Ronit (Rachel Weisz) is a single New York City-based art photographer who had a falling out years ago with her father, Rav Krushka (Anron Lesser), the head of an Orthodox community in the North End in London. Since then she has been shunned by the Jewish community, and she no longer practices the faith. But when her father dies, this prodigal daughter returns home with the intention of honoring her father at his memorial service.
Ronit is met by Dovid (Alessandro Nivola), who is hoping to be chosen as her father's successor. The conservative members of the Orthodox community give this outsider a chilly and scornful welcome. The first big surprise for Ronit is that Dovid is married to Esti (Rachel McAdams); the three of them have been close since childhood. But Ronit and Esti had a forbidden and passionate sexual relationship and haven't been in touch for years. This quiet and withdrawn wife and her mild-mannered husband desperately want a child but they have not been successful getting pregnant.
At a Shabbat dinner at the home of the shul's conservative president (Allan Corduner), Ronit expresses her rejection of the traditions and doctrines of the Orthodox community and admits her abhorrence of marriage. Esti who has been awaiting Ronit's return for a long time takes the lead in seducing her and rekindling their passion and intimacy.
Chilean director Sebastian Lelio has adapted Naomi Alderman's novel of the same title and has co-written the screenplay with British playwright Rebecca Lenkiewicz. Previously, we rejoiced in this gifted film director's sensitivity to the inner lives of women in his films Gloria and A Fantastic Woman. The first revolved around the quests of two middle-aged divorcees for lasting love and the second chronicled the spiritual journey of a grieving transgender woman.
The same authenticity is at work in Disobedience where Lelio opens our hearts to the love that ripples through the relationships between Ronit and Esti and Dovid. All three of these characters must come to a deeper appreciation of the importance of choice and free will.
This quote from theology and ethics professor Lewis Smedes in Choices: Making Right Decisions in a Complex World, sums up the essential meanings and messages of Disobedience:
"Morality is all about how we treat people. It is not about living up to customs and traditions. It is not about fitting into society's traditional values. Morality is only about living in a way that respects people's rights and cares for people 's needs."