In this section of our Colossus Movie Guide for Women Talking, we will explain the film’s ending.
- Rooney Mara – Ona
- Claire Foy – Salome
- Jessie Buckley – Mariche
- Judith Ivey – Agata
- Ben Whishaw – August
- Frances McDormand – “Scarface” Janz
- Sheila McCarthy – Greta
- Sarah Polley – Writer and director
The end of Women Talking explained
After a long, arduous discussion, the women decide to leave their Mennonite colony before the men arrive home. They agree on three reasons for their departure: to ensure the safety of their children, to be unwavering in their faith, and to have the freedom to think freely.
August transcribes these principles as the women rush off to gather their belongings and inform the rest of the women of the colony. Before they leave, Ona asks August to keep their “pros and cons” documents on the walls of the barn for the men to see. As Ona walks away, August yells that he loves her.
As part of their discourse, the women agree to take any child under the age of 15, but not force any child over the age of 12. Salome, however, cannot convince her son Aaron to leave. So she breaks the rules by tranquilizing her own son and forcing him to come along.
August tries to give Salome the meeting minutes, but she tells him to keep the notes as artifacts of the women’s grueling conversation. August then tries to give her a gun, revealing he had planned to use it on himself—which prompts Salome to encourage August to never give up hope. She makes him promise that he will teach the boys of the colony to be good men.
As all the women line up to exit the colony, Scarface’s daughter and granddaughter rush over the join the group, defying Scarface’s wish to remain in the colony and do nothing about the situation. The women then take off to build their own civilization.
The ending of Women Talking is rather straightforward, but it’s important to note several thematic threads that are tied.
First of all, we must address Ona and August’s relationship. August says that he loves Ona, that he would be willing to take care of her and her unborn child. The baby will belong to the man who raped Ona, which creates an interesting parallel. August, a good man, would be a great father to this child. And Ona would be happy to have him. But August can help more than just Ona’s child: as a schoolteacher, he can teach goodness and kindness to all the boys of the colony.
This ties into the generational themes of the film. August and Ona’s love is strong, and they would be nurturing parents to their child—but they must each make a sacrifice for the advancement of humanity. If August leaves and his students grow up without a proper fatherly model, then they could turn into the kinds of monsters that forced themselves upon women like Ona. August must trust Ona to raise the child herself, and Ona must trust August to instill valuable, progressive morals in the boys of his class.
This dynamic plays into the conversation between Salome and August as well. August—who is so distraught by the actions of the colony’s men, who is so depressed that this entire situation has caused Ona to leave—wishes to take his own life. But Salome encourages August to remain alive, to be hopeful that he can make a difference in these boys’ lives. It may be tough, but you have to do what’s right—which is exactly why Salome sprays the very tranquilizer that was used on her on her own child.
Once again: sacrifice. August wants to be with Ona. But by giving up his love, he will be able to empower these boys to grow up in his image and find their own true loves. And Salome understands the cruel irony of using the tranquilizer on her own son. But the pain of the moment will be eclipsed by Aaron’s ability to grow up in a honest, nurturing environment.
Then there’s the meeting minutes August transcribed. August tried to give the notes to Salome, to which she responds, “No—those minutes are for you.” In a way, Salome is speaking to the men of the audience. While the women of the film certainly have their disagreements about how to handle the situation, they all inherently understand the situation in ways a man never could. Which makes their discourse so necessary: it’s on display for the men of the world—August, the men of the colony, the men watching the movie—to hear and contemplate. It’s a call for empathy—for the more privileged gender to listen, to understand, to never question.
The final component of understanding the end of Women Talking involves Scarface’s daughter and granddaughter, who defy Scarface’s wishes and join the women fleeing the colony. This ties in the themes of faith and forgiveness. Scarface and her family, who have voted to remain in the colony and do nothing, initially leave the meeting because they believe the inability to forgive the colony’s men would result in their banishment from heaven. Their faith is truly steadfast in the sense that there’s no room for nuance: you must always forgive others, no matter how heinous the sin.
But the movie begs the question: is that truly the case? The conversation in the barn reveals several different layers as a response. Salome wishes to never forgive and instead inflict violent; Ona believes that with time and separation and contemplation, she can feel empathy for the men and learn to forgive them; while others that remaining behind and agreeing to forgive could set a dangerous precedent for the future.
To tie this all back to the themes of faith and forgiveness, the group wonders: how could an omnipotent God allow for such terrible things to happen? This very question arises the complexity of God’s ways, and how difficult it is to accept a set of religious principles that guide your life. The men of the colony certainly weren’t Christlike—so why should the women take the high road? Isn’t it fair to fight fire with fire? Shouldn’t these men forever live without the women’s forgiveness? Is it truly moral to forgive even when you don’t mean it?
The truth is: there’s no concrete answer to any of these questions. These are dilemmas that will forever plague humanity as we try to live our lives to the highest possible standard.
But with their departure, Scarface’s daughter and granddaughter make one thing clear: they aren’t willing to accept “what is.” Just because Scarface claims forgiveness is the only way into heaven doesn’t mean that is so. People are free to consider every possible viewpoint, to use their own intuition and consider their own emotions in finding the proper path. So in the end, they decide to move forward with society, to refuse to remain stagnant like Scarface. Time can’t move forward if you’re constantly holding it back.
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