I went to the theater recently to watch “Knock at the Cabin” with the full intention of reviewing it. After the film ended, the timing worked out perfectly for me to pop into another auditorium and check out the Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay nominated “Women Talking,” a movie that I’ve heard absolutely zero buzz about since the Oscar nominations were announced. 

After watching “Women Talking,” I decided to review “Knock at the Cabin” in this opening paragraph (it was ok, the book was better) and spend the rest of this space writing about a movie much more deserving of the attention. 

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The story of “Women Talking” is deceptively simple. In an isolated Mennonite community, the women have discovered that the men have been drugging them and raping them at night and then blaming it on the devil. When one of the guilty men gets sent to jail, all of the men go to bail him out. While the men are gone, a select group of the women meet in the barn to discuss the three options before them: Forgive the men, stay and fight them or leave the community and face God not allowing them into the kingdom of heaven. Most of the film’s run time is spent watching these women have this meeting (known as a plebiscite) and decide what to do.

Writer/Director Sarah Polley is a genius. That isn’t news to anyone familiar with her performances in “The Sweet Hereafter” and “Slings and Arrows” or her directorial work on “Take This Waltz” and “Stories We Tell.” But with “Women Talking,” she has created protest art disguised as awards bait. Even the title, “Women Talking,” is designed to confront people and insist on being heard. This isn’t a slow moving series of vignettes designed to make viewers feel like good feminists for watching, nor is it made to feel like homework. These are modern, ripped-from-the-headlines ideas spoken by some of the finest actors working today. 

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This a murderers row of talent: Frances McDormand as the broken soul that wants to forgive; Jessie Buckley as the volatile mother lashing out at anyone that shows her kindness; Claire Foy as the protective mother who is afraid if she stays any longer in the colony that she will kill a man; Sheila McCarthy as the matron who knows she has spent too many years giving permission to the behavior of violent men; Kate Hallett (in her film debut) as the teenager who doesn’t necessarily know how serious all of this is; and, of course, Rooney Mara, giving what might be the performance of her career, as a very pregnant woman who just wants to raise her child with safety and love. 

All of these warring ideals clash in scene after scene of explosive writing and performances. Polley’s script is subtle and her directorial style could have been trapped by the wordiness of the story, but instead it dances between the characters and locations across the colony with poetry and subtext. The script and performances are so strong that more is said about the nature of masculinity (toxic and otherwise) and abuse in a silent look between two characters than most movies are capable of communicating in several hours. 

I felt euphoria watching “Women Talking” because it’s so rare that marginalized voices are given such an empathetic stage from which to rage. But I also know this won’t win the Best Picture Oscar, either. It isn’t as flashy as the other Best Picture nominees, but the nuances of its script should hopefully not be buried by the flashier nominees like “Glass Onion” and “Top Gun: Maverick.”

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I know not many people will see this movie. Just explaining the plot to a friend made them question why I was even going to see it. But this isn’t misery porn. This isn’t exploiting trauma the way Hollywood has been doing for the Black and queer communities for the last decade plus. This is a scream of rage. This is a gut punch designed to shake loose the abuse our society normalizes in the United States and Canada. This movie documents what the opening rattle of the death of the Patriarchy sounds like. And it sounds beautiful. 


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