The Forbidden Wish is a thought-provoking drama that takes place over the course of one night in a synagogue as two very different men grapple with trauma and acceptance.
Trigger Warning: This review mentions suicide.
The Forbidden Wish (IMDb link) is a drama written and directed by Michael Carnick that tackles some very serious issues over the course of one night in a synagogue. The movie stars Sammi Rotibi as Nate, an Ethiopian rabbi, and John Berchtold as Isaac, a suicidal young man. The two cross paths as Isaac steps foot into Nate’s synagogue and asks him to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish so that he can commit suicide. Nate refuses, as the Kaddish isn’t meant for living people, but reluctantly makes a deal with Isaac that he will grant his wish if Isaac can prove he is already dead.
A long evening follows as the two learn more about each other, reluctantly on Nate’s part, through a series of discussions. Issues of faith, mental health, race, and sexuality are addressed as the two get to know each other. The movie plays out like a stage play and much of the action is confined to the main room of the synagogue. This makes sense as Writer and Director Carnick mentioned in his interview that the story’s previous incarnation was as a play.
Despite the lack of movement outside of the synagogue, visual effects, musical interludes, and brief flashes of the past keep the movie visually interesting. The dialogue-heavy movie struggles with pace at times, but the fascinating dialogue and strong performances from both leads keep the plot compelling.
The movie doesn’t hold back as the two leads debate and discuss the aspects of each other’s’ lives. Nate is not accepting of Isaac’s sexuality while Isaac insists a few times during the evening that he is not judging Nate based on his race. Isaac details his previous suicide attempt and mental health struggles while Nate recounts the difficulties he’s faced as an Ethiopian Jew during his time in Israel. While some of these conversations begin awkwardly, the subsequent debates and the dialogue make up for it.
Despite their differences, the two characters are able to find common ground over the loss of loved ones. Nate lost his son in a bombing in Israel while Isaac lost his younger brother due to a heart condition. Both of them blame themselves for the loss and Isaac in particular questions his own capacity for empathy due to his personality disorder and lack of tears over the tragedy. The flashes to these children as the characters recount their trauma makes the discussion more heartbreaking for the audience while allowing the two characters to strengthen their bond.
While it is difficult to accept why Nate would accept a strange challenge from someone he’s never met before, both characters are compelling and have great chemistry as they play well off of each other. Despite having vastly different backgrounds, the trauma that the two have is universal and relatable to many. While Judaism is a core tenet of the movie, the issues and the theme of acceptance are able to appeal to people outside of the faith.
The movie’s conclusion where Nate has a heart attack and Isaac realizes that he wants to keep living after receiving the Mourner’s Kaddish is a powerful conclusion to the story. The two give each other a personal item that symbolizes the impact this night has had on both of them and Isaac’s tears over Nate’s predicament proves he is in fact capable of empathy. After the two characters part ways, the film shows both Nate playing with his son and Isaac playing with his brother. The ending is a little confusing, as it is unclear if one or both of them are dead at that point. However, the confusion doesn’t take away from the resolution of both character’s internal conflicts.
The Forbidden Wish is an engaging character piece that allows its lead actors to shine in their performances. The movie features captivating characters and conflict that builds up to a satisfying resolution. The movie puts forth many questions defined by the teachings of Judaism, but the themes at the core of the movie are universal for everyone. The movie is heavy at times in its thought-provoking drama but a worthwhile watch for those who love independent films.
The Forbidden Wish is now available on VOD platforms.
Author: Jessica Wolff
Jessica Wolff is a graduate of Drexel University with a BS in Film/Video. She has a passion for entertainment and representation in entertainment. She currently resides outside of Washington, DC.
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