Film Review: One of Us
“Nobody leaves unless they’re willing to pay the price,” says one subject in Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady’s documentary about three former Hasidic Jews who have left their communities behind. Two of them, Ari and Luzer, are young men who felt that the restrictive, hermetic world of their faith ran counter to their needs. A third, Etty, is a wife who fled from an abusive spouse. Hers is probably the most riveting of the three stories, and the one that seems to structure the film, which takes place over several years and offers remarkable, first-person access into these lives.
There’s a lot to cover here—the ostracism these people feel from their former communities, their attempts to carve out a new life, and the political power that religious groups can wield. But more than anything, One of Us is a powerful look at how difficult it can be to leave a life that completely shaped and dictated one’s worldview. Conservative and insular religious communities have a totalizing tendency—they not only dictate your behavior and beliefs, they also dictate your very concept of reality. These people didn’t just leave families and friends behind, they left behind versions of themselves. In this absorbing, compassionate film, we watch as they finally rebuild both their lives and their identities.