“The Handmaid’s Tale”: Horror Still Relevant

Margaret Atwood is often credited with the quote “Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” But killing, in The Handmaid’s Tale, is indirect. Unlike in any number of other gender dystopias, most men don’t oppress women because they hate or fear them, but because they can’t empathize enough to love them when it becomes inconvenient. Adi Robertson, The Verge

Starting next Wednesday, April 26th, Hulu will offer the hotly anticipated and still relevant The Handmaid’s Tale, a 10-episode TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood‘s 1986 dystopian novel, which was also made into a movie released in 1990.

I. The Book The Handmaid’s Tale

In her review Mary McCarthy, New York Times, noted the following imaginary setting:

A standoff will have been achieved vis-a-vis the Russians, and our own country will be ruled by right-wingers and religious fundamentalists, with males restored to the traditional role of warriors and us females to our ‘place’ – which, however, will have undergone subdivision into separate sectors, of wives, breeders, servants and so forth, each clothed in the appropriate uniform.

II. The Movie The Handmaid’s Tale

While the themes were appreciated, critical reviews of the film were not so great. A small sampling:

Janet Maslin, New York Times: “…’The Handmaid’s Tale’ is a shrewd if preposterous cautionary tale that strikes a wide range of resonant chords.”

Rita Kempley, Washington Post: “…a yarn of ’80s paranoia…that by all rights ought to frighten women right out of their Hanes ultra-sheers. Alas, [director] Schlondorff’s approach is so dispassionate it fails to prick our secret terrors, much less put runs in our stockings. In a way, he has succeeded too well. Under his austere eye, this portrait of a barren, loveless tomorrow becomes icy as a corpse.”

III. The TV Series The Handmaid’s Tale

Watch the trailer below:

Featuring a highly praised performance by Elisabeth Moss, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale has garnered super-strong reviews. Just a few:

Jen Chaney, Vulture:

A faithful adaptation of the book that also brings new layers to Atwood’s totalitarian, sexist world of forced surrogate motherhood, this series is meticulously paced, brutal, visually stunning, and so suspenseful from moment to moment that only at the end of each hour will you feel fully at liberty to exhale. Assuming the rest of the episodes are as strong as the first three provided for review, The Handmaid’s Tale will stand as not only the best one-hour drama Hulu has produced, but one of the best dramas of the year, period.

Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire:

This is a horror story, except the horror isn’t rooted in fantasy or gore. The human spirit is the victim here — and the word human is used deliberately there, because when we delineate genders, the resulting opportunity to ‘other’ that which is not in power is what creates the monster.

Because here is something important to understand: So many women are always a little bit scared. It’s not always the first thing on our minds, this fear, but thanks to society, especially right now, we can’t escape it. It’s not just walking alone in the dark with our keys laced through our fingers, preparing for attacks. It’s reading the news every day, crying for women who can’t get the health care they need, or discovering that their sexual harassment claims have no impact on the conglomerate which seeks to protect their on-camera talent, or any of the hundred other ways society tries to put us ‘in our place.’

Dan Fienberg, Hollywood Reporter: “Regretfully, the 30-plus-year-old work has become a story for the very time and place we’re living in; this is probably the spring’s best new show and certainly its most important.”

As Atwood herself recently told Time, her fictional view sadly strays little from reality: “The control of women and babies has been a part of every repressive regime in history.”

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