Monumental & Luminescent
The sun started to set quite a while ago. It’s nearly night by now. A monumental decision has just been agreed upon. A group of women walks outside in triumph. They are now in the midst of carrying out the final preparations. Neighbors are to be instructed, supplies must be packed and everything has to proceed quickly. A young mother puts her arm around her daughter as they reach their house. As she gazes at the house she’s about to walk into for the last time, she turns to her own mother and instructs her not to go inside. Despite reservations, her mother surrenders to her daughter’s request. There’s nothing left to think about. Now they must act. All of them.
Sarah Polley’s Women Talking is a film that takes place in the twilight of a fractured community. Anguish, rage, love, and joy so seamlessly attach, it’s almost dizzying. Delightfully intoxicated. Witnessing so many emotions at once will make audiences feel so deeply, they’ll start to feel a bit faint from it all. It’s as though they're about to collapse into a long slumber. That’s the beauty and the power of Women Talking. The beauty is so overwhelming, you may very well faint from awe. The power will instantly wake you up.
Women Talking (Inspired by true events from 2010) begins shortly after traumatized women in a secluded Mennonite colony somewhere in Canada learn that their repeated rapes had been committed not by devils as they were told but by most of the men who used animal anesthetic to incapacitate them. Shortly after Salome (Claire Foy), a woman whose three-year-old daughter was raped attacks the suspects with a scythe, many of the men are arrested by the police for THEIR protection. The remaining men of the community travel to the city to secure bail for their release. The men give the WOMEN only a few days to forgive their predators or THEY will be banished from the colony.
Over the course of two days, eight of these women meet in a hayloft to discuss what they should do. The colony does not teach these women to read or write so they invite August (Ben Whishaw) the colony’s young school teacher to document their sessions, very much like a court reporter. August has recently returned following a period of ex-communication from the colonies when he and his mother had to leave for their progressive views. He’s come back hoping to inspire change. The Women must choose between three options: To forgive the men, stay and fight or leave.
Hildur Guonadottir’s astonishing score and Luc Montpellier’s stellar cinematography mix so perfectly, it causes the tone of Women Talking to explode in divine excellence. Much of the film has color grading which many audiences will interpret differently. The script and the acting really go hand in hand because it IS these characters who are in the driver's seat of the story. All the actors work so brilliantly as a cast and also individually. There really is no main character nor supporting ones. Everyone’s perspective gets to be told. Everyone gets the same amount of screentime and dialogue (Except for a heart-shattering Frances McDormand whose character’s fear of defying the men causes her to abandon the meetings entirely not long after they’ve started.).
These meetings run as the most necessary of meetings often run, with disagreements, tears, and shouting but also listening, comforting and valid points constantly being made. Two of the young children who don’t fully understand what has happened to them get restless and tie each of their braids to each other's heads in a tight knot out of boredom. As the adults inch closer to their resolution, they start to become more involved in the discussions.
For all the trauma that’s discussed, there is an atmosphere of peacefulness that surrounds Women Talking. I realize now that it’s because as Women Talking goes on, they ARE in these moments, the only females in the community aside from the young children, August, and a young transgender man who was also assaulted. All of the men who are responsible for the devastation are miles away and it makes a place where so much horror has gone down seem like the most delightful place in the world.
For the most tender moments, it really is. These women are all very intelligent despite not receiving academic education and it really is to the ignorance of the men that are never shown that they were able to leave these women alone. They never thought they would be capable of deciding to leave because they don’t view them as smart enough to do so. Yet, Women Talking is not the traditional tale of women vs men that films often try to feed audiences. There is an entire psychology Women Talking pays tribute to that examines how violence is a cycle, what men and women are taught from very early on about their roles in society, and the film explores how to break out of that.
“Hope for the unknown is good. It is better than hatred of the familiar.”
Rooney Mara executes these words with such a tender conviction. Her character of Ona is really the most gentle of the women and the most patient. Perhaps she knew deep down what the final outcome would be. These words should be enough to calm anyone in distress.
A film like Women Talking has never really been made before. To listen to dialogue by women using their voices that have been silenced and THAT being the driving force of the ENTIRETY of the film. I don’t even know if the most praiseworthy critics understand the significance of this. I didn’t until I saw it.
“Once we have liberated ourselves, we will have to ask ourselves who we are.”
By the time Mara executes this line with the same passion, we all feel deep inside that learning about yourself is always an ongoing process with moments of fright and joy. Women Talking is a perfectly crafted and executed film from beginning to end. For me though, the climax where these women carry out their agreed decision will always stand out to me. There’s nothing so exhilarating as starting new. Many of us shouldn’t have to leave to do that but so often we focus on why something should happen rather than why we want it to. To want something that much is to fight for it and Women Talking finds the cleansing freedom in the fight. The fight for guidance, acceptance, self-worth, love, and home. Women Talking is Polley’s luminescent tribute to such a fight.
Pearl & Dean. “Women Talking.” Pearl & Dean Cinemas, 4 Jan. 2023, https://www.pearlanddean.com/films/women-talking/.