Let’s all talk about the new film “Women Talking” by Sarah Polly. The power of this film is not just in hearing women talking; but it’s women listening to one another. Listening, without judging each other; collectively encouraging a space of neutrality and collectively finding a solution. It’s a beautiful study of women finding their voices.
The over lurking syndrome of male violence is portrayed by a closed off self reliant religious community, much like a Menonite culture, but where women are both subservient and uneducated and therefore entirely dependent on men. But the envelope gets pushed when suddenly the men all turn on the women, collectively, in a most violent way. And not just grown men; the youth are also part of it. The women and girls and female children, as young as four, are drugged and tortured and awake to bruises and blood and abomination.
The first response by the male leadership is to dismiss what they say as lies. Then, as it keeps happening, they are made to believe that it is the work of Satan, and therefore, their fault. And, as the women are not held in any esteem in the community and have no sense of their own selves or self worth, this is the commonly held belief even amongst the woman. They are further held in bondage by a false sense of shame and self loathing. Then, two young girls witness two of the young men running from a scene of abject violation. They are caught and confess to their crimes and name all the males involved. None are innocent except one whom the males rejected; the son of a woman who was casted out for questioning their absolute authority. The men are caged and sent away but they decide that it is best for the women to forgive them and they are coming back. This is where the women gather and decide what to do; stay, leave,or do nothing. The dialogue is between staying or leaving which is a tied vote. The story begins here with the council dealing collectively with their rage, their fear, their insecurity, their trying to deal with layers of betrayal.Their trying to foresee a future.
Seeing this with another woman, I realized that you can’t see it with a woman whom this movie does not conjure up memories of times of physical abuse from a male in her life. Abuse of women is so common; it carries across all race and creed, education and social status. It is present throughout every country ,every aspect of human society. And while there are rare men free from violence against women amongst us, can someone point out a society which is free from this violence and please send us a letter and give me that address so I can find a model to teach the others how to behave. I don’t know how many men can confess to their physical abuse against women, or have the courage to feel the shame of their actions, but I do feel hope in the newer generation and those to come.
The power of this film is its study of the collective process. Sarah Polley made some brilliant choices. She omits scenes of violence, and only addresses it in the aftermath. And, she gives a time limit to the decision process. That adrenalized momentous task of making a decision that will affect themselves and generations to come, is not taken lightly. It cleverly forces the women to set aside their anger, their nagging sadness and abject terror, to deal in the moment to discover what they need to do to survive. It shows the search for survival of the oppressed. Women of all ages are expressing themselves, freely. Allowing themselves to be vulnerable and open to finding their truth and their choices within an abominable situation. A situation which will not cease for them and which they can not tolerate. What does desperation do to one’s soul, one’s character? What is there for them in that open road of the unknown? How can they possibly stay and how can they go? How can they be safe? And if they leave, do they take their sons? At what age are they made dangerous to the collective? Who can be saved? Can the older sons, who partook in the betrayal, and were trained that they had the right to treat females, of any age, any way they pleased, and the female had no right to complain; had no right to the truth nor power or choice over their own bodies? Ring a bell to what this alludes to in our present society?
The movie does not mince words. It does not point fingers. It is simply, how are we to survive the animosity directed at us as females? There is not a wasted moment, neither visually or in dialogue in this film. Every word, every name, every laughter, every look is purposeful and just adds to the tension and the driving pace of the film. This film is worth watching and talking about, for it has a LOT to say that has been unsaid for far too long. My friend and I were dizzy afterwards. It was a cathartic experience. We walked into the chill of the night for over an hour before we could drive home. We even shared a cigarette, and LA became Paris for a moment . And we felt the existential crises of our sex within our society and of that through the ages.
One thing this film made clear; when women of all ages come together and talk about what is truly important and listen to one another without judgment in a safe setting, there is great power for change and justice in that. So keep talking women, but do listen as well and speak of what matters and speak well of one another. Hope awaits us, that “thing with feathers” (Emily Dickenson), favors the bold.
The film was like a montage of the stages of pain and trauma, grief and disgust; and of self preservation and self reliance. It was the layered trauma of being treated like an animal of no consequence, and how one chooses to survive thereafter; and the quest for equanimity, regardless of the task; a heroic resolve to self preservation and being authentic to one’s unique nature. I will continue this discussion next time, as Pandora’s box has been open. Yet let’s keep this thing with feathers in our hearts and let the healing begin.