‘Women Talking’ Squanders Its Chance to Tell a Great Trans Story

women talking, The latest film from the Canadian director Sarah Polley, is a challenging story about a group of women debating how they should respond to dire circumstances. For years, women of a remote Mennonite community were drugged and raped. When the women expressed concern that something horrible was happening while they were sleeping, they were only told that the devil was punishing them, or that it was simply in their heads. When one of the women wakes up to find her attacker in the middle of the night, the women discover that the men in the community are behind these atrocities.

As a community, women decided that they had three options. They could do nothing, stay and fight, or leave the only home they had ever known. In the absence of definite conclusions, women from two of the community’s most famous families meet in secret, to decide how they should move forward from these mortifying circumstances.

The result is a wonderful meditation on the power of resistance. It has a great take from Hildur Gudnadóttir (who won an Oscar for waggery), oscillates between heartbreak and hope. Real characters where women talking shine, from the (male) interpreter August (Ben Whishaw), to the debating women themselves. The fiercely assertive Salome (Claire Foy), the gritty Mariche (Jessie Buckley) and the quiet, thoughtful Greta (Sheila McCarthy, the film’s MVP) are particular highlights.

But for all of the film’s merits, there’s one character that greatly disappoints and devalues ​​Polley’s film: Melvin (August Winter). It’s not because Winter’s performance sucks – in fact, they do everything they can to give Melvin a real introspection. Unfortunately, the problem lies in the film’s limited script.

Melvin has experienced trauma similar to those of other women who have been drugged, raped and assaulted by men in their community. Melvin may have been attacked by his own brother – although Melvin can never be sure since he was not sober. The unbearable pain of his situation pushed Melvin to become transgender. This is the only thing related to this character that the movie does well. women talking make it clear that Melvin is not transgender because he was assaulted; rather, the attack made it impossible for Melvin to continue closing, forcing him to make his transition public.

Winter August at the movie premiere in Los Angeles women talking on November 17, 2022 in Beverly Hills, California.

Mark Von Holden / Diversity via Getty Images

Interestingly, Melvin spends most of his time with the children of the village. His trauma has made him alienated from adults, vowing to keep quiet from everyone but children. It makes sense that he chose not to speak to anyone else: When the women talked about Melvin, they refused to confirm his identity, repeatedly named him and deliberately misused the pronouns. from talking about or even with him. The children in the village don’t have the same problem, they happily embrace Melvin for who he is.

But the scenario seems to define Melvin’s existence purely by his trauma. When women talking certain of the trauma and how it unfolds, the women in the film are rich characters, diverse in thoughts and opinions; They’re more than what they’ve been through. But Melvin is not given such courtesy, and the film makes no real effort to understand who he is.

So why is there Melvin in the movie? He is a character in Novels by Miriam Toews, as the basis for the movie, but the great thing about the adaptation is the ability to tell the story your own way. The movie actually makes other significant changes to Toews’ great novel. The book mostly takes place in the barn where the women argue, but Polley’s film has a broader feel, giving us a fuller sense of the community these women live in.

The most important change the film makes is to shift the narrative perspective from August (because he is the transcriber and the only one who can read or write) to Autje (Kate Hallett), one of the young women most in discussions. It’s a bold move—Toews using August to narrate women’s experiences is a powerful comment on the patriarchal society for which they are responsible—but it’s an effective one, as Autje provides provides insight that August simply cannot and does not have.

The inclusion of Melvin in this version of the story was like an afterthought, stemming from a desire to stay true to the original text without considering what the character had to offer. It feels like an attempt to be diverse at worst, playing a transgender character for the sole purpose of being able to tell your movie has a transgender character. But women talking addressed women of different ages in ways that most Hollywood movies don’t dream of. It doesn’t have to keep a flat Melvin for the sake of inclusion.

Emily Mitchell as Miep, Claire Foy as Salome and Rooney Mara as Ona in Sarah Polley’s film women talking.

Michael Gibson

While there are plenty of opportunities to uncover Melvin’s existence and bring him to life, the film only authenticates him when he does what other women ask of him. ta. This is despite their inability to accept him for who he really is. It is only at the end of the film, when Melvin shows up in the warehouse to announce that he has done what they asked, that they decide to recognize his existence as their equal. Agata (Judith Ivey), complete with a warm, understanding smile, says “Thank you, Melvin,” acknowledging the name he has chosen for the first time. Melvin, visibly emotional, replied, “Thank you for calling my name.” It should have been a proud, powerful moment, but despite Winter’s emotional performance, it didn’t resonate. The women felt proud of themselves for growing, but all Melvin achieved was a brief, fleeting, belated moment of validation.

On the surface, Melvin is one of the most attractive characters in the movie. He has chosen to live his life openly as a transgender man in a patriarchal society that despises women. But trauma kept him quiet for much of the story, robbing him of the opportunity to learn more from that perspective. It’s heartbreaking to see so much potential to exhaustively explore the transgender identity — nothing more and less in a multi-award winning player — left on the sidelines.

I still love so much what women talking provided. I fully believe that Sarah Polley is one of the most talented and impressive directors living today. All of her movies—Leave her, sing this Waltz, The stories we tell—very large. women talking In many ways, this is her most successful film to date. But by bringing in a transgender character like Melvin and providing no insight or nuance to the character, while only validating his existence in a rushed, half-hearted climax, the found it most unsatisfying and at worst sinister.

This is an important year for telling strange stories of all kinds on the big and small screens. women talking reminds us that cinema still has a long way to go when it comes to providing honest and thoughtful depictions of transgender life.

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