In a remote religious community, the women have finally had enough. Enough of what? The men. And their violence. Their savage beatings. Rape. No one is safe from them, not even their own little children. So a group of women gather in a hay loft to discuss what to do about it. Do they do nothing? Stay and fight? Or simply leave and never look back?
The women discussing this decision in the hayloft range from the very old to no more than twelve, but they have all been attacked. Not each character’s story is discussed, or shown through devastating flashbacks, I’m afraid of how long and depressing the film would be if so. Stories include Mariche (Jessie Buckley), a wife and mother trying to protect her children from their violent father. Ona (Rooney Mara) is an unmarried woman pregnant by an attacker. Ona’s sister, Salome (Claire Foy), had to walk twelve miles to get her three year old daughter antibiotics after she contracted an STD from being raped. And one teen, Mejal (Michelle McLeod), has panic attacks because of the trauma she’s endured.
There is one man present in the hayloft discussions, August (Ben Whishaw). Because he is the school teacher and his trusted family was once excommunicated trying to stand up against the violent men the women trust him to keep notes, since none of them know how to read or write. He quickly understands he is there to listen, take notes, bear witness, give his opinion only when asked, and hopefully teach the men later.
There is a wonderful discussion about whether the young teen boys are safe to go with the women that leads into a lesson to teach the boys better. This male driven society has taught generations of boys to become violent predators, but the women and August agree that has to stop. The boys must be taught to treat women as equal and to never be violent. There is never a discussion about how the girls must learn to protect themselves. These women know they can not be protected when living among monsters.
Women Talking is only nominated for two Academy Awards. They include Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture. Women Talking is the only film nominated for Best Picture directed by a woman. What a shame Sarah Polley was not nominated for her vaillant directing here.
**Spoiler Alert** The film ends before we see the men’s reactions. Most women in the audience know how it will play out. They’ll wake up so surprised. They never saw this coming. How could she? What could she be so upset about? But we know this was not a hasty decision. Women are not taught to act rashly. We think and rethink these decisions over and over again for too long. This has been building up for years, decades and over generations. It was bound to snap.
There is nothing flashy, sexy or action packed about Women Talking. These Mennonite girls weren’t wearing makeup, short skirts or got drunk at a party. The men are simply monstrous predators, barely worthy of any on screen presence. The film is powerful, heartbreaking and defiant against the long silence many women endure. It asks you to sit down, be quiet and listen. Bear witness to these stories. Understand and empathize with these poor, beaten women. Watch them rise up. They have nothing, no money, no education, nothing but their lives and hope for a better tomorrow. I truly hope this film will inspire other women to rise up against their aggressors and for the men to learn and do better.
“We have been preyed upon like animals. Maybe we should respond like animals.”