TIFF22: ‘Women Talking’ Review: A Tragic and Empowering Story For Our Time

Every once in a while, a movie adaptation manages to completely exceed the source material. Women Talking does just this. Phenomenal performances combined with a message of women fighting back make for a viscerally uncomfortable yet necessary experience. This is both a timely and timeless story, that needs to be told now more than ever. The encapsulation of female rage is both moving and enthralling to watch. 

Sarah Polley is one of the most talented directors working today, and is too often underrated. This movie is nothing less than her magnum opus. Her vision is clear in every shot. Wide camera shots of the entire community feel claustrophobic. Scenes in the enclosed barn feel open and free. This dichotomy is balanced exceptionally well throughout the movie. There isn’t a single wasted shot nor a wasted moment. 

As a full disclosure, I personally did not care for the Miriam Toews novel on which this movie was based.. In fact, I found it mostly poorly written even if the story itself was a compelling one. It is certainly a necessary story to be told, and especially from someone with a background in this community. However, Polley was able to take the best parts of the source material, and combine her vision with incredible performances to distill a work of art. 

It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to the powerhouse performances that carry this movie through. Rooney Mara is at her absolute best, leading the charge as a strong woman ready to venture out past the confines of her world. Her performance is contrasted against that of Jessie Buckley, who plays a woman fully committed to her faith and community. Claire Foy, however, is the star of every scene, displaying a righteous fury that every woman and non-binary person will recognize instantly. 

Even the minor roles are stellar. Little Mosque on the Prairie fans can delight in Shelia McCarthy, a delightful and hilarious woman who is also fiercely committed to her faith. Frances McDormand makes use of her limited screen-time to deliver a terrifying and magnetic performance, as a woman entrenched in patriarchal values. August Winter is a phenomenal addition, bringing heart to their role as a member of the LGBTQ+ in such a repressive sub-society. In a movie centered around the experience of women, it seems odd to mention the one woman. However, Ben Whishaw makes an impact as the ally to end all allies. 

While the entire story is a commentary on religion, there is no bashing of those with sincerely held beliefs, who see them as a way to better themselves and their communities. Rather, this story is a commentary on how these genuinely held beliefs can be manipulated and perverted by men of ill intentions. Religion at its best brings out the best in anyone. At its worst, it is a tool used by those of ill intent to create chaos, death, and destruction.

At its core, Women Talking is a meditation on women’s’ agency. It’s equally inspiring and heartbreaking, watching these women deliberate on their very fates. Watching each of them make cases for why they should leave or why they should stay and fight is a poignant way to illustrate that all we are not truly free unless all of us are free. It’s devastating to think that this is necessary in so many cases, when women have had their voices taken away for them. 

Women Talking is one of the best movies of the year so far, and a clear frontrunner as awards season fast approaches. This is a compassionate look at what was a true story. Such decisions are made by women every day all around the world. May we all have the same courage to face our destinies. 

Women Talking is in theatres December 2, 2022.

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