Robert Barron | – Bishop Barron on Netflix’s “Unorthodox” and the Modern Myth of Origins

Friends, in my newest video commentary, I talk about “Unorthodox,” a mini-series that debuted on Netflix a few weeks ago. It’s an admittedly compelling and well-acted drama, but more than a little problematic.

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About The Author

Bishop Robert Barron These are brief and insightful commentaries on faith and culture by Catholic theologian and author Bishop Robert Barron. The videos complement his weekly sermons posted and podcasted at WordOnFire.org.

Comment (46)

  1. The greatest impulse to join the church is to find one’s happiness. The greatest impulse to leave the church is to find one’s happiness. We must certainly be in disagreement, then, as to what happiness is and how we might find it.

    All I know is that the typical glories of the world (money, sexual freedom, status, power, friends, entertainment of all varieties, etc) eventually run dry, and we inevitably long for something other than what the world can provide. We can only watch Netflix for so long or have sex for so long before we realize life is meant for something more.

    And to that end, it seems we find ourselves running into the church for something beyond the world— something to sate the insatiable. A water that promises to quench our thirst. Do we find it? Do we ever find our rest? I don’t know. But now we can’t really go back— we don’t want to go back.

  2. What is your Catholic approach to freedom? Jesus said the truth would make us free, so what is the truth of Catholicism that makes you free, if indeed you consider yourself to be free or if you even want to be free? There's the hint throughout your talks that you prize structure above freedom of expression; that freedom of expression is something that threatens religious decorum. This is very Catholic, of course. It's also very Jewish. It's what Jesus had to deal with. His whole "theology," if you want to call it that, was un-religious and often irreligious. The religious authorities had to decide whether to kill Him or grant Him the freedom to speak His Father's mind. They either had to agree with Him, and grant Him the freedom to speak His Father's mind, or demonize Him. Worst of all, He was not only irreligious, but women liked Him, which has always been a threat to religious decorum. "And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written." (John 21:25)

  3. Do you have any longer videos where you further evaluate your point on the "oppressiveness of freedom"?
    Also don't you think there is a substantial difference between freedom oriented people and leftist academia?

  4. I usually love your wisdom. But this opinion was a silly simplification of a beautiful story. Unorthodox is not a perfect adaptation of the author's real life, but it is a real story, especially the beginning.

    Why not address that the author never lost her faith. She is still a practicing Jew and raised her child in the Jewish faith. They have joined the orthodox or reformed sect, which is not twisted by misogyny and trauma like the Satmar cult.

    So yes, the film, especially the final act is rushed and an unhealthy, directionless freedom, but the true story behind it did not coalesce that way. The author didn't swing from hyper-religious to sexual libertine in a matter of days. She held onto faith in a transcendent God but left behind oppression.

    Your analysis of modern stories of awakening that dismisses religion is spot on, but this story, or at least the life it is based on doesn't fit that stereotype.

  5. Thank you for providing an overview of "Unorthodox." I watch your videos daily and would like to one day be of assistance to you as a writer a filmmaker.

    I agree that Shira Haas is an amazing actress. The story is loosely based on the 2012 memoir by Deborah Feldman entitled, "Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots." In many ways the screenplay shows a simplistic transition for Esti from unhappy young woman to a member of an eclectic group of friends. As a woman she finds her true voice in the music school.

    The point I would like to make is that in the "origin" type of stories the liberals are depicted as addicts, sexually promiscuous and angry with society–outcasts. The portrayal of the musicians is a disservice to the many talented artists who are living a life in harmony with their talents. One politician who visited the U.S from Europe commented that only in America did he find that to be "liberal" was derogatory. I think of liberals as people who are attempting to create a just society for all. Rather, at least in the U.S., the conservative side prefers to remove essential restrictions in society relating to business and the environment, while falsely quoting or using religion to exalt themselves and remove the rights of citizens. Modernity is not negative. In fact, one can be modern and informed while following the Catholic faith. I like the idea that Esti returns to Berlin, a city at the center of The Nazi regime, and implicitly moves forward from the past to a brighter future. She does not say anything derogatory about her family or faith.

    As someone who lives in Manhattan, I have always been fascinated with the Hasidic Jewish community. Since I know several people who were born into the faith, I can share that while women are sometimes exalted as being holy, they are deeply exploited. Their main purpose is to produce babies, serve their family and follow every strict rule set forth by their Rabbi ( including the shaving of their beautiful hair). I do admire their sense of community and dedication to their religious group.

  6. NETFLIX is an aggressively anti-faith and particularly anti-Christian institution. Instead of recommending people watch their series I respectfully suggest it would be better if you 'got the flock outta there'.
    E.g. Despite receiving a protest petition from over a million people, many if whom subsequently cancelled their subscriptions, NETFLIX has consistently refused to pull a film by the Brazilian group 'Porta dos Fondos' ( "Back door"/anus)  entitled "The First Temptation of Christ".
    In this film they present Christ as a homosexual  and the disciples as rowdy alcoholics. The Virgin Mary is portrayed as an adulteress who has sex with God the Father.

    As for 'Unorthodox', I would suggest that the sequel was already made im 1994 under the title: "Christiane F. Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo."

  7. Another point I think should be made. Look at the generations now living farther and farther away from any sense of faith and consider the social realities. Fatherless homes, rampant divorce, common infidelity, more common emotional difficulties, drug use, etc. etc. If the "free" approach produced more stable families, better self discipline, emotional health, etc. then there would at least be a foundation for a discussion. But both personal and social issues are getting worse and more challenging which should be the foundation for any such claim of the benefits of walking away from the structure of religion. I'm not saying the extreme orthodox is the right answer, I am addressing only the broader point that the damage of being totally "free" is all around us.

  8. I had a sardonic feeling in the moment where she bought a pair of jeans and it was presented as a great liberation. As though the height of freedom resides in our capacity to choose different commodities. That moment, unintentionally, hit on a certain truth about our society, I thought.

  9. Interesting to call this humanistic impulse to centralized the personal self as the Modern Myth of Origins. This was a needful reminder of the spirit of our times. Thank you for using the cultural narratives of our times to demonstrate how this continues to be cemented into our minds.

  10. Just finished this series. I enjoyed it, but I agree with much of the things you said Fr. Barron. Two big observations I had. 1.) The Berlin friends are extremely one-dimensional and honestly kind of boring. I kept waiting to learn more about these characters’ complexity and how it relates to the ideas of freedom and modernity that the show is exploring, yet I ended up disappointed. Compare that, even, with Yanky’s character development throughout the series which I found much more interesting. 2.) In the end, I was left with the question of what does Esthy have now? What purpose is guiding her life now? We don’t really know if she got into the academy (we assume it is likely she did not). I think the show minimized how much of a struggle it would be for someone who only knows a hyper-structured orthodox religious lifestyle to adjust to a completely free and untethered liberal lifestyle. I was proud of Esthy for making her own decisions, but it left me more worried for her and what comes next.

  11. I think Bishop Barron missed the boat on his exegesis of Unorthodox and saw what he wanted to see. The climax of the series is Esty’s deeply moving performance of a Yiddish song at her audition. So despite her flight from the oppression of her upbringing and her community, she is demonstrating her understanding of her roots and her acceptance of that. She is moving into her new life with a grounding in her old tradition, and even though she rejects the constraints of that, it forms who she is and she is the stronger for that. So I see this story not as a battle between polar opposites of “destiny” and “liberalism”, but as a story of synthesis. Just goes to show, it all depends on your lens.

  12. I just thought it was a good story, in a face-value way, and didn’t make these generalizations. It occurred to me how hokey the Berlin guys were, kind of like the “hippy” cliche and probably the weakest less believable element. Some suspension of disbelief there. For me it was kind of a heroic story with the second chapter missing. Part of growing up, of breaking loose, rebelling. Necessary, but a phase. It was compelling because you saw another human suffocating existentially. In my mind-play, she would eventually dump those Berlin flakes and go on to greater things, none which would be “complete freedom” or abnegation of responsibility. Maybe take on a more moderate form of Judaism. I guess we project ourselves into stories which can therefore have numerous interpretations.

  13. Obedience does not take away our freedom. It fulfills it by leading it to truth, and "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." True joy comes from that obedience, and the freedom to create ourselves in line with that obedience.

    It is not either or, it is both. We are co-creators of our life with God after all.

  14. The horror of the Holocaust hovers in the background of this story. Her "baptism" into Liberal freedom takes place not just in Berlin but in the Wannsee, the very lake by the side of which Hitler planned the Final Solution at a meeting in 1942. Esty is "freeing" herself of the burden of history to achieve personal liberation but at the cost of ignoring and perhaps forgetting the great suffering of her fellow Jews at the hands of the Germans whose descendants now live in the city which was the very center of the Holocaust.

    It is a very German characteristic to go from one extreme to another. I personally know of another young woman who went to the other way from Esty. She is German, from Berlin, the granddaughter of an SS general. Searching for the meaning of her background and the history of the Holocaust and her family's role in it led her to convert to Ultra Orthodox Judaism and go to live in the Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) community in Israel. I would love to see that made into a TV series.
    A great critique, Bishop Barron, of this TV series. But as a story of an individual striving to free herself of the burden of tradition "Un-Orthodox" is also a great story and inspirational. The thing is neither side here is all wrong or all right. Freedom and tradition often clash and the tension makes great drama. As a person of Jewish background I have close friends in the Ultra Orthodox community and they are truly wonderful people. I admire their devotion, energy and joy in life and their tradition. But it's not for everybody. We have to acknowledge that. Freedom in the sense of Liberal Modern Materialism has its strengths too. But it also is not for everybody. I think "Freedom" and Tradition should respect and tolerate each other, not denigrate each other. Tolerance and Coexistence are becoming in short supply these days and we need to hear that message afresh.

  15. Hopefully the Bishop agrees nobody should be forced to choose a career or forced to choose a specific husband or forced to wear certain clothes. Or is that too much freedom?

  16. I do not believe their life was "aimless."They all had a passion for music and worked many hours to perfect their craft as musicians.From my perspective, they valued creativity, friendship, and diversity. I guess too each their own. I do understand your sentiment Bishop Barron, interesting take on Unorthodox.

  17. Your excellency, i enjoy your videos but i am frankly disappointed that you didn't even question whether the ugly depiction of hasidic judaism was accurate. Don't you know any orthodox rabbis in la to ask? I'm an orthodox jew and if i saw such an ugly, one sided portrait of the priesthood i would question it.

  18. But Esty, it seemed to me, still had the sense of transcendent purpose and was consciously beholden to that. She still talks of the million jews that were lost and her purpose towards recouping that loss as a Jewish woman. The climax of the story too, points to the fact that she found her place in the world she stepped in through her Jewish heritage, as opposed to Moishe who figured that the world outside is only for the vices and discards all tradition. Esty keeps the tradition alive where it is important. Moishe never understood that I think.

  19. I wish we had a sort of younger version of you to analyze the stories of video games like you do with movies. I think you would like the stories of the final fantasy series. Maybe watch a playthrough of them or something. God bless, Father Barron

  20. I remain extremely positif about your philosophical skills and please keep on going. On the other hand i exspect from a bishop more direct christian proposing in every context. This is not picking you out. If all were on your level this would mean a big step forward. But I don't think it's anough, the more because it already never is anough… Who not mentionning f.i, that freedom needs law exactly to be free and explain why Jesus said the truth will set you free. After all He is the Light and enlightens the philosophers worthy of the name, modern philosophers excelling in philosophical fiction, rather only that.

  21. Well, greetings from Europe!
    Personal remark about Berlin: that city is the most intolerant and run-down place I've ever seen. If you are not 200% ostentatiously part of some vegan-leftie-punk-feminist-antifa-hipster-marxist community, you will be met with staggering hostility.
    (Sorry, but not sorry, Berliners.)

  22. Instead of wasting the time of watching this, we should go out to the streets and saving the lepers, the blinds and so on. I can´t imagine Jesus coming again and criticizing Netflix superficial stuff, when there's so much to do, no wonder people is leaving the church.

  23. false either/or. it is not about destiny, it is not about freedom. and it is not about the myth of origins. it is about love. it is about friendship. Here, this is an epic fail on the part of Barron. first of all, he fails to respect the integrity of this PARTICULAR film as an expression of a profound human experience but chooses to ideologize this great film. Balthasar would have turned in his grave in utter disappointment. he seems not to have seen that Estie's husband's salvation was his sacrifice of his curls for love of Estie. And Estie, who has not abandoned her deepest religious commitments, nevertheless chooses to chart her own path, which is part of what it means to be a Christian, to face one's God, and to realize that "ONLY LOVE IS CREDIBLE."

  24. This balance of Destiny and Freedom, visually makes me think of a tree. A tree doesn't choose what type of tree it will become or where it will sprout. But it does choose how it will grow and what way it's branches will twist into. It is constantly reaching upward finding it's shape, while remaining rooted to the spot that it was given.

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