It’s rare to have a film this mainstream tackle issues at the rate this one does. Though, I think it true that mainstream cinema is turning a corner in having these discussions, as we’ve seen “Everything Everywhere All at Once” sweep the Oscars while asking questions of a similar nature. This film, however, does not ask us to imagine how small we are in the infinite cosmos of some unknowable infinity, but how we place ourselves amongst each other within it. Should we forgive those who have done unspeakable acts against us? How should our society be structured? What should we do to make the changes necessary to make society more equitable? Honest answers to these questions are never easy.
In the wake of finding that some of the men in their Mennonite community have been drugging and sexually assaulting the women at night, eleven women gather in the hayloft of a barn to discuss their options after a vote while the other men in the community leave to accumulate funds to post bail for the abusers. The vote ends up being a tie between staying and fighting, and leaving while they have a chance. The women in the barn then talk over their two choices, all while the male school teacher, August (Ben Whishaw), takes the minutes of the meetings. After much deliberation, they decide to take their children and leave the only colony they’ve ever known, with August to keep their minutes and the women’s manifesto.
This is a film that, at times, reads more like a Socratic dialogue than a traditional film. I would imagine this may strike some the wrong way, but I personally enjoy this kind of discourse framed through these fictional — though based on events all too real — lenses. The ensemble cast really puts on a show with a really well-made piece of literature that is this script.
Jesse Buckley, Shiela McCarthy, Claire Foy, and Rooney Mara all put in excellent performances here. Unfortunately for everybody in this film, the acting recognition isn’t exactly there, because there really isn’t a spearhead performance. I’d say that it’s more the fault of everybody almost doing too good of a job for any one performance to be the one that most could point to as the best. I’d also be remiss if not to mention the incredible work being done here by Hildur Guðnadóttir with the score. This and “Tár” may make this one of the best single years for a film composer in a while.
This isn’t exactly the kind of filmic fare that gets butts in seats, but unfortunately, these are still conversations that we need to be having amongst ourselves to create that more equitable society we should all be striving for. There may be a day when we can look back on films like these and scoff at how barbaric we used to be, but until a real tangible change is made, we will have to keep coming back to conversations like these to guide the way. I hope that’s sooner rather than later.