Women Talking: Shattering the walls of mental captivity

Emerged from the excellent story telling of Sarah Polley, Women Talking is a horrifying yet hopeful story of how women fight the atrocities with their voice. 

The wisdom of Sarah Polley never fails to find space to tell strong women stories through her work and “Women Talking” is one such piece that contemplates the idea of revenge and forgiveness. Set in 2010, the movie revolves around the residents of a cultlike religious community. There is more to this place than soy fields, dirt roads, and rustic houses. Women Talking is a story of how the victims of atrocities use their voice to take action and protect themselves against exploitation and injustice. It is both horrifying and hopeful, infuriating and inspiring and sometimes, it is all at once. Emerged and adapted from a novel written by Sarah Polley from Miriam Toews, this movie talks about hope even in the worst situations.

Sarah Polley's Women Talking
Sarah Polley‘s Women Talking

The Plot

Women Talking | Official trailer

Men and women have separate spaces to live in the colony. While men here have been granted privileges like formal education, women are kept uneducated. With men of the community having all the practical, physical and tyrannical power, women find themselves in a very inferior position. The tension in the story starts when women of the colony find out that they are being assaulted by the men of the colony. Many men used cow tranquilizers to make them unconscious and rape them. There’s a quote in the film that goes “Where I come from, where your mother comes from, we don’t talk about our bodies” which signifies that sometimes women weren’t aware of what was happening with them and they were told that it is the work of supernatural demons or it’s just the product of one’s delusions and imaginations. Sometimes women are accused of lying. This goes on for years until a man rapes a toddler but her mother discovers and attacks him. To ensure his safety, the colony men take the man to a nearby city where he was arrested. While the men were away, the women of the colony gathered to discuss their next step as they won’t let these assaults continue. They decided to take the decision through voting. They had three option, Do nothing, stay and fight or leave. 

“We had two days to forgive the attackers before they returned. We hardly knew how to read or write but that day, we learned to vote”.-Autje

The tension

These women had two options, to accept the oppression or a revolutionary carnage. Some elderly of the community were in favor of forgiving men as that is believed to open the gates of heaven for them. There is not much element of suspense but to be honest, it doesn’t matter. What matters are the discussions that lead to the conclusion. The film happens between those utterly dramatic, intellectually absorbing, and emotionally gripping debates between women. Most of the decision making debates happen between the women of three families. One such important character that we got to see amidst these discussions was August who has received a secular education outside the colony and now works as a teacher for boys of the community. He takes minutes of the conversation that these women have and adds an extra angle to it.

Sarah Polley's Women Talking
Sarah Polley‘s Women Talking

“It is a part of our faith to forgive. We have always forgiven those who have wronged us. So why not now?” – Scarface Janz

The drama is centered around these conversations which subtly show women’s long-suppressed wisdom,  self-consciousness and willingness to change the norms. It’s a film which happens with speech and in between speeches and it all fits in place, thanks to the powerful writing of the dialogues and scenes because honestly, they are the essence of this whole story amplified with the performances of the actors. Nothing else happens in the movie other than women talking and it is a movie that is exemplary in its imaginative and distinctive approach. They discussed the morality of violence, the male nature, meaning of forgiveness and the responsibility of the men who weren’t from the attackers. They also discuss if all men are responsible for these happenings and if they all are to be treated equally responsible? It also explores “what is the meaning of forgiveness”. There is a difference between forgiveness that is often taken as “permission to continue the act” and forgiveness that is unforced and comes from within. They even questioned the system that doesn’t allow them to read and learn. While these discussions seem very progressive considering the kind of treatment these women had all their lives, they also addressed their own sense of guilt and shame about their endurance for abuse which resulted in making the culture of physical violence, mental abuse and an oppressive environment more prevalent. We have seen a few moments where a few characters challenge their faith as the horrors that have been inflicted upon them are somewhere caused by the doctrine in which they were raised. Some of the characters like August’s mother are said to be one such character who used to question faith and used to think beyond her received dogma. We saw Ona thinking and talking beyond the horizon where she proposed making this community more female centric on which everyone laughed. Not because they didn’t want it but the dream seemed too far-fetched.

“None of us have ever asked men for anything. Not a single thing. Not even a salt to be passed.Not even a penny, a moment alone, to take the washing in or to open a curtain or to go easy on yearlings or to put your hand on my back while I’m trying to push a baby out of my body for the 12th or 13th time. Isn’t it interesting that the only request we women have of the men would be for them to leave? – Agata 

Sarah Polley's Women Talking
Sarah Polley‘s Women Talking

We didn’t see any violence happening throughout the movie, instead we got to see what remained afterwards. Every woman here has different ideals, some believe in forgiveness while some are ready to cause violence if their loved ones are attacked. There are also characters like  Mariche who are finding it difficult to come to a conclusion. Somewhere between the habitual resignation to desire to end it all, they found themselves stuck. Mariche has been a victim of physical abuse by his husband and this movie also highlights the faults of the previous generation. In one such powerful scene, Greta (Mariche’s mother) apologizes to her daughter because in the name of faith, she always asked her to forgive her husband for his crimes.

Sarah Polley's Women Talking
Sarah Polley‘s Women Talking

“Why does love, absence of love, and end of love, the need for love, result in so much violence?” -Ona 

Women Talking gives us a few hours to enjoy the company of these women,  their dare to dream moments and their quest of getting that little space where they are allowed to think and demand safety. The film ends on the start of their journey of abandoning their forced faith and the film leaves us with a feeling of hope and optimism.

Also Read: Some unconventional movies exploring the idea of conventional adult relationships with children

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