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Women Talking: Are You Listening?

Posted by February 15th, 2023 1 Comment »

Women Talking (2023)
Directed by Sarah Polley
Starring Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley

The title says it all. This a film about women, who are talking.

More importantly, this film is an effort to make the dialogue so riveting that we, the audience, are encouraged to not just hear, but listen. I did listen. And I’m glad I did. But would I ever want to listen to this film again? One characteristic of great art is that it makes you want to revisit it time and time again. Women Talking does not have this characteristic.

Visually, Women Talking provides a very drab look at the colorless lives of a group of women. It also offers a riveting debate between characters, perhaps one of the best onscreen debates in all of cinema, alongside films like 12 Angry Men (1957), Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) and even one of my favorite films from 1992, Reservoir Dogs. What Women Talking doesn’t do is break away from its lyrical, dialogue-driven prowess and inspire a third act that offers its viewer some catharsis. 12 Angry Men did this with a riveting final scene, GGR did it too, albeit more ambiguously, and Taraninto’s Reservoir Dogs ended in a blaze of testosterone glory. These are films I look forward to re-watching every few years. I wish I felt this way about Women Talking.

I saw this film in the theatre with my wife. We knew nothing about it, other than it had been nominated for best picture. As I watched ambiguous, pastoral landscapes set the visual tone at the beginning of the film, I lost myself in the dialogue. Rooney Mara, Claire Foy and Jessie Buckley are standouts, perhaps due to the amount of dialogue their characters’ espouse. Each has a well-defined story arc that is conveyed with little action, other than the moving of their lips. It’s an impressive feat.

Obviously, the star power and dialogue of these three women is what the film centers around, but the non-traditional actors – the ones without the good looks or impressive pedigrees – shine as well. Michelle McLeod and Ben Whishaw are particularly good as Mejal and August. The brood of women in Women Talking is represented by all shapes and types. We learn that the thing that unites them is that they are all being drugged and raped by the men of the colony they are a part of – even the fat, the blind and the transgender aren’t spared this abuse.

The film’s plot centers around a portion of the women in the colony arguing among three available options to relieve their suffering: stay and take it, fight. or leave. We see various different viewpoints on these options, which can be attributed not only to the abuse of women in this story but to all women throughout history.

Not surprisingly, all of the struggles portrayed by the women in this film are due to men in their lives. Maybe that’s why I look forward to re-watching other dialogue heavy films over and over but I’m not likely to ever watch Women Talking again. Though my transgressions pale in comparison to the men in this film, I still see Women Talking as a mirror and it’s one I don’t want to look at too long. Hopefully once was enough to gain some wisdom, empathy and perspective.

If 12 Angry Men, Glengarry Glen Ross and Reservoir Dogs films about ‘Men Talking’ are all A’s then this new film about Women talking is a B.

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