Sometimes a movie just doesn’t work as well as you expect it to.
WOMEN TALKING (2022) makes its points throughout, but it does so on an intellectual level. Emotionally, I wasn’t moved anywhere near as much as I thought I would be, and for a story about women struggling to escape abuse by men, the fact that I was not emotionally moved really surprised me.
Admittedly, I was distracted throughout the movie by its vague sense of time and place. This is a story about an isolated religious community, where the women aren’t educated— they can’t even read— and the setting looks like somewhere in the distant past. Yet, the movie takes place in 2010, in some unknown location in the United States. It takes place in 2010 because this story is loosely based on true events which occurred inside an isolated religious community in Bolivia in the early 2000s. Since the movie makes no attempt to talk about time or place, I felt distracted because I couldn’t wrap my head around this story taking place in 2010. I get it, that these communities ignore present day life, but it just made everything that happened here a bit… off. While the point of the movie is about the women’s struggles, I found myself wanting to know more about this community and how they had reached this point in their lives. The film doesn’t speak to this.
The plot of WOMEN TALKING is simple. In this community, women are being drugged and raped at night by some of the men there, and their complaints are dismissed as female imaginations. So, a group of women meet in a barn to discuss their options. As they see it, they have three choices: stay and do nothing, stay and fight, or leave. And that’s the movie. Because over the course of the next hour and 45 minutes, the women discuss, argue, and ultimately come to a decision.
These discussions bring up many important issues: the need for women to have a voice, the culture of men’s treatment of women, ongoing from generation to generation, and the violence that men inflict on women without penalty. I appreciated these arguments intellectually, but emotionally not so much, because the experience was similar to sitting in the audience listening to a panel of women discussing these issues. That’s all well and good, but movies can communicate in ways that panel discussions cannot. Movies can move people on a whole different level. And that’s where WOMEN TALKING didn’t succeed for me as well as it could have. In fact, I probably would have been moved more watching that panel discussion because I wouldn’t have been wondering what year this was or where these events were taking place.
Of course, I do realize that the possibility exists that I wasn’t moved as much because I’m a man, but I don’t think this is the reason. I certainly empathized with all of the female characters in this movie. I just wasn’t moved much by the movie as a whole.
WOMEN TALKING features a solid cast. Rooney Mara is captivating as Ona, the unmarried woman who is pregnant, who has an artistic and almost poetic view of the world. Ona is the most interesting character in the movie.
Claire Foy plays Salome, the feisty character who is ready to fight and kill anyone who harms her children.
The rest of the cast all do admirable jobs. But I can’t say the characterizations won me over either. We know very little about these characters other than what we learn from them through their discussion in the barn.
WOMEN TALKING was written and directed by Sarah Polley, the screenplay based on the book by Miriam Toews. The color scheme is muted for effect, and at times the cinematography almost looks black and white. This is for effect, of course, and it works, in that it speaks to the oppressed life these women faced. It also works on a symbolic level, that even today, women can feel like they’re living in the Dark Ages. On the other hand, it makes you think you are watching a story from a century or two ago, not in 2010, which sadly for me, just made for a distraction.
The subject matter of WOMEN TALKING is important. The fact that events like these happened in 2010 speaks to that.
Unfortunately, as a movie, WOMEN TALKING doesn’t take this important subject matter and turn it into an emphatic piece of cinema, which is too bad because its subject matter is something people need to hear about, think about, and act upon.
Sadly, I saw this in an empty theater. Not one other person was in attendance.
Which for me, begs the question: women are talking, but is anyone listening? I hope so.
I give WOMEN TALKING two and a half stars.
Four stars- Excellent
Three stars- Very Good
Two stars- Fair
One star- Poor
Zero Stars- Awful