Women Talking | Here’s Why You Should Listen
Stay and forgive; stay and fight; leave.
These are the choices faced by the Mennonite women at the centre of Sarah Polley’s Women Talking. Eight women from three generations of two families have been nominated to make this decision for all of the women of the colony in which they live.
Based on the novel by Miriam Toews, which is itself based on true events, this meeting occurs after the women discover that nightly attacks they have been dealing with for years are the work of the men of their colony, and not ghosts or demons or the Devil himself, as they have been led to believe. The men have gone to bail out the attackers, and the women have little over a day to decide what to do.
As the title of the film suggests, these women do talk. They talk for hours, for what feels like days, and they can never say enough; because words are never enough. They are something though.
Words are something to women who usually don’t talk at all. When would they have the time, between running a household, caring for their children, avoiding the wrath of their husbands and worshipping an unjust God? And, more than words; laughter. There is unexpected laughter here. These women have been given little freedom, and still they have a sense of humour. Greta (played by Sheila McCarthy) offers this in the form of little tales about her horses, Ruth and Cheryl.
As the chosen group deliberate, the others wait. Three generations of women from one family sit in their darkened kitchen in silence. Their pain is quite literally etched on their faces; Frances McDormand’s Janz bears a large and vicious scar on her right cheek.
The film’s muted tones and low lighting provide a background for stellar performances from Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley and Judith Ivey, but it’s Kate Hallett who steals the show as Autje, one of the youngest members of the group, and the film’s narrator.
The words “Not all men” are literally uttered, and Ben Whishaw evidences this statement. He is the (sometimes too) soft, quiet, and uncertain control. The son of a family long-since banished from the community, he is neither here, nor there, and as such, he has not been raised the same as the accused men. As such, there is hope for the next generation, if they do leave.
In the end, there are only really two choices: stay and fight or leave. The idea of where they might go does not matter. It is the leaving that matters. As the sun rises on their twenty-fours hours, they will be certain.