Tag Archives: sexual assault

Women Talking’

7 Jan

Impressive cast elevates hideous crime into a debate about freedom

 Tom Meek, Friday, January 6, 2023

Sarah Polley’s ambitious adaptation of Miriam Toews’ novel of the same title is a poignant contemplation about women, their systemic subjugation and ultimately the union of sisterhood that enables them to stand and fight male oppression, which in this case packs a heinous, criminal twist. Toews’ “Women Talking” was inspired by real events in a remote Mennonite colony in Bolivia where several women and underage girls were given animal tranquilizers, raped repeatedly while unconscious and told that their bruises and subsequent pregnancies were the work of ghosts and devils. It’s a dark tale that, in the wake of Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo, feels necessary and on point.

In construct, the film feels a bit like a stage play; much of the action takes place in the loft of a barn where three matriarchs (played by Sheila McCarthy, Judith Ivey and the great Frances McDormand) and their female kin debate what to do in response to the spate of sexual atrocities. There’s almost no men onscreen, though their presence remains ever present through the lingering effects of their misdeeds. The one XY allowed up in the loft is a sheepish lad by the name of August (Ben Whishaw), tasked with taking notes of what the women say and to help record the events that led to this moment. Why he’s invited is an interesting twist – part of the sequestered community’s oppressive tradition is that only boys learn to read and write. The revelation’s not as vile or personal as sexual assault, but illuminates a community where a segment can be used and abused with seeming impunity. The scene of a teenage girl waking up in the aftermath of one such unlawful trespass is heartbreaking. When the women catch onto the methodic violations (they’re called “attacks”) and capture a perpetrator in the act, he gives up his fellow assailants and several are imprisoned, with the rest in town rallying around and trying to post bail.

The film has a veneer of surreality that works to its benefit. Polley never tells us explicitly we’re embedded in a Mennonite community, and for a while you feel you could be on an Amish farm in rural Pennsylvania, or even the Calvinist outpost in Robert Eggers’ “The Witch” (2015), but then a pickup truck blasting “Daydream Believer” rolls down a dusty road and there’s a reality-check moment that feels right out of M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Village” (2004) – it comes early, so don’t have at me for a spoiler.

Over its run, “Women Talking” becomes a bit too cyclical and verbose. The main debate becomes if the women should leave while the men are away, stay and fight or forgive and move on. It’s provocative and engaging at first, but begins to ebb into something existential that blunts the severity of the situation. Still, Polley has an ace cast who are all-in on concept and mission, especially Jessie Buckley, who last year starred in another thought piece about the harmful, entitled misdeeds of the opposite sex in Alex Garland’s “Men.” Here she plays one of the matriarch’s daughters dispensed into a marriage with a known abusive husband – and encouraged by the mother to stay. Mara Rooney (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Social Network”) is one of the young women violated and impregnated in her sleep.

One of the big quandaries that arises in the ongoing debate is what to do about the boys? There’s some consensus that 15 is the right cutoff between offender and innocent who need their mother. There’s also a school of thought that the boys, and even the men, are victims of tradition, lore and a religion that enables it all. Going beyond #MeToo, “Women Talking” brings to the fore religious regimes not unlike the conservative theocracy in Iran, which recently has come under criticism from brave naysayers within. Polley’s film isn’t a clean shot, but it hits a nerve that needs hitting again and again. 

Bombshell

19 Dec

‘Bombshell’: Trio has news for Fox and Ailes, coming in form that seems fair and balanced

Bombshell': Everything We Know About the Fox News–Inspired Movie | Glamour

The high-wire act that “Bombshell” performs is its ability to humanize Ailes without letting him off the hook (vs., let’s say, “Vice,” which hung Dick Cheney up as a nefarious puppet master from start to end). Lithgow should be given a medal for wallowing in such muck. He shares a scene with Robbie’s Kayla (a composite character) that should make anyone with a shred of humanity very uncomfortable, if not outraged, as she pushes for and gets a one-on-one meeting with Ailes (through his secret backdoor entrance to his office suite) in which she’s asked to stand and show him her form (“news is a visual medium”), hiking her skirt higher and higher. In the end you feel that there’s so much more tawdriness, let alone criminality, that doesn’t get splashed across the screen. Much of what Kelly does in the film is strategize with Ailes on Trump, and once Ailes is under investigation by the Murdochs (Malcolm McDowell as Rupert) wrestles with how to roll with the swirling storm against the man who made her. Carlson is more of a clear-cut matter, the fired newscaster portrayed by Kidman not self-righteously or as an outright victim, but as conflicted and seeking respect in the wake of long-endured indignities. It’s a nuanced performance that many will overlook, whereas Theron’s Kelly, makes tart asides to the audience (think “The Big Short,” which is no coincidence; see below) that gives us the inside scoop on how things operate at Fox, but not on what’s in her head. Theron’s emulation of Kelly, her voice and mannerisms, is off-the-charts uncanny

Much will likely be made about what’s not on the screen in “Bombshell” though the script by Charles Randolph, who penned “The Big Short” (2015), gets to delve into the lurid now that Ailes has conveniently departed us. Like “The Irishman” and “Richard Jewell,” for that matter, “Bombshell” makes for a compelling fact-based narrative, but is it a bona fide testimonial or a skewed version of the truth? In terms of balance, Kelly isn’t let off the hook for silence in the face of accusations against her mentor, or poor judgment in calling out the notion of a “black Santa” on air and sticking with it. It makes her human, flawed and endearing. These are not heroic actions. Carlson’s the real hero, putting it on the line and against all odds. 

The film is directed by Jay Roach, who’s known mostly for his light “Meet the Fockers” romps. It’s a bold step out for Roach, much like Todd Phillips of “The Hangover” films did this year with “Joker.” Sometimes stories of such sordid and heinous happenings require a droll, dark comedic hand to pack it all into a digestible pill.

Of Boys, Beer and Young Women

26 Jul

I was mostly irate at the school for its purported mishandling of the sexual assault case (the article, with its point being that colleges are ill-prepared to handle such complaints, took the administration to task for a poor investigation, dismissing the complaint and accordingly, discouraging the victim from filing criminal charges), an ire that was further inflamed by President Mark D. Gearan’s perfunct and seemingly insensitive letter to alumni and parents, that coldly stated that the school had followed procedure and does not condone sexual assault. Upon receiving that email and a Boston area alumni “Happy Hour” notice within the same hour, I swore I’d never give another dime to the school (not that I gave a lot, but I contributed a small tithe annually). My long held pride in having attended the school had given way to shame.   Continue reading