starring Rooney Mara, Claire Foy, Ben Whishaw, Frances McDormand
screenplay by Sarah Polley, based upon the book by Miriam Toews
directed by Sarah Polley
by Walter Chaw At the end of the note that opens Miriam Toews's novel Women Talking, she says that her book is "both a reaction through fiction to these true-life events, and an act of female imagination." Sarah Polley's adaptation begins with the same declaration of "female imagination," and it occurred to me finally, after sitting on the film for a couple of weeks before writing on it (and after reading Towes's book for the first time to try to better understand my disquiet), that my problem with Women Talking is mainly one of my own expectations of the text. I expected this to be a galvanizing bit of agitprop: a rallying cry and a soapbox. It was an expectation exacerbated by Polley's intro to the film at its world premiere in Telluride, where she introduced an "army of women" that included 11 cast members and one producer, Dede Gardner, who is the president of Plan B Entertainment, the production company founded by Brad Pitt. Though Pitt, too, is a producer on Women Talking, he was for obvious reasons absent on that stage--the same reasons, I reckon, that led to male characters in the Toews source being pared away for the film. But while it has powerful moments, as any piece of art inspired by a real-life case of mass rape (including the rape of children as young as three) in a closed-off religious cult (aren't they all?) would have powerful moments, Women Talking is a romantic fantasy told from the perspective of a dreamy male narrator who has a doomed crush on a perfect projection of gauzy, unearthly femininity. It's mostly my fault for assuming it was something else.