The imaginative interpretation of what could have been the discussion after the women in the Mennonite colony in Bolivia were tranquilized and raped is what Miriam Toews proposed in her book “Women Talking.” The film, directed by Sarah Polley, visually interprets the literary text with muted tones that are indicative of the faded yet unforgettable past, effective dialogues, and brilliant performances by a stellar cast. While some might argue that the dialogues are too well curated to be expressed by the film’s illiterate subjects, I believe the purpose of the dialogue was to accommodate a larger discussion than just the tragedy of the colony. The fear that the women in the colony experience are not foreign, albeit incomparable to the modern women with all their privilege in the audience. The women at the barn are the colony’s first wave of women who decide to be more than what they were born to be.
‘Women Talking’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
It was of great shame to discuss the physical discomfort that the women were experiencing, and when they finally started discussing it, they were hushed down. They were made to believe that they were touched by Satan and ghosts. While the women struggled to comprehend what they were going through, the fear of being ostracized often forced them to be quiet. The matter was only confirmed one night when one of the teenage girls got hold of a man. The man later named others who were involved in tranquilizing women and raping them after they were unconscious. The women often woke up to a blood-soaked bed and an aching pain in their legs and vaginas. The rapists were sent to a police station to be protected from the raging women. After this, the men of the colony decided to go together to the city to bail out the attackers. The women were given two days to forgive them when they returned. If they denied them forgiveness, the women would be excommunicated and would be denied entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.
The women gathered at the barn to discuss their future. While the women knew neither to read nor write, they voted for the first time in their lives. They had three options: forgive and remain, fight and remain, or leave the colony. The women majorly voted for the last two options. Women from two families were elected by the women of the colony to decide their fate. While some fumed with rage, the others settled for a reasonable discussion. Those who feared that by not following the orders of the men, they would be refused entry to Heaven chose to distance themselves from the majority. Each woman had lived through unfathomable suffering, and it came down to debating and deciding what each would choose for their future. The argument and discussion that follows at the barn will remind the audience of “12 Angry Men.” It is not just about punishing the perpetrators but also about respecting their faith and coming up with the best possible solution.
Three generations of women gathered in the barn, each with a different perspective, and tried to note down the pros and cons of the two choices. They chose August, the schoolteacher at the colony, to note down the minutes of their meeting. August’s family has been excommunicated since his mother started questioning the functioning of the colony. He returned to the colony after completing his university education. He later explained how he was accepted as the school-teacher due to a lack of qualified individuals in the colony. The women seemed to know of the importance of their conversation in the future. The written notes were their way of instilling in the minds of those who read them everything that women were capable of accomplishing. Every word they said was carefully noted down, be it for memory or simply for the sense of power that the moment held.
‘Women Talking’ Ending Explained: Why Did The Women Choose To Leave?
Salome was fuming with rage and refused to settle for anything less than a fight. She did not believe in cowardly leaving, especially because of how ruthless the perpetrators were towards the children. She wanted to kill and end the lives of every man who dared not value the lives of women. While her strong opinion resonated with some, it was not in sync with their beliefs. While forgiveness seemed to be almost unthinkable, they were not sure if they wanted to fight to claim their space in the colony. Some women were fearful of being denied entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, and they also believed that they could not leave since God would be unable to find them if they moved away from the colony.
While Mariche was fearful, her mother, Greta, was convinced that their only feasible option was to run. She was always inspired by how her horses reacted to unexpected situations, and she had noticed how they changed their tracks but continued to run. But the women were unsure if they were ready to accept the proposal based on how animals instinctively react. Leaving was not an option for Salome; she did not wish to teach her daughter to run if things got tough. Mariche preached about forgiveness, but Ona could not help but wonder if forced forgiveness was true forgiveness. Ona wanted to live in a society where men and women would make all decisions collectively, women would have the freedom to think, girls would be granted education, and the school would consist of a map of the world so that they could place themselves in it and a new religion interpreted from the old that would be driven by love and created by the women of the colony. Her dreams were unrealistic, but as a woman who was denied everything, she was glad that she could continue to dream.
Their conversation drifted to a certain doubtfulness about whether or not they were indeed punishing the wrong men. They wondered if the man they caught had accused the real ones or if they had been fooled into believing him. Salome did not believe it was their duty to find out who was truly guilty or not; their only duty was to protect themselves and their daughters. But the question of guilt lingered on. Could they only accuse a handful of men of being guilty, or must they take into account what turned them into monsters? If they considered the accused men guilty, they realized that they must also blame the men who chose to support the rapists even after knowing the truth. They wanted to analyze the reason behind the act to avoid such outcomes later. Ona understood that their circumstances (allowed and promoted by the colony) had resulted in the attacks. While the adults were busy analyzing the situation, the teenagers struggled to see beyond the black and white. To them, the adults were complicating the scenario even after knowing the truth.
The discussion got further heated when one of the men returned to the colony. Klaas was Mariche’s abusive husband, and the women knew that they had to make a quick decision before the men returned. They realized that leaving was the only choice that did not have any cons, so they decided to go ahead with it. Young boys would accompany them, and they would make it a point to make them unlearn what the colony had taught them. With the help of August, they decided to follow the map to move out of the colony. They focused on what they felt would be good and what they believed would continue to be pure. Instead of turning into murderers by living in the colony, it was better to leave and not stoop down. They wanted to stay true to their beliefs, which preached pacifism. They hoped that one day they would be able to forgive those who had wronged them, further amplifying what their faith had taught them all their lives. The women decided to leave and informed others of their decision.
Mariche and Autje returned the next morning with bruises on their faces. Klaas had assaulted them, and they were forced to tell him the truth. Mariche was sure that her husband would not remember a word since he was extremely drunk during the night. The women collected their belongings and lined up. It was not easy for Ona to leave August, the man she loved with all her heart, but she knew that it was the only way to confirm a safe future for her unborn child. August was proud and emotional about what he had witnessed over the last couple of days. Women who were shunned by the men took control of their rage to make a just decision. They stayed true to their faith and found a way to not compromise with their beliefs and, at the same time, take a step against what they had experienced. Leaving the colony was scary, but they were prepared to face the unknown rather than go through the trauma that they had once experienced.
Each character had lived through the experience of being violated. Some, like Mariche, wanted to remain true to their faith, even if it meant living with those who had wronged them. For Mejal, the trauma manifested itself in the form of violent panic attacks. Greta awoke with her teeth broken and blood dripping from her mouth. Melvin decided to stop speaking with adults and spend all of their time with children after being violated and then losing the fetus. Ona was rather unpredictable in her stance; she initially wanted to fight but later voted to leave. The discussion helped her understand the situation better, and even though she was carrying the child of a monster, she chose nothing but love for the unborn.
Ona gave birth to her child away from the colony, in a world that was safer and where they would be loved and cherished. Salome could push a pitchfork into a man who dared to touch her little baby. While she was confident about what she wanted, she eventually compromised, realizing maybe the world she wanted to live in could only be built away from the colony and without a bloodbath. As a man, August had witnessed a change he never imagined the colony would ever see. He had perhaps seen a similar rage in his mother. The fact that he carried a gun with him indicates how insecure he felt in the colony, but at the same time, he might have returned, hoping to bring about a change by teaching the children. Even though he might have felt that he had lost the challenge, the women reminded him to never give up.
The book and, as a result, the film were influenced by the 2009 case where Memmonite women in Bolivia were raped by men in their colony. Men got hold of the perpetrators, unexpectedly involved the police, and demanded punishment. Women who were afraid and shy gathered courage and testified against the perpetrators in court. The strength that the women demonstrated in court is what the film tried to capture. “Women Talking” film, just like the book, is a reimagining of the case. The decision taken by the women was influenced by their years of dedication to their faith. “Women Talking” is effective but could have better handled the rather stretchy ending.