Women Talking

2022 | PG-13 | starring Claire Foy, Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Judith Ivey, Frances McDormand, Ben Whishaw | written & directed by Sarah Polley | 1h 44m |

In a deeply religious colony isolated from the modern world, a series of rapes covered up by the men of the community get exposed and inspire female vengeance. While the men are away bailing out the attackers, a group of women in the colony are elected to meet to decide what they should do: Nothing, Fight or Leave. The debate goes into the night and resumes the next morning as tempers get high and the women race to come to a decision for the fate of the colony.

Women Taking is a beautiful movie. When it started I was in awe of the visuals, the slick pacing and the puzzle-piece way the story was giving us pieces and letting us put it together. I settled in for a great movie. I love Bottle Episode TV shows and films where characters with different motives are forced together to hash out their differences and the high stakes themes that loom over this story. When you land at the extended meaty center of this film – it’s dialog standing on it’s own – there is indeed a lot of talking, but not a lot to think about.

The film is very stagey and talky, which isn’t inherently a bad thing. It feels a bit like Lars Von Trier’s Dogville, not just because it’s about a small pioneer town, but of how stage play it is. But with nothing else to hang on, the dialog takes center stage, and when it’s that paramount it has to be top notch, witty, fluid, clever, thoughtful, lyrical. It has to be David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin or, because we’re talking Women Talking, Greta Gerwig, Jane Campion or Sophia Coppola. Polley, a great filmmaker (Away From Her), spins her wheels here, taking a bat to different parts of the same dummy over and over. For me the message and the ambition of which she tells it wasn’t enough to overcome that nothing new or challenging was being said. We’ve seen our share of women in peril stories.

The thing that sent my head spinning wasn’t that I couldn’t relate to the experience of an oppressed prairie woman, but how anachronistic the movie feels. Supposedly set in the last decade, with only The Monkees “Daydream Believer” from 1979 the only pop culture sign post that indicates they’re even in the modern world at all, the movie constantly feels like the women are articulating ideas from the modern world that they wouldn’t have known. Of what little we are told about the group, it appears that they grew up in this colony, that’s it’s all they’ve ever known. That they were told that demons had attacked them in the night and they believed it for a while. When they talk about leaving and the dangers of the world outside, it seems like we’ve skipped the step where they learned how big the world is. They learn how to read a map but it’s unclear how they would have even known what a map is.

To the film’s thematic point, Rooney Mara’s character voices to Ben Whishaw’s character what he would do if he realized his opinion was never listened to or taken seriously. How would that effect you? Yet, again, if they were so  sheltered from the modern world, how would they know any differently? How would they not think that was normal. It would have been really compelling to see the turn. Instead of the women starting the film ready to fight back for their freedom, what if we saw the change from believing their way of life was normal to questioning it to realizing that they’ve been lied to and then fighting back. I even like the film’s stagey setting, you could still pull off all of that development within the challenging structure of this movie.

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