‘Women Talking’ Ending, Explained: Did The Women Choose To Leave? Is It Based On A True Incident?

As a woman myself, I went into “Women Talking” blind because I knew it would have a lasting impact on me. It feels good to be right, because this film is going to be in my head for a very long time. Sarah Polley’s dialogue-driven film is, at its core, all about female rage. Something we’ve been seeing a lot lately, mostly in the form of deranged mothers (“Hereditary”), comical skits (Thanks “Fleabag”), anything that Mia Goth stars in or an estranged lover (“Midsommar”). Of course, this is a very small list on a much larger topic, but what I’m trying to say is that there’s a certain narrative that depicts these characters in a dark manner that, although usually cathartic, is sometimes misleading. Saying that, it is still a huge improvement from believing that women are only complacent and kind. The unhinged woman is a new favorite, with books like “A Certain Hunger” becoming highly popular. But “Women Talking” has got to be one of the most honest depictions of this feeling of fear and anger I’ve ever seen. In a way, it is almost therapeutic to watch these women talk about their choices.

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Spoilers Ahead


Plot Synopsis: What Happens In ‘Women Talking’ Film?

The film revolves group of women from an isolated religious colony who have just been victims of an atrocious crime. After a long period of believing they were being raped by “ghosts” or “satan,” two of the children catch the true culprit, resulting in a series of events making the women choose between three ultimate choices: 1. stay and forgive (essentially ignore everything); 2. stay and fight; 3. leave. When the choice is set up for a vote, two options emerge victorious, leading to a select few families being chosen to discuss the ultimate answer. We then follow the discourse of why and what leads up to that final choice. 

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3 Sides Of A Story: Salome, Mariche, And Ona

“Women Talking” is all about showcasing the different perspectives of the many women in the colony. At the hay loft, we have the three chosen families make the decision for the entirety of the women because there was a tie between “stay and fight” or “leave.” This includes three generations of women who bring to the table different schools of thought based on their upbringing, their age, their status, and more. What is admirable is the fact that they do not judge each other’s ideas but just push their own ones further. In the middle-aged category, we have three very distinct women. Salome- the furious, Mariche- the desperate, and Ona- the logical. 

In this quaint rural setting, Ona is a quiet, intelligent, and attractive woman. She’s heavily pregnant from the rape, but during the discussion, one of the things she talks about is her pure love for the baby inside her. Because the baby has done nothing wrong, and this baby’s father too didn’t do anything wrong when he was a baby. She says that the only thing she knows is her love for this baby. Ona is very realistic with her thoughts. What is the best way to survive and still go to the “Kingdom of Heaven”? How will the women, their children, and their bodies be safest? August, the only man allowed in the discussion so he can take the “minutes of the meeting,” is an excommunicated man who has returned for the sole purpose of being with Ona. He’s deeply in love with her, which she knows, but she’s always kind to him, just as she would be to the town’s little animals. Ona asks the women the real questions because she is capable of seeing ‘what may be’ with a given solution. She’s the only one of the three aforementioned women who changes her mind in the middle of the discussion. When discussing who may or may not be guilty, Ona talks about the circumstances of the colony. She brings up the idea that these crimes took place because of the state of things within the colony, and by that, the men are as much victims as the rape victims themselves. Ona values her freedom; she is keen on learning and knowledge. When August tells her he can take care of her and her child, she says if she were to marry, she wouldn’t be herself, so the person he loves would be gone. Maybe through childbirth, she may get liberated from the violence that caused her such pain, and in the future, she and August could meet again and start afresh. There is hope still.

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Mariche has been in an abusive marriage. To begin with, her life is already miserable, and then there’s the added abuse that she and her children have had to suffer. Her response to everything in the group is aggressive but distracted. Mariche wants to stay and forgive because that’s what she has been doing all her life. She doesn’t see a better solution for the problem. When August suggests the group move on from the pros to the cons while making lists to choose their final option, Mariche fires away at him. She’s burning so deep with rage that all she wants to do is call out the faults of the people around her because she is unable to do that with her husband, Klaas. When Mejal has an anxiety attack from the memory of her attack, Mariche is quick to call her out for seeking attention. “Why is it that only she has these episodes when we were all attacked?” “Not all of us need attention.” Mariche is claustrophobic because of her past. “It’s not just the men and boys who have been excellent students”—Agata earlier on in the film says the culprits have been taught a lesson and they’ve been excellent students. Mariche repeats these words to describe her oppression. Ona asks Mariche why she still wants to stay and fight when she’s unable to stand up against the aggression of her husband, and all Mariche can see is judgment. Her stern exterior collapses finally when her mother apologizes to her for not helping her escape the abusive relationship she’s been in. Mariche finally cries, hugging her loving daughter. Finally, Mariche is the one who talks about the three things women are “entitled” to: safety for their children, ardent faith, and the ability to think.

Mariche and Salome are two sides of the same coin. While Mariche is enraged for being silenced, Salome wants to take action for the sins her four-year-old daughter and she have had to face. At the beginning of the movie, we see Salome physically attack the assaulter with a sickle. She is uncontrollable. Salome embodies this feeling throughout the film. Claire Foy, amongst the other fantastic actors with incredible lines, delivers the best monologue of the film and one of the hardest to watch as well. When the elders discuss being forgiven by the ‘men of God’, she is outraged because these are sometimes the same men that are perpetrators of the crime. Whatever God’s plan according to her is, he will forgive them himself, but if he is almighty, then why hasn’t he protected the girls and women of the colony? She narrates the vicious things she will do to the man who would ever again try to harm her four-year-old daughter. Finally, she agrees on leaving because she knows staying behind will only make her a murderer. This isn’t to say that Salome is a rock. She, too, is soft on the inside. When they’re leaving, she doesn’t leave without her son, who refuses to go, but she tranquilizes him (using the same tranquilizer the men used on the women so they would not be able to scream or wake up) so she can take him anyway. She chooses what is good and bad for herself. When August hands her a gun, she catches on quite quickly as to why he has it at all. Salome promises him that they will meet again, so he will wait for Ona and not do something foolish.

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The Elderly: Agata And Greta

Agata and Greta are the voices of reason in the hay loft. They bring peace to the group, kind of like moderators. They’re not unchanging as we see them understand their daughters and granddaughters. But they’re also not unforgiving because they wish to stay in the only home they have ever known. Agata resorts to the words of God when she has no answers, and Greta talks about her horses, Ruth and Cheryl, whom she uses as metaphors for the women’s situations. They both initially believe that forgiveness is their ultimate goal. Later, with the “voice of reason” in their children, they see a new light. At their best, they bring relief with their peaceful and kind demeanor, like the smell of herbs in a quiet room.


The Younglings: Mejal, Autje, And Nietje

Autje and Nietje are the girls who found the boy first. They don’t quite understand the gravity of the situation, being uneducated teenagers in the colony. Women and girls are not meant to read or write, so what else is there for them to do except braid each other’s hair and giggle away the time? Autje is narrating the whole story to Ona’s baby. Autje is a pleasant girl who makes everyone laugh, even making the depressed August cheer up for a second. Both girls stand with their mothers once the decision is made to leave because they grasp at straws during the conversation. Rather than words, through their body language towards each other, we start to see their involvement in the decision to leave. Mejal, as we know, gets anxiety attacks and smokes to calm her nerves. She doesn’t talk much, but when she does, it is exactly what everyone needs to hear. Everyone plays a huge part in the decision; it doesn’t matter how much they talk or not.

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Nettie Vs. Melvin

In the middle of all this, we have Melvin, who identifies as a boy. After being raped, Nettie, who always felt uncomfortable in her body, chose to live as a boy. Melvin is lovely with the kids of the colony. He takes care of all of them collectively, and they love him. Melvin only talks to the children. Finally, when Agata referred to him as Melvin rather than Nettie at the end of the movie, he replied to her by actually speaking. 


The Only Man Is August

August is a shy teacher who went to university outside of the colony. His family was excommunicated because his mother had unique opinions that the elder men did not want to listen to. August misses his mother now. Ona is a reminder of the loving nature of his mother because she is as caring, kind-hearted and possibly opinionated as she had been. August is kind-hearted. He vows to stay back and “teach” the rest of the boys to be better and be good. He is suicidal, as we learn when he gives the gun to Salome, who very tenderly tells him not to kill himself. When he’s asked for his opinion by Ona, he tells her it doesn’t really matter what he thinks. While this conversation moves on to how one would feel if one felt like their thoughts never mattered, it goes to show that August is hurting somewhere. He feels alone in the colony and in the outside world. Of course, as a person from the colony, stepping into the real world would’ve been difficult for him. In many ways, August probably returned because he felt like an outcast, only to see that he was one here too.

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‘Women Talking’ Ending Explained – What Happens With All The Women In The End?

In conclusion of their meeting at the hay loft, the women decide that leaving would be the best option for them. In the end, the choice boiled down to faith vs. safety. The reason Ona and later Salome change their minds about leaving is that they feel that would be the safest way to protect their children, their peers, and themselves. As Agata said, if they stayed, they would put themselves in danger of violence, either by turning to it themselves or becoming victims of it. It is quite shocking to find out in the middle of the film that this particular incident occurs in the year 2010. So, choosing wisely- the women are stepping out into a more free world. The women return to singing a hymn when they make their final decision because they’re going into the unknown. They are excited but fearful, and they believe in the guidance of God. To them, embracing the unknown is better than staying back and doing nothing. Unfortunately, Scarface Janz decides to stay back because she cannot fathom how leaving will lead her to heaven. Her daughter and granddaughter join the ladies just before they’re about to leave, in tears of joy. August tells Salome never to return with any of the women because he has seen the world beyond the colony. Doesn’t everyone want some sort of power? Mejal says almost at the start of their conversation, “well, the women finally got that power.” The power to decide for themselves and to leave on their own will. 


Is The Film Based On A True Incident?

“Women Talking” is based on a book by Miriam Toews that is loosely based around an incident that took place in a Mennonite community in Bolivia in 2008. There’s a title sequence in the film that suggests that the narrative of the film is an act of female imagination. Miriam and Sarah tell an impactful and powerful story about what occurs after an act of violence that is as far from the screen as God himself—unseen. For a film about abuse, it is rather unscathed.

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See more: ‘Women Talking’ Themes, Explained: What Are The Different Themes Explored In Sara Polley’s 2022 Film?


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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

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