A relevant take on a dark, discriminating dystopia

The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel written by Margaret Atwood in 1985, warns about the dire consequences of belittling women’s rights by introducing the dystopian world of Gilead. In Gilead, theocracy has overthrown the United States government, and women are forbidden from owning property, having money, or even reading.
Hulu recently brought the novel to the screen in a modernized, relevant 10-episode TV adaptation. The first three episodes premiered on April 26, and Hulu has since released a new one each week.
Women in Gilead are divided into strict social groups depending on their class and ability to have children after a plague has rendered most of the female population infertile. The show follows main character and narrator Offred, whose sole purpose as a handmaid is to bear the children of upper class men, the Commanders.
The director skillfully crafts the costumes and set. Handmaids wear white hats and blood-red cloaks that swish through the streets of a muted suburbia, and the black costumes of the government officials fit in seamlessly with the gray buildings. The choice to set the show on streets and houses is clever, as it accentuates the idea that Gilead represents the United States in the near future and mirrors an ordinary suburban neighborhood.
The television writers made a smart choice in staying true to the book and framing the show with Offred’s narration. Offred’s thoughts give the audience a window into her defiant, ambitious, and darkly humorous personality, and her yearnings for freedom create a powerful contrast to the government-monitored lines spoken among all the other characters. This aspect of the show highlights the lack of free speech since Offred’s frustration with the government cannot be voiced out loud.
The narration was a refreshing change from all the robotic dialogue and the part I looked forward to most when watching an episode. By featuring her voice, the show invites you to wonder what all the other characters might be like outside of the roles the government puts upon them, and it emphasizes the importance of individuality in a society.
The show has an eerie nature reminiscent of a horror movie, rendering it slightly unsettling to watch. Every second feels as if you’re anticipating a jump-scare. However, the disquietedness does create a more involved viewing experience. I felt as if I had been dropped into Offred’s world and could imagine the unease of walking those streets.
The Handmaid’s Tale certainly does not shy away from showing us how twisted Gilead truly is, which, while unnerving, lends emphasis to how dangerous it would be to disregard women’s rights.
The story has been tailored and updated for 2017, especially with Offred’s flashbacks to life before Gilead. While the book only mentions details of the life Offred lived before, the show writers clearly evoke our world today, creating parallels with subtle passing references to Uber and Tinder and, more blatantly, with scenes of citizens fleeing to Canada and women protesting on the streets.
These brief scenes of the world before Gilead are perhaps the most jarring—even more so than those depicting Offred’s oppressed day-to-day life. While Gilead is a deeply disturbing dystopia distanced from our own, the show suggests that if people continue to accept current social and political trends, we are scarily close to becoming that society.
The Handmaid’s Tale is definitely not for binge watching: it’s dark, heavy, and best viewed with breaks in between episodes. I did not completely enjoy watching the show—it’s too unsettling—but I think that’s precisely its point. Watch this show to appreciate all its subtle activism and eerie parallels to our world today. But if you are looking to unwind on a Friday night, The Handmaid’s Tale is probably not the right pick!

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