“Women Talking” is a 2018 novel by Canadian writer Miriam Toews. The book is about a faction of Mennonite women who join together to discuss an urgent topic and agree to work together to repair a wrong.
They speak, wanting there to be a collective on what the outcome of their decision will be. The film is based in 2010 and in the fictional town of Molotschna, but the story is loosely based on actual events that happened in Bolivia between the years 2005 and 2009. What’s happening in the film is similar to what happened here in 2006 when the “Me Too” movement began. It went global when the #MeToo hashtag was used and survivors everywhere could reach out and discuss their experiences with sexual assault. The women in the film are in a cult where rape is a regular practice. They and even their very young daughters are drugged first, so they can’t fight and are so out of it they’re not even sure what happened or by who. They’ve been convinced it was the devil but have since woken up to that lie. These women gather to discuss the future. They’re in a religious patriarchy where women question nothing. However, when it comes to the children, they decide it’s time to do something. Do they stay? Will they fight for what they have or leave this hell on earth… and what of the men?
Audiences will appreciate that the rapes themselves are not focused on. They, the victims, and what their immediate future holds are the subjects of this film. Rape and violence are just the catalysts that move the story along. Quick flashbacks are used to put you in the situation, but only a few times. Holding this debate while sitting in a barn, with no black robes present, shows you that a courtroom can be anywhere if the crime is big enough. Writer/Director Sarah Polley is intentionally ambiguous, setting the scene this way so that anyone can insert themselves into the storyline and maybe dispute with themselves what to do if this is going on in their own lives or in a loved one.
The use of a song by the Monkees is a little odd, and doesn’t help the flow of the timeline, but maybe this is on purpose because, again, this can be going on anywhere at any time, and does.
As you’d expect, things do get rather heated. The deliberations get emotional as the women discuss what happened to them. There is support, but there are also intense exchanges as they reason with one another. Here is where the stars of the film show off their talents, letting the Academy know that they can be considered for Best Supporting Actress.
I don’t want to focus on one actress because they all lend a voice to those seeking justice, but the film is a must-see to watch them interpret the character. As the story progresses, you see their pain, frustration, anger and hate rise to the surface. At times, the tension builds at too slow of a pace, making it a bit of a relief when everyone has had their say and the decision of what they are to do is completed. No matter their decision, it’s a heartbreaking one because you’re reminded this has always had to be made because it has always happened and most likely always will.
Directed by: Sarah Polley
Screenplay by: Sarah Polley
Starring: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, with Ben Whishaw and Frances McDormand
Run Time: 1h 44m
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic content, including sexual assault, bloody images, and some strong language
Produced by: Dede Gardner, p.g.a, Jeremy Kleiner, p.g.a., Frances McDormand, p.g.a.
Executive Producers: Brad Pitt, Lyn Lucibello Brancatella, Emily Jade Foley