“Do nothing. Stay and fight. Leave.”
Women…talking. The phrase isn’t the most capturing title as it evokes imagery of a movie suggesting just that—talking. But as Women Talking opens, we’re presented with anything but droll conversations, or boredom. The feeling is uneasy as you know something horrific has happened among the people in this seemingly peaceful religious community.
A female voice narrates for us that there have been attacks on the women. These attacks leave them battered and bruised, or on many occasions, pregnant. One evening, however, the culprits are discovered—revealed to be a few men in the community—and the “harmony” among the men and women is thrust into chaos. Soon the authorities are bought in, but only so the women don’t harm the men any further in an act of vengeance. Through the narrator, we are told that the women are instructed to forgive the attackers, or they won’t see the kingdom of heaven. In a secluded world where these women can quote every Bible verse, but are unable to read a single sentence, this is a severe threat.
The women have decide that after years of mistreatment, this is the final straw. They gather together to vote whether to do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. With the women’s limited education, the option of staying and doing nothing may seem like a reasonable option for them. However, the vote is deadlocked on staying and fighting, or leaving. What shall they choose? Three groups of women: a total of eight individuals, along with a male schoolteacher in the community, gather up in the barn to decide the fate of each woman and child.
Director Sarah Polley transports us into the pages of Miriam Toews’ novel, which is inspired by true events from Bolivia. Much like the circumstances here, the men were drugging the women with animal tranquilizers, and raping them while they slept. Toews’ personal experience of being raised in a Mennonite community helped to set the environment for her novel, and in my opinion, added a deeper meaning to the overall story. Women Talking begins with the words “an act of female imagination,” appearing on the screen, which we as an audience can transcribe to mean so many different things. The molestation and rape by these men is waved off as “ghostly figures, or Satan,” but never the actions of a man in the community. Even an anxiety attack is deemed “an act of attention.” The film touches upon so many things with each woman representing so many people in our world—even those who turn a blind eye, or are so quick to judge.
The dynamic range of each and every character is held with understanding as the actors that play these characters are purely sublime. I can’t imagine a better cast. With each passing year, I find myself falling more in love with female led ensemble films where each character drives the narrative. And although every actor brings so much to the table, and in a film like this I feel like I shouldn’t prioritize one performance over another, Claire Foy’s, Salome, shook me to my very core. There’s a specific monologue that Foy gives about an hour into the film that just takes the air out of the room. Giving Foy her much deserved credit is in no way diminishing the others. Jesse Buckley, Rooney Mara, and Ben Whishaw are all outstanding in addition to the rest of the brilliant performances.
Women Talking has been compared to none other than the classic 12 Angry Men, and I would say that’s not too far off. A pure debate of rights and wrongs, set in a small room, with the outcome having severe repercussions. Though there are some small moments that could be changed, mostly due to Polley’s adaptation from book to screen, Women Talking is a phenomenal film that is a critical watch in today’s current climate.
Written and Directed by: Sarah Polley
Starring: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jesse Buckley, Judith Ivey, Kate Hallett, Liv McNeil, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand