“Do nothing. Stay and fight. Or leave. In 2010, the women of an isolated religious community grapple with reconciling a brutal reality with their faith.”

Director: Sarah Polley
Writers: Sarah Polley, Miriam Toews
Staring: Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Frances McDormand, Judith Ivey
Rated: PG-13
Release Date: January 20, 2023

Taking place in the year 2010, Women Talking (2023) focuses on a group of women part of an isolated ultra religious community as they discuss and and come to a harsh understanding that their reality is crashing around them. The men of this small out cove of humanity are anything but humane; these men abuse the women mentally, physically, and sexually. For the betterment of themselves, and their children, the small group of women at the center of Women Talking congregate and decide whether or not they should stay and forgive, stay and fight, or leave and start over.

I say this knowing it will make you stop reading, but you should see Women Talking without knowing anything about it. I started the movie only knowing that it had a great cast, and while that is true, there is so much more to the story.

Women Talking is based off Miriam Toew’s 2018 book of the same name, which itself was based on a true story of women being terrorized in a religious Mennonite community in Bolivia. The details described by the women in this fictional story all happened in real life. That is fucking terrifying.

Rooney Mara as Ona

Women Talking puts immense weight on the shoulders of its actors. The story takes place in mainly one hayloft and the dialogue is crisp, fast, and relentless. The terrible problems these women are talking about are isolated to their small community in the story, but the themes they touch on can touch on numerous areas in the real world.

Of all the topics that these women touch on, there is one that sticks out most is forgiveness. It starts with old soul Scarface Janz (Frances McDormand) noting how they must forgive the men for their transgressions otherwise they will be kicked out of the colony and not be allowed into heaven. It is immediately rebuffed by Salome (Claire Foy) who scoffs at the idea of her neighbor’s traditionalism.

Ona (Rooney Mara) touches on the selfless act when she comments “Is forgiveness that’s forced upon us true forgiveness?” She is scoffed at by Salome who politely tells her to shove it where the light doesn’t shine, but Ona is onto something. It is sentence said out loud that many don’t contemplate till later in life when someone has really wronged them. Forgiveness is not a universal thing that is the same to everyone; there are different thresholds.

The best line of the movie comes from the young narrator, Autje (Kate Hallett). During a rare moment of levity, the simple yet undeniably true line comes out:

Sometimes I think people laugh as hard as they’d like to cry.”

When I heard this line, I stopped dead in my tracks. It hurts honestly how true this line is. For anyone who has deflected pain, sorrow and sadness with humor, this one line hits the bullseye with better than perfect aim. It is all to real.

Claire Foy as Salome

The screenplay, which won at the 95th Academy Awards, has all the themes interwoven into it, but it takes the cast to bring it all to life. And here we have to pay homage the the synergy these actresses, and actor, bring to the table.

Just look at this cast:

  • Jessie Buckley: One-time Oscar nominee (The Lost Daughter)
  • Claire Foy: Two-time Primetime Emmy winner (The Crown)
  • Judith Ivey: One-time Prime Time Emmy nomnee (What The Deaf Man Heard)
  • Frances McDormand: Three-time Oscar winner (Nomadland, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Fargo) and three-time Oscar nominee (North Country, Almost Famous, Mississippi Burning)
  • Rooney Mara: Two-time Oscar nominee (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Carol).

I for one am in love with Jessie Buckley. I am in the process of watching Men (2022) when writing this, and she has something that I simply can’t look away from. Buckley plays the part of Mariche, and her finest moments come in the final act of the movie.

Claire Foy does a fuck-ton of angry talking, but she is oh-so-fucking good at it. She has a stare, or perhaps more of a glare, that will haunt your dreams! She will get an Oscar nomination before her career is done.

I can’t say I knew of Judith Ivey before Women Talking, but I did notice her being the perfect wisdom dispensing mediator of the story. She is the rare care case of an elder who who is not stuck in her ways, which directly goes against the biggest actress’s part in Women Talking.

Frances McDormand is a producer of this story, but she is not front and center on the screen. We see her as Scarface Janz as the start of the movie, and near the very end. She is stubborn with her opinion and calls this bit of democracy exercised by the women a farce. Religion and traditionalism are her roots and she isn’t picking them up for anyone.

Rooney Mara gets to play the part of the airy outlier. She behaves the most different from the rest, looking a lot more at the big picture than someone of the others in the argument. Framing her character’s Ona’s perspective is that she is the only one from the group who is in love in the traditional sense…and she is the only one who does not want to get married.

Ben Winshaw plays the only male character that speaks and that shows his face. His character is called Autumn, and his journey within this religious community is the most complex. He was born in it, left to go to university, and then came back. He has not been corrupted like the rest of the horrid men, but he knows everything that is happening. He is a bit of an allegory of the cave type of character because he saw the real world, then came back, and he wasn’t able to live with it. Autumn was going to kill himself until he handed his gun to Salome at the end of the film. It is remarkably important that he does not end his life because he is the only one who has the power to educate with an outside perspective.

Women Talking being based off a true story puts everyone inside the room because it paints the whole movie in a shiny color called “Holy Shit.” Remarkable stuff. Crazy. In Bolivia, it was reported in 2019 by the BCC that eight of the men from the community where tried and convicted, but one escaped justice. These men used everything in their power to convince the women that was was happening was a mirage with ancient religious stories and archaic brainwashing dream story weaving. It is a terrible story. It is not make believe. It is not part of anyone’s imagination. This is part of our real world, and Women Talking brings the story and its ramifications and themes to life.

Women Talking was nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay at the 95th Academy Awards. Sarah Polley took home the price for Best Adapted Screenplay.


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