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

What happens when the women of a colony so far removed from modern society decide to raise their voices against the generational injustice they’ve been suffering for being born as women? We get a film as moving and thought-provoking as Sarah Polley’s “Women Talking,” based on a novel of the same name by Miriam Toews, where sexism and patriarchy hold strict reins over the lives of women. The women in this unnamed colony are faced with sexual and physical abuse and severe ill-treatment at the hands of the men of the colony while they’re intentionally left illiterate and unaware. It’s very easy to deny human rights to someone who doesn’t know what the word means, and such was the fate of the women of this colony until they rose up in action. In a span of 100 odd minutes, the film focuses on the wronged women speaking among themselves to come up with the solution to the years of abuse. These are the most prominent themes that arise from the talking – themes that dictate the needs of women, decided by the women, for the women. 


Spoilers Ahead

Religious Orthodoxy 

For centuries, religion has been used as a shield against criticism of atrocities that have wronged the weak, where the mighty have dominated the meek, and the helpless have suffered at the hands of the powerful. The Orthodox religion has prescribed rules and principles that ensure the meek remain meek and the abused can never raise a voice against the abuser. Such is the situation in Sarah Polley’s story of the women of an unnamed religious colony, where conservative Christianity dictates the lives of women and how they silently suffer torment from the males. The sexual abuse that the women are forced to undergo while unconscious is passed off as violence inflicted by some hellspawn by the elders of the colony, who’d rather have the womenfolk end their lives than see the accused men swing by the neck.


However, when the women finally find a man on the verge of forcing himself on the unconscious victims, the men are arrested. The first response of the elders for the women is coercing them to forgive the ones responsible—or else be denied entry into the Gates of Heaven. The stinging irony in this sentence is that the women who are constantly violated and not allowed an opportunity to defend themselves—they’re rendered unconscious by a tranquilizer—are made to fear the punishment of the Lord instead of the men who inflict such pains on the women. It’s unfortunate that older women and even a few mothers are so used to the “order of things” that they choose the option of forgiving—a gentler way of submitting before the dominance of the men. Religion is extremely significant to the women of the colony because they only have each other and their faith to seek refuge in when times are the harshest. Although the women are completely illiterate, they’ve memorized the Bible verses by heart, which is why they choose to sing hymns and break out in prayer when the tension soars inside the granary where they flock to decide their fate.

The women don’t abandon their religion; they carry it along with them on their journey to freedom, but they mold the orthodox scriptures into lessons that set them free instead of cloistering them. The relics of the past, like Scarface Janz, are left behind while the young children, mothers, and grandmothers make their journeys into the unknown, much like how they leave behind the rules that wanted to chain them down. The women modify the rules of religion and choose pacifism, where pacifism is leaving the accursed colony so that they don’t have to incur or inflict violence any longer.


Emancipation Of Women

The entire film is based on the central topic of the emancipation of women from a colony where they have fewer rights than the farm animals—at least the cattle are safe when they sleep in their pens. The women have been left purposefully uneducated and bridled within the perimeter of the colony because learning to read and crossing the boundaries would mean liberating them. Forced to be victims of bonded labor for being born as women, they’re stripped of their basic rights and derided for having an opinion—on the off-chance that they do have one. Worse still, these women lack their bodily autonomy and are treated as broodmares, where their purpose begins with being tools to satisfy the sexual urges of men and ends with rearing the children that the nightly deeds of the said men leave behind. Thus, the emancipation of women from such circumstances becomes urgent so that they can escape the horrors that the women, their mothers, and their grandmothers before them have been forced to endure.

The first step in the women’s emancipation is the suffrage they earn on the eve of their abusers returning to the colony to continue their cycle of viciousness. By drawing an “X” under the three sections that are to determine their fates, the women experience their first taste of expressing an opinion. After a lifetime of being ignored, it’s the first time they get to have a voice. Even if the talking is done with a sense of urgency before the menfolk are back, the women get to argue, fight, scream, laugh, cry, and show solidarity. Ona, a pregnant woman who maintains a level head throughout the discourse, lays down the visions she has for the world she wants her child to grow up in. In this world, girls have a place in schools where they’re educated; women have access to a world map so that they know where they are, and the teachings are laced with love and not strict rules. Although Mariche, a victim of severe abuse from her husband Klaas, readily shoots down Ona’s visions as dystopian dreams, when the women set out the following morning, they head towards a world where Ona’s dreams are a reality.


It’s interesting that Mariche creates the loudest ruckus and violently attacks every other woman, from Ona to Salome, for their opinions, but the fact that she has been offered a choice to decide her fate eludes her. This is why feminism is needed in a world where women are shackled to the fetters of sexism and patriarchy, to liberate women from households where the drunken husband unleashes violent wrath on the daughter and the wife. The film closes on a brighter note, where the rows of carriages leave with the hope of better days.

The Need For Sex Education

In a colony where basic education is grossly lacking, it’s almost utopian to hope that the women, let alone the men, will be taught about sex education. The women resent the lack of proper language that allows them to speak about their bodies, and since they never learn about their bodies, they choose to stay quiet. Melvin, a gender non-conforming person, was sexually assaulted, and she got pregnant. However, the pregnancy ended in a miscarriage, and she vowed never to bring the topic up and has gone mute since then. This lack of knowledge about the changes their bodies undergo and the bruises in their nether regions they wake up with after being violated leaves them confused and horrified and often leads to their deaths. It’s tragic then that the worst thing that can happen to an aggressor is a night in jail until bail money can be gathered, while a woman has to hang herself to escape pregnancy.


From an early age, the boys grow up as wild animals, roughhousing one another and being a rambunctious lot. The massive distance between young boys and girls leaves the men unaware of women and their bodies, and they blindly take after their elders who’ve violated women for generations. August, a soft-hearted man with a heart full of love for Ona, says that boys of 13 or 14 can be harmful to women or girls because they’re bubbling with testosterone and unbridled sexual energy but have no knowledge of how to restrain themselves. The lack of sex education leaves them immature in the brain, despite the growth of their body, and they do not consider the wrongs of sexually assaulting a woman because they’re never taught the same. The mothers are equally illiterate in the field because they lack the language to teach their sons that men shouldn’t view women as objects to satisfy their sexual urges, and instead, they quietly choose to forgive over and over again.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh Talukdar
Indrayudh has a master's degree in English literature from Calcutta University and a passion for all things in cinema. He loves writing about the finer aspects of cinema, although he is also an equally big fan of webseries and anime. In his free time, Indrayudh loves playing video games and reading classic novels.

Latest articles