed was the one with the happy ending. Such is the continuing power of the incest taboo, the sexual taboo that even those of us who get a perverse kick out of breaking most of the others tend to respect if we respect any at all. The alternative story I mentioned above is the shadow of this movie. The title is well chosen. The movie, in a serious way, using very ordinary people living in a world no different from the "real world" where most of us co-habit with people important to us, trying to be happy without doing so at their expense, making decisions that often amount to killing off a part of ourselves so that the rest can live in peace. That is what Matthew had to do and it was the right thing for him to do given who he was and what he wanted in life.

The shadow of the movie is an alternative happy ending that Jackie imagines and wishes to make real even as she says that she "has no expectations". Her expectations are feelings. Feeling are as undeniably real as physical pain for those who have them. But, at the same time, are as utterly subjective as anything can get. Jackie does not really feel incest with Matthew as the "unspeakable act" but as a consummation devoutly wished even though what she knows about reality, including what she knows about Matthew, tells her that the life she wants is not, all things considered, a life that she can have. But, are her feelings wrong? Can you imagine an alternative happy ending? This version would take place in a slightly different world which would still be close enough to our world to feel real. We might call this the life that Jackie wants but cannot have in the "real world" of this film. Imagine a film about an alternative reality where Jackie managed to make her devoutly wished consummation real.

I think that many people who felt comfortable with this version would find that version utterly perverse and extremely disturbing. The unspoken question that this movie casts as a shadow is a questioning of the incest taboo itself. This is done by making the character of Jackie both plausible and sympathetic. We do still like her and wish her well at the end of the film. We forgive her for wanting to commit what many of us, without needing the scare quotes, could still call the "unspeakable act". How many of us are hating the sin but not the sinner when we do this and how many of us feel those scare quotes, perhaps for the first time, because we can't think of Jackie as an awful person?

3 members like this review
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I liked the way this movie kept me guessing. Would they or not? Funnily enough, at times I found myself rooting for her to connect in The Unspeakable Way, but that would have changed the entire movie. As it went we got to see an intelligent teenage girl work through her desires and unrequited love and by the end of the movie, it seemed she would be okay. Her mother was a bit of a strange agent. I found myself thinking that she knew exactly what was going on and that led me to wonder about her and her older son. I didn't get the sense that the people in this family were really, truly close. They were all just going through the motions, keeping their emotions within. Our main girl was getting therapy and moving forward, slowly, but I felt good about her chances in the future. I think the rest of the family is in a bit of trouble, emotionally. There might just be an explosion building up here, in the very pretty house, in the very pretty neighborhood. The next chapter in this story might not be as quiet as this one was.

2 members like this review
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I did not remember "ordinary people" as I watched this but, now that you mention that false and superficial closeness, I can see the two movies as alike at least in that one respect. Jackie did say that they could ask anything but then adds that they think their father might have died of an over-dose. This family has learned to talk about things in a way that makes that blunt question not a possible move in the game. The family is not close but closed, which could explain why Jackie fell in love with her brother, did not crave mystery and found the idea of being attracted to anyone outside the family circle threatening. Could such a family dynamic be described as incestuous? I can see Jackie as the family member who lives out the contradictions involved in the family's way of being a family. Jackie's symptoms disturbed her mom enough to make therapy seem a good idea. Her mom would never see Jackie as acting out what was unspeakable within the family. I would agree that Jackie has the brightest future, but only because I think that she will eventually see the family from the outside, realize how toxic the whole closed and incestuous arrangement really is and achieve escape velocity. A nice sequel would be Matthew coming back into Jackie's life years later propelled by the idea that his sister was the only woman who ever really loved him and that he made a huge mistake letting her get away. The outcome would be determined by whether Jackie had the good sense to run like hell or felt compelled to attempt some kind of rescue. It does change my attitude a bit to have it pointed out that Jackie's feelings might be symptoms of the family's dysfunction.

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I really enjoyed this film. At first, I thought the dialog sounded wooden. But by the time Jackie went to therapy the first time, I was hooked. I found Tallie Medel ridiculously adorable. It ended up being a really, really funny movie.

1 member likes this review

It starts really slow and is quiet throughout, yet the strength of the characters keeps it engaging. Very good performances from the two lead actors.

1 member likes this review
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Tallie Medel is an outwardly dispassionate bundle of tinder. Her speech is honeyed by an impartial tone, and her posture is so decidedly wounded. She has such great presence that you forget about the script (which, really, isn't all that meaty). There's something to be said for that.

Believable performances

the movie was good.It was very slow. it is a narrative but kinda boring.

One of the best films of the year