Quick Review: Women Talking
A New Film By Sarah Polley
The following is my review for the film Women Talking. A reminder, you can click this link to see how I score films when I review them.
A group of women in an isolated religious colony struggle to reconcile their faith with a string of sexual assaults committed by the colony’s men.
There’s a certain kind of baggage and awkwardness that comes as a man of faith in tackling a movie like Women Talking. A film that touches on sexual assault against women in a religious colony that inevitably opens up questions and debates about gender roles, toxic masculinity, and yes religion and faith.
As a man I can listen and learn from women who have had to deal with things my gender has a certain privilege in not having to deal with, but regardless I will never absolutely know those experiences. I’ll never know what its like to have someone constantly pester you for a phone number at a bar when you’re just there to hang with friends, to be at the gym with headphones on and a guy decides they can invade your space, or to fear that man walking down the sidewalk ahead or behind you that may or may not be a would be attacker, and so on and so forth.
As a theist I am not oblivious to the fact that religion can and has since the beginning of time been used to by men in power to hold women down, and that includes in a sexual manner. I’m not oblivious to people in power even now who are using a theologian worldview to punish certain groups of people for merely existing and wanting to live a normal life. I’m lucky enough to spend my Sunday with a group of theists who do not have that cruel worldview of religion, but too many do and they have significant power to alter policy into attacks on women and their agency.
So I would be lying to you if I didn’t come into this movie with some trepidation. Not because these themes shouldn’t be put under the microscope in artistic mediums, but because too many times when films try to tackle these issues they end up getting a bit overbearing, and half the audience can be lost because they feel like their being preached to and beaten over the head. In lesser hands movies like Women Talking, even adaptations of books that are turned into films such as, can come off as anti-men and anti-faith without even noticing its lost some of the audience it wants to get its attention from.
This is not one of those movies. And while the women and the horrific violence they’ve been subjugated to is front and center, and this is absolutely a female empowerment movie, even a dude like me was able to get a lot more out of this past just the main themes. Because with this movie writer and director Sarah Polley tackles sexual assault, toxic masculinity, gender identity, and faith all with such nuanced layers that I was left stunned at how she pulled this off without making the movie get too bloated or feel too preachy.
The conversations between these women range from a variety of subjects and every single one of them looks at all the perspectives that issue can be looked at. There’s women who want to stay and forgive, there’s women who want to stay and fight, and there’s women who simply want to leave. There’s women who are losing their faith in the aftermath of these attacks, there’s women who are only being strengthen in their faith. There’s women who are scared to anger their God and there’s women who couldn’t care less. There’s women who fear bringing young men with them, and there’s women who desperately want them to come. And as the story progresses some of the women actually have a change in their opinions.
The cast is a near all-female one. Its an ensemble that easily is among the best of the year and features Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Frances McDormand, Sheila McCarthy, among others. The performances from all of these ladies are incredible. In each of their roles that range from women who want to forgive the men to women who are justifiably feeling a righteous anger and ready for vengeance, they knock it out of the park. They bring characters who are under devastatingly tragic circumstances to a moment by the end of the film that they are now empowered and ready to break from the power these men held over them.
But there is one male cast member in Ben Whishaw, and at the risk of coming off as being bland and being that guy who mostly responds to a male character in a movie with a near all-woman cast, his role was the one that struck a chord with me. I know what its like to try and be a good man while having such negative influences of manhood around you. To have your faith pushed because of bad actors, to hope you can teach future generations of boys that they can be better than those that came before them. There’s a line his character has where he answers a question from Mara’s character in regards to whether his mother had questioned God. He responds, “Not God, power.” Its a line that struck me right in the heart and head because I know all about that struggle.
I can dissect this movie in many ways and obviously as a dude I won’t come away with as full a perspective on this film as women will. But that tells you how impressive what Polley pulled off with this is. She somehow managed to have the most layered and well written adapted screenplay I’ve seen in years. I was left flabbergasted and touched by this movie in so many different ways. This movie challenged me and I think its worth everyone watching to see how it strikes a chord in them and how it challenges them. This might even be the most important movie of the awards season.