It’s easy to say that the world changed after MeToo, easy and very very lazy. Yes conversations were had more openly and people were more willing to accept their culpability in letting things slide but this acts as if those conversations weren’t being had for centuries. Enter Sarah Polley, a director of some acclaim and star os super solid zombie movie Dawn of the Dead (2004) with her new film Women Talking.
The film takes place in 2010, in the wake of a spate of drug assisted rapes in an isolated religious community, a group of women gather to determine the fate of every female there.
The film starts in particularly harrowing fashion with the sight of Claire Foy taking a garden tool to a man in a fit of rage, we learn afterwards that there has been a series of sexual assaults on women who have been doused with the same tranquilliser used on the cows, resulting in the arrest of several men and the pregnancy of Rooney Mara’s Ona.
This community is in crisis, as some people – embodied by the always stern and none-more-so than here Frances McDormand believe the way forward is to forgive the men and carry on while others want one of two options. Foy’s option of staying and fighting the men, and the perhaps more wise idea of leaving the community for somewhere else.
What we have is a microcosm of a macro problem. What should women do? Polley assembles a cast of women who are up to the challenge of a 12 Angry Men style debate movie. Mara is quietly moving as the kindly Ona, spending much of the time making eyes at a would-be lover and trying to make sense of the world she lives in. Claire Foy is terrifying as a woman who will stop at nothing to keep herself and her children safe, and cannot reconcile her faith with the actions of men in her community. While Ben Whishaw as the only man left in the community and taking the minutes is a quiet, mournful performance, Jessie Buckley gets the lions share of the emotional pain to play.
The two most outstanding performances, however, go to Judith Ivey and Sheila McCarthy as two of the communities elders who both face the changing world and the reality of their situation. Ivey in particular is understated and moving, offering glances and understanding to her daughter Ona while knowing the future is uncertain and scary.
Polley also doesn’t keep things serious or confined, opening the film out into flashbacks, provided by McCarthy’s obsession with her two horses, and two young girls who sit in and offer light relief. It’s a film that has a point but isn’t about to hit you over the head with it.
When moments of emotion come, and they come often and painfully, it’s earned and feels satisfying building to a climax that is sure to move many people. All of this, helped, by a wonderfully emotional score by Hildur Guonadottir. It will have plenty of conversations, and rightly, because Polley has managed to make both a political statement and a beautiful examination of faith and forgiveness.