Women Talking film review — strong bonds in the face of a collective tragedy • Art de Vivre

Women Talking film review — strong bonds in the face of a collective tragedy

Mar 08, 2023

‘Women Talking’, a 2022 drama directed by Sarah Polley, is an outstanding film about gender, violence, and the role of religion. The film is an adaptation of Miriam Toews’s 2018 novel of the same title. Set in a remote, isolated religious colony a gruesome pattern of violent rape redefines the lives of women in the community. 

Women Talking (2022)Women Talking (2022)

A deep dive into the consequences of sexual assault 

Over the course of the film, the womens’ individual stories uncover the horror and violence they had to endure after being drugged and violently raped by the men of the colony. Because no woman was immune to violence, and their stories were interpreted as a result of female hysteria, they faced three options: to stay and do nothing, to stay and fight, or to leave the colony. The story unfolds in the barn, where women congregate to vote, share their stories, and carefully consider the outcome of each choice.

By focusing on the aftermath of rapes, the film's narrative reflects womens’ deepest, most severe personal pain. The collective tragedy makes the bond between them stronger, while religion encourages all of them to forgive, endure, and obey.

Kate Hallett and Liv McNeil in Women Talking Kate Hallett and Liv McNeil in Women Talking

Exploring what freedom means

Initially, women consider their stories from the perspective of a victim who must forgive in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. During the discussion however, they realise there must be something worth living for. The women begin to analyse their place in a society that sees them as secondary characters, while also attempting to define the idea of freedom.

Through these conversations, the film raises fundamental questions about the abuse of power and the meaning of freedom. By observing the characters, the audience learns about possible physical and mental manifestations of trauma too. Some of the women in the film are afraid to leave the colony because of unresolved traumatic experiences, while some are enraged for vengeance, and others simply want to get away from the horror and leave. In any case, the question of what constitutes a woman in a patriarchal society remains relevant.

Rooney Mara in Women TalkingRooney Mara in Women Talking

What does freedom mean? According to the film's depiction of reality, freedom is always conditional. Women are often conditioned to live in an unfree world because their gender is used as weapons against their freedom. The sexualization of women is a centuries-old practice that has resulted in a shame-based system in which every woman is subjected to possible marginalisation, violence, and objectification. Because of this, women were (and still are) perceived as initiators of sexual violence in a patriarchal society, which was reinforced by false religious values. Such a society sees women as primarily sexual subjects and only acknowledges them in this context. The colony is a perfect model of such a society, where women have only each other to rely on. That is why the definition of freedom is hard to understand for members of the community. The film also reveals the importance of identifying as a woman, not in relation to men. As the film shows, it’s vital to learn who you are, and what you’re capable of without assistance, guidance, and control. Only in such a state can one enjoy the freedom of being truly liberated. 

Emily Mitchell in Women Talking Emily Mitchell in Women Talking

Patriarchal violence: The presence of God

The intricacy of being a man in a patriarchal society is yet another significant theme addressed in the film. Nobody is born a monster, but circumstances can turn them into one. Dostoevsky's famous quote suggests that "if there is no God, nothing is forbidden," but throughout history, God's presence has caused far more problems than his absence. And this is made possible due to the abuse of power. Religious misguidedness imposed rules of classification, where some have higher social value, while others hold a lower hierarchy. Such a worldview allowed torture, rape, and murder for centuries. A child who is raised in a violent environment is often predisposed to grow up violent, so each member of a fundamentalist society is born to be a victim. 

Transgenerational trauma

August, a teacher at the local school for boys played here by Ben Whishaw, is practically the only man the audience sees as an active male character in the film. August is a sensitive and understanding figure who assists women in the voting process and helps them with the final decision-making. Because he shares no similar values with other members of the colony, he is also a victim of the system and its rules. So are the young boys, the children of the same women, doomed to grow up like the other men in their world. They all carry the pain that the audience sees through August's eyes.

Because of all this, women talk about the pain and the humiliation they have to endure. But this story transcends the suffering of the individual and reaches out to the suffering of past and future generations. This is enough of a reason to talk, act, and seek justice. Even if the world responds with silence, it is our duty to shake it with fury. Action is necessary, so that the stories of the next generations may be rewritten. 

It’s impossible to solve injustice with violence, and in ‘Women Talking’, women talk, understand and reflect on their lives. This film is an expression of the pain of every woman born vulnerable to violence. The movie teaches valuable lessons about self-liberation from dogma and the value of independence. It is a call for everyone to see the reality, and reflect on it until these conversations set a foundation for a better world and freedom for the next generations. 


Discover more reviews of heart-warming films we recommend you see, including Pinocchio.


Photo Сredits: © IMDb

Credits for the Main photo: Claire Foy in Women Talking (2022)

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