Apr 14 2017

The Handmaid’s Tale Review: A Chilling Dystopia Cloaked in Red

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Season 1, Episodes 1-3
Available on Hulu, Wednesday, April 26, 2017

“I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen … Now I am awake.” – Offred

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is both a visually stunning and well-crafted story set in a truly terrifying world brought to life through immaculately beautiful details.

Hulu has produced some notable original series, but the complex storytelling of The Handmaid’s Tale is among its absolute best. It solidifies Hulu’s position as a contender with heavyweights Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and AMC for producing must-watch TV.

Elisabeth Moss as Offred

The Handmaid’s Tale is an adaptation of author Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel of the same name. In her re-imagined world, plunging birthrates and cultural complacency lead to a religious sect overthrowing the American government, establishing a new reality where women are properties of the state. In The Republic of Gilead (formerly the United States), women are no longer allowed to have jobs or own property. Strictly controlled are handmaids, women marked as fertile who are assigned to wealthy men for the sole purpose of breeding. Handmaids are not allowed to read nor do they have the right to their own names. Instead, they adopt the names of the men they belong to, such as Fred, and precede them with Of. Their other names are strictly forbidden and secretly exchanged in acts of rebellion.

Viewers are instantly plunged into this submissive world as The Handmaid’s Tale sets up the tension from the very first scene, where Offred (Elisabeth Moss) is introduced, highlighting her desperate attempt to escape authorities with her husband and child.

The show follows Offred along her journey, expertly juxtaposing her present day persona as a seemingly docile handmaid with her past as a fiercely independent, educated woman who transitions into this new existence. Her battle between survival and defiance is followed throughout the show and is marked through many intimate moments spent with her.

Moss in regulated red handmaid garb

Mad Men alum and Golden Globe winner Moss is stunning as protagonist Offred. She is both relatable and empathetic. It’s a challenge to deliver a compelling performance even with an abundance of dialogue, but Moss’ ability to emote with minimal dialogue and deliver powerful scenes with few movements, pauses, and glances is significant. Coupled with brilliant writing that offers just the right amount of sarcastic inner monologues, Moss masterfully showcases Offred’s ongoing contempt for her present situation.

Offred’s counterpart is her state-assigned partner, Offglen (Alexis Bledel), whose story is nothing short of heartbreaking. Through her character, the raw brutality of this new regime is laid bare. Both Bledel and the audience are left traumatized and haunted by the events unfolding around her.

Handmaids

The storytelling in The Handmaid’s Tale is highlighted by the expert cinematography and mesmerizing musical score. Music plays such an integral role, bringing insight to characters ranging from exaltation to terror. The score paces the show, sets the atmosphere, and develops layers of the story that allow The Handmaid’s Tale to leave a lasting imprint. The blood-red dresses and cloaks of the handmaids, juxtaposed with their starched white bonnets set against a backdrop of ever-present military force with threat of violence at any moment fill each scene with outstanding visual imagery. Color and shadows paint moods and emotions for each character and their experiences throughout the show.

I made it a point to read “The Handmaid’s Tale” earlier this year and it is one of those stories that slips beneath your skin and stays lodged there. For me, reading this story was both chilling and full of heartbreak, but at its center is the story of resistance. Not as overt as guns and warfare, but it is present in all of the characters’ small actions. Together, they lead to a revolution. It is this perseverance, ever-present under a thin layer of subservience, that The Handmaid’s Tale delivers beautifully onscreen. The adaptation has even more of this effect, which will impact both those who have and haven’t read Atwood’s novel.

The best way to describe the relationship between the novel and Hulu’s production is through the author’s own words. In a recent Reddit AMA, she remarked she was thrilled by the quality of the series. “My criteria: puddle of goo on the floor [by the] end of Episode 3. Gasp. Shriek. It goes farther than I did in the book…”

Offred (Moss) and her Commander (Joseph Fiennes)

One of the fiercest attributes of the show is that it develops narratives, characters, and supplementing storylines that were only hinted at in Atwood’s original novel. As an avid book reader (and often disappointed watcher of how they are portrayed onscreen), this is one of its most spectacular successes.

Although Hulu claims they are not making a political statement with The Handmaid’s Tale, it is exactly that, especially given the subject matter of women’s rights and the role of government. For those who have been struggling with the recent decisions and movements of our current government administration, this narrative offers an important rallying point.

What marks The Handmaid’s Tale as a critical piece of storytelling is its visibility in today’s socio-political climate. The viewpoints and discourse shared as a result of “The Handmaid’s Tale” have sparked discussions since its publishing in the 1980s, and bringing this skillful adaptation to the screen transforms its ability to reach and impact an even wider audience. It is this discourse that elevates The Handmaid’s Tale above simple entertainment to a cultural movement.

You’ll want to clear your schedule.

The Handmaid’s Tale debuts on Hulu April 26.

 

For more info and updates on the show, visit https://www.hulu.com/the-handmaids-tale.
Like The Handmaid’s Tale on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/handmaidsonhulu/.
Follow The Handmaid’s Tale on Twitter @HandmaidsOnHulu.

Photos © 2017 Hulu. All Rights Reserved.

 

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© 2017, Erin Richards-Kunkel. All rights reserved.

Erin Richards-Kunkel

The one with the overly-active imagination! Erin is a fan of all things storytelling in every form (movies, books, shows, podcasts, you name it). She is known for always carrying a book in her bag as well as paper and pen (just in case). She is also currently working on her debut YA novel. Find her on Twitter @ErinSRichards!

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