*BPN23 Women Talking

When the lights came up in the theater where I had just seen Women Talking, I turned to my friends and said, “Just give them all the fucking awards right now.” The three of us sat there stunned by the story that had just unfolded in front of us, blown away by the simplicity of a film that dares to put eight women in a hayloft and just let them talk to each other.

Sadly, the Academy did not seem to be of the same mindset as I was, nominating Women Talking for only two awards. Fortunately, one of those was for Best Picture, but how Sarah Polley did not get nominated for Best Director for this remarkable film is certainly reinforced by the title of one of the nominated animated shorts: My Year of Dicks. All the Best Director nominees this year are male.

The film is based on a true story of a Mennonite colony where many of the women would awake from a night of uneasy dreams to find themselves bruised and bloody and somehow diseased or pregnant. The cult leaders blamed the women, saying it was their “female imaginations” or worse, that they had somehow seduced the devil to abuse them. The truth is finally revealed when one young girl is able to stay awake long enough to reveal that it was the men in the clan who were dosing the women with cow tranquilizer and then repeatedly raping them; they were attacking their own sisters and wives. The men are arrested and jailed.

As the elders go to town to bail out the rapists, the women gather to discuss their options. They decide they have three choices: 1) They can stay, forgive the rapists and do nothing else; 2) They can stay and fight; 3) They can leave. Leaving is complicated by the fact that the women in the community have never been educated. None of them can read and they have no actual idea of where they are; none of them has ever seen a map. There is one male in the film, a former clan member who was excommunicated years ago but has returned to teach the boys how to read. He is in love with one of the women and takes the minutes of the meetings so there will be a record of their story.

The movie is exactly what its title states—women talking; about injustice, about faith; about revenge. A list of Pros and Cons is drawn up as they debate which option to choose, and whether boys of thirteen and fourteen have already been indoctrinated into the clan male way of behaving. The conversation is spirited and intense; these women may not have been taught to read, but they still know how to think. There are some lighter moments involving a couple of horses called Ruth and Cheryl who provide some much-needed comedy relief from the tension.

There were a lot of jokes going around on Twitter when Women Talking came out; that the makers could not have picked a worse title if they wanted men to actually see this movie. It’s an easy take; I wouldn’t be surprised if it shows up in the Jimmy Kimmel monologue on Oscar night. But it’s a shame that a movie this good —this smart—probably won’t be seen by half the population. 

The Popcorn Kernels of Truth give this film Three and one half Kernels. It is powerful and moving and infuriating; it only lost the half kernel because it is very dark—not in content, but in lighting. I sometimes found it hard to figure out which woman was talking (although it’s pretty dark in content, too!)

Categories: FlicksThatYouShouldPick, FlicksThatHaveADick (all the unseen men fit in this category)

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