Movie review: 'Women Talking' illuminates fascinating arguments

From left to right, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod and Jessie Buckley are "Women Talking." Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures
1 of 5 | From left to right, Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Judith Ivey, Sheila McCarthy, Michelle McLeod and Jessie Buckley are "Women Talking." Photo courtesy of Orion Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 14 (UPI) -- Women Talking, in select theaters Dec. 23, is an example of what's possible when people really hear every option in a discussion and consider every nuance. It's a utopian notion, but hopefully can be a positive example.

The women in a farming colony discover some of the men have been raping them at night. They only just discovered it because for years the men had been drugging them and blaming their wounds on ghosts.


So, the women discuss their options. At first, it appears to be a choice between staying to fight the men or just leaving for good, but it doesn't take long before the discussion reveals more questions.

Salome (Claire Foy) is for fighting. Other women, who are against leaving, fear they won't be allowed into heaven if they're not in the colony. One woman exclaims, "Jesus Christ," so this is likely a Christian colony (and she just blasphemed).


Ona (Rooney Mara) is the first to ask a question that shatters the binary thought process. She suggests that they determine what they want their new colony to be before they decide whether to leave the current one.

Should they abandon all the men who didn't commit rape? Or are those men still guilty of not stopping the rapists or creating a society in which the rapists could get away with it for so long? What about the mothers of young sons?

August (Ben Whishaw) is the schoolteacher who agreed to take minutes of the women's meeting. He represents the potential of a good man, one who isn't perfect but recognizes his own blind spots.

The colony is a microcosm of the world at large. The various points of view can get heated or can go off on tangents, and most real-world arguments won't be as articulate as writer-director Sarah Polley's adaptation of Miriam Toews' 2019 book, but we can aspire to it.

The women in the colony have complex relationships, and those come out during this discussion.

Mariche (Jessie Buckley) has resentments toward many of the arguments for or against leaving the colony. She's already in an abusive marriage and has endured violence to keep the peace for the community.


The fragile value of forgiveness is also explored. Everyone agrees it's wrong for the men to expect the women to forgive the rapists, but with a little distance, Ona starts to see a possibility of forgiveness on her own terms.

The ability to reframe volatile thoughts changes people's decisions. By the midway point, one realizes there are exponentially more than two sides to any either-or decision.

There's even a trans character in the colony to represent that aspect of the broader world. There are no people of color, but it is unlikely a contained colony like that would be inclusive from its origin.

For a movie literally about talking, as the title promises, Polley keeps the film dynamic through staging and pairing off certain characters. Polley does not show the attacks on screen, although their aftermath is violent enough.

Women Talking is a fascinating thought exercise, but one that is likely real to many people. Through the power of filmmaking and performances, it has the ability to challenge viewers' general biases and demonstrate compassionate ways to provoke critical thinking.

Women Talking expands its release Jan. 10.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.


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