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Film / Women Talking

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Janz: It is a part of our faith to forgive. We have always forgiven those who have wronged us. Why not now?
Salome: Because now we know better.

Women Talking is a 2022 American drama film from writer-director Sarah Polley. It is based on a 2018 novel of the same name, which is in turn inspired by real life events occurring in the Mennonite community of the Manitoba Colony in Bolivia. The film stars Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Jessie Buckley, Ben Whishaw, and Frances McDormand.

In 2010, the women of a Mennonite colony discover that the men have been drugging them with cow tranquilizers and raping them. After the men are arrested, the women are given two days to forgive the men upon their return, or be forced to leave the colony and be denied entry into the kingdom of Heaven. Nine women gather in a hayloft to debate the pros and cons of their two options - stay and fight, or willingly leave.

The film provides examples of:

  • Bittersweet Ending: The women ultimately choose to leave the colony for their safety and the protection of their children. While they are uncertain of the world they are venturing into, as well as leaving a home they have always known (as well as some of their sons and brothers), they are at least free from their attackers and ready to start new lives.
  • Based on a True Story: "The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia", to be exact. Look it up at your own risk, it doesn't have a happy ending.
  • Brother–Sister Incest: Melvin, a trans teenage boy, was raped by his brother and impregnated, miscarrying later.
  • Child by Rape: Ona's pregnancy is a result of her rape. Some of the other children in the colony were also born as a result of the attacks. Melvin (a teen trans boy) became pregnant by his brother raping him, but miscarried.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: August and Ona were friends as children before his family was excommunicated from the colony. He has always had feelings for her, and while it is never stated if she reciprocates those feelings, she at least acknowledges his and seems appreciative.
  • Domestic Abuse: Mariche, even apart from being raped secretly like the other women, has been abused by her husband Klaas over many years. She repeatedly forgave him as her sect's principles dictate and her own mother had advised. After realizing what she's endured, her mother apologizes for doing so. When her husband returns, she gets beaten severely by him offscreen, left with a black eye and right arm in a sling, all for trying to stop Klaas from hitting Autje (who snuck in late after taking the horses).
  • Elective Mute: Melvin, a trans teenage boy who looks after all the other kids in the colony, chooses to not speak after his rape from when he identified as a girl named Nettie. He speaks in the latter part of the film when they address him by his chosen name though.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Most of the film is, indeed, just a group of women talking about how to respond after learning men in the community have been repeatedly raping them, with their elders demanding they forgive this or leave.
  • Forgiveness: Discussed at length, since the elders of the colony ordered that every victim forgive their rapist or leave. Some of the women argue for this, based on their sect's values, but others refuse. Many realize that this forgiveness is a misuse, and used to permit further crimes against them, since the men never change their ways. Greta also asks for forgiveness from her daughter Mariche after advising she forgive her husband over many years when he'd abused her.
  • Mama Bear: All of the women are protective of their children, but Salome is the most adamant about staying and fighting, and she knows that if she were to stay in the colony, she would become a murderer to keep her daughter safe.
  • Never Learned to Read: Education of girls in the Mennonite colony is very limited, so most female members can't really read or write. Thankfully, school teacher August helps them out with this when they're making plans.
  • Nice Guy: August is a sweet, gentle man who's the school teacher in the colony, serving as a foil to the unseen men who repeatedly raped the colony's women and girls (plus trans man Melvin). He helps them in their plans to leave, and apologizes immediately on inadvertently giving offense.
  • Precision F-Strike: Towards the end:
    Ona: Mariche, I really am sorry...
    Mariche: Oh, FUCK IT OFF!
    Agata: That is enough!
    Neitje: I believe it's "fuck off"...
  • Revenge: Several of the woman who'd been raped want revenge on the men who did this, despite their orders by the elders to forgive them, which others argue for.
  • So Proud of You: Agata tells August how proud they all are of him for his helping them near the end, assuring him that his mother would be too (she's dead), and he cries in response to this.
  • Speech-Centric Work: Most of the film consists of the women holding meetings in which they discuss the best course of action to take regarding the men's abuse of them.
  • Suicidal "Gotcha!": Autje at one point declares that she doesn't want to live anymore and leaps out the hayloft window. It was a jape, as she had knowingly jumped onto a haystack below.
  • Talking Down the Suicidal: Salome, on seeing that August has a gun right before she leaves, realizes he plans to kill himself after this. However, she succeeds in dissuading him by telling that he has important work ahead of him, teaching the boys of the colony not to act like the men who'd raped them.
  • Useless Bystander Parent: Deconstructed. Mariche's defensive and abrasive demeanor is due to a combination of having young sons by her abusive husband and being conditioned to always forgive him for his abuse. In a heated moment, Ona accuses her of doing nothing to educate or protect her sons from this cycle of abuse. Mariche retorts that she doesn't really have a choice in the matter, and Ona doesn't understand her situation.