Handmaid's Tale  (1990)
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The Handmaid's Tale (1990)

1985 a novel release that had an immediate and significant impact on the popular culture, Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaidens Tale.' It had been over 20 years since feminism had taken hold sparked by demonstrations of bra burning that led to national legislation to help achieve gains in legally enforced equality for women. The story was a cautionary tale about a dystopian future where the majority of women have been rendered infertile. Women that are still capable of childbearing co-opted as the property of the state relegated to the category of Handmaidens. Their sole purpose in society is to bear children for the barren wives. This ituation became possible when a group of an aggressive faction of ultra-conservative evangelical Christians was overthrown the Federal government by force. This resulted in the complete replacement of the federal system of government with a militarized theocracy referred to as the Republic of Gilead. The book was a major success in anticipation for a film interpretation was intense. Unfortunately, when the film was released, it fell far short of expectations. A significant portion of the reason for this failure was a result of the narrative voice of the story. The book resembled the main character’s personal diary, related to the audience as a first-person internal monologue. This permits only events personally seen by the protagonist an opportunity to be realistically included in the adaptation. It also precludes the use of any deeply personal motives that drive the action of secondary characters. Telling the story is severely restricted to only events and personal reactions directly experienced by the narrator.

A young woman named Kate (Natasha Richardson) adjusts offered a monumental loss with the death of a husband and daughter. As horrific as this might be the recent changes in vascular government has made the circumstances catastrophic. A fundamentalist Christian organization, the ‘Sons of Jacob,' were responsible for a precisely executed overthrow the government. The president and most of Congress were dead, and the Constitution revoked entirely. In Its place under draconian theocracy was established primarily based on some of the divine laws set in the Hebrew Scriptures. Society was re-organized it on a gender and caste based hierarchy creating an oligarchy indisputably by the men in the upper echelon of the religious organization. For years fertility has been declining until now is that a dangerously low point in a substantial number of women ought to be unable to bear children. In accordance to the new social strata were designated as handmaidens, assigned to high-ranking men with infertile wives. Under this new social system, women are stripped of almost all rights and privileges retained by the upperclassmen. Kate was assigned to the Commander (Robert Duval), who is believed to be one of the architects of the new world order. His wife, Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway) was a former televangelist before the Reformation. Kate has a name change to Ofred, a process of contraction for’ Of Fred,' believed to be the first name of the Commander. Before actually moving into the Commander’s household, subjecting Ofred to a program of instruction designed to dismantle any thoughts of independence and reinforce a new role as a servant and copy binder of a new master. Orfred nee Kate had lost her husband to the border guards as they try to immigrate to Canada. With 99% of the women rendered infertile the fact that Kate had a daughter condemned to a life of forced pregnancies and servitude.

The Biblical justification for this unusual means of reproduction derived from the account of Abraham and Sara. When Sara was unable to conceive, her handmaiden Rachel was charged with providing Abraham with an heir. The Sons of Jacob would rather selective in the adaptation of biblical principles resulting in a harsh, gender biased dictatorship. The portion of the film set in the training camp is fairly standard reminiscent of Cold War movies wanting the American public about the totalitarian dangers of Soviet Union’s reeducation camps. Ofred had been a dissident before these objectives of the system, as evident by her husband and son willingness to relocate to Canada. The metaphors used in subtext included in the story had a decidedly different meaning over 30 years ago but still; the light of the current sociopolitical environment that we live in is an eerie sense that the plausibility of the situation is potentially greater now than it was back then. It is understood that childbirth used in the context of the story, is a metaphor for choice. In this society, a woman’s choice of whether to become pregnant or not was removed completely. If she were capable of childbearing and children, she would bear regardless of our choice. When this juxtaposed against the current political climate, the right to life in pro-choice remains exceptionally controversial in both religious and political venues. Become a significant driving force determining reports of elections in government policy on all levels of the government from federal down to municipal.

One thing that is evidence even in such a strictly regulated society is that human nature is tough, if not impossible, to legislate. Despite being one of the founders of the new male-dominated culture, The Commander may have been one of the founding fathers of this new nation, but he is not about placing his ego and satisfaction of all the requirements of the law. There is a grandiose, self-aggrandizing feel the hell he treats his wife’s hand maiden, in some respects he treats her as an equal allowing her to play Scrabble with him and treat him less like her absolute master and more on a level rate he could openly brag about his accomplishments. Several aspects of the book are presented in a fashion holiday reminiscent of a soap opera. Ofred becomes romantically entangled with one of the workers on the property; chauffeur Nick (Aidan Quinn). Even with such a talented actress as Ms. Richardson was not properly utilized in this film. She portrays her character is devoid of emotion which presumably attributed to wanting to relate to the audience that Kate was in a state of shock after the loss of a husband and son strictly followed by a complete loss of human rights her individuality as a person and a woman.

The alpha male mindset reaches critical when determined that many of the cases of sterility are actually due to the man. As such, even with Handmaidens, no air can be secured. One option that is completely forbidden is to have the wife impregnated by another man; an action considered fornication that carries the death sentence administered by hanging. The dictates of their society require the child be a natural heir of the husband. When taken to such an extreme the wife may be positioned on top of the Handmaiden during intercourse so that symbolically is she was getting pregnant, not the surrogate. Such a position was found in the Bible but was in the context of birth, not conception. Mr. Duval does make every attempt to imbue her sense of realism to his character of the Commander allowing the audience to experience a twinge of sympathy for this character. It is considered fairly well known that some significant changes made during the stories migration from printed page to celluloid film but far too many years have passed since I read the book for me to attempt to be more specific. I was left with the feeling that the poignancy of the story was lost during the change of format. Diehard fans of the story will be glad to learn the online streaming video service, Hulu, is about to release his miniseries they produced that from what I’ve heard thus far retains the actual spirit of the novel complete with a sense of desperation and hopelessness that strongly resonates in our current society.

Posted 04/22/2017

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