It’s nearly impossible to misunderstand the concept of feminism this day and age without willful ignorance. The popularity of the ‘Me Too’ movement along with films like She Said showcase its importance within the context of workplace rights and treatment. Creating cultures and spaces without the worry of rape and/or other cases of sexual assault hasn’t always been at the forefront of important matters, however. As told in Miriam Toews’ 2018 novel, Women Talking, which is based on real-life events in Bolivia in 2009, over 150 women and girls were drugged and raped by men in a Mennonite colony. While that case is an isolated public event, this is the story known to many women around the world.
With such ongoing discussions centered around the safety of women, it’s no wonder Toews’ novel would later become a film adaptation. Sarah Polley directs and pens the screenplay for the 2022 feature. The story follows eight women from an isolated religious colony as they grapple with the persistent rapes they’ve endured for years. Forced to choose their faith and forgive or relinquish their seat in heaven and leave their homes, the women discuss next steps that could ensure safety for themselves and their children. Women Talking isn’t just an emotionally gripping account of a common occurrence, it manifests the true strength of women when they are allowed to make decisions for themselves.
The true strength of women
Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand star in Polley’s riveting and effective adaptation that defines itself as a powerhouse of an experience without leaning into a typical Hollywood drama. While it is loosely based on a true story, the reality is that this story belongs to many women around the world. And Polley identifies this element by writing her characters with such relatability. One of the strengths of Women Talking is the visual cuing throughout the dialogue. They are restrained, yet they give adequate insight to the brutality and horrors of their realities. Her framing is appropriate and balanced, recognizing the strength in moderation and forsaking shock value.
The movie also elegantly reveals how women may have the same experiences when it comes to sexual assault. However, women may also process it in different ways. Yet, the one thing that is equal and consistent across women no matter their age, race, or experiences, they are mostly left to deal with the scars while men often get to carry on with not a care in the world. While these elements of the feature are becoming more common knowledge to the masses, Polley presents it in ways that feel informational yet valuable. The dialogue is superb and contains conversations that could easily spark tears, laughter, and even anger.
Women Talking is powerful
To the benefit of Polley’s direction, most of the conversations by the group of women and girls take place predominantly in one room. The confinement—while often can be suffocating—really accentuates the heaviness of the dialogue effectively. As a result, almost every scene and talking point adds weight, providing an experience that is gut wrenching and rightfully unnerving. The one downside to such a landscape is it often feels repetitive with no true room to breathe and digest the perspectives of each woman. Perhaps, however, it’s Polley’s method of revealing how memories of sexual assault can be smothering—like you’re unable to escape the confinements of your trauma.
In the end, Women Talking is powerful and strikes emotional chords exactly where and when it needs to. The intentional direction paired with the poignant dialogue enables a watching experience that truly defies entertainment for Hollywood’s sake. Instead, it emphases the important of listening to women when they talk and share their experiences and creating spaces for us to decide the integral next steps for survival. If anything, Polley’s adaptation comes at the right time, when the momentum is high on the ‘me too’ movement, and ears are perked. Let’s just hope the world—especially men—listen.
Here’s the trailer for Sarah Polley’s Women Talking, in select theaters on December 23rd.