How an Apology Creates a Turning Point in ‘Women Talking’

The screenwriter and director Sarah Polley narrates a sequence from her film, which is nominated for best picture and adapted screenplay.

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By Mekado Murphy

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In this scene from the drama “Women Talking,” the words “I’m sorry” take on tremendous weight.

The film, which is Oscar-nominated in the best picture and adapted screenplay categories, follows a group of women in an isolated religious community who have been the constant victims of sexual assault by men in their compound. The women are faced with a pivotal decision: do nothing, stay and fight the abusers or leave the community altogether.

In this sequence, Mariche (Jessie Buckley) is arguing to stay and fight, but that leads to conflict with Ona (Rooney Mara).

The tense exchange leads to an apology, first from Ona, then from Greta (Sheila McCarthy), Mariche’s mother, who expresses regret for not protecting Mariche from abuse and instead encouraging her to forgive her abuser.

Discussing the scene in an interview, the screenwriter and director Sarah Polley said, “This apology and the receiving of it is, in fact, the climax of the film, and it’s what allows the group to move together into a different future.”

Polley said that when shooting the scene, she spoke with a crew member who had a parallel experience to Mariche’s, growing up in a religious community and suffering abuse and feeling his parents weren’t protective of him in the way they should have been. She noticed that the crew member wasn’t responding to the apology as scripted.

The two sat down and she asked him what Greta would need to say for the moment to have meaning.

“We realized that what we hadn’t scripted was her saying the words, ‘I’m sorry,’” Polley said. She worked with the crew member and actors to build the most meaningful approach to this moment. “So it turned into a very collective expression of something,” she said.

Read the “Women Talking” review.

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