The Handmaid’s Tale–In Service of Democracy?

 

Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale, based upon the psychological award-winning 1985 sci-fi thriller by Canadian author Margaret Atwood,  is the Hulu adaptation of the dystopian Republic of Gilead, a fascist autocracy resulting from a religious coup, a war focused mainly on women.

Within the borders of what was formerly the United States of America, residents in The Handmaid’s Tale are segregated along strict racial, sexual, and class lines with each social group is confined to a regimented behavioral code. Code infractions are punishable by torture or death. No one in Gilead has any autonomy, even at the top of the hierarchy, although the elite are given more benefits.

Environmental contamination has resulted in widespread infertility in this near-future world. We see the torment and hell for women and their families, when not allowed to speak truth to power. The ongoing  subjugation of women creates an underground resistance movement that is slowly gaining momentum. Only a few young fertile women,—called Handmaids [of the Lord], referring to a Biblical reference —assigned to the homes of the ruling elite, play the crucial role of replenishing the population. These “handmaids” are “fertility slaves”, submitted to ritualized rape from their male masters while the masters’ wives bear witness. The wives of the elite are concomitantly enraged and subliminally frightened by the situation they’re in.   

Offred”, (the brilliant Elisabeth Moss) is the handmaid assigned to a Gileadean Commander, Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and his wife. She had been happily married with a daughter, husband, and dreams for her and her family. Now, post-coup, Offred is bound to the Commander and his wife.

As in the majority of abusive relationships, we see Offred’s isolation and imprisonment as she suffers constant surveillance, unable to trust any one, without friends but determined to survive. Offred lives a nightmare but she realizes that she can pull levers of power and manipulate those in control in order to escape. She is not powerless.

This Hulu original series has adapted a 32-year old novel at a time when The Handmaid’s Tale unexpectedly resonates in Trump’s America. Gilead is an imaginary society of the worst kind, an allegory for the anxieties about the world we live in now, told with heat and intensity. The Handmaid’s Tale dramatizes a way of seeing directly into darkness and madness, heartlessness and dehumanization. But The Handmaid’s Tale also emphasizes irony and tenacity while concluding that cynicism and despair are dead ends. But in the midst of this forlorn and seemingly hopeless world, the Handmaid remains optimistic and determined. At the heart of the story is a woman who has had everything taken away from her: her family, daughter, friends, rights, freedom — everything. And she will not give up. Nevertheless, she persisted….a message even more compelling today.

 

Note:  This is  available currently only on Hulu and the first three episodes have been broadcast already.

“Top of the Lake”–A Top Notch Thriller

While some cable and television distributors fund their own productions (note the excellence of  “House of Cards”, the final season of “Damages”, and the forthcoming “Arrested Development”), Sundance is in the enviable position of previewing thousands of entries for their annual Sundance Festival. “Top of the Lake“is an exciting option from the Sundance Channel, created by Gerard Lee and Jane Campion (who produced and directed the Academy Award winner “The Piano”).

The first episode opens with the disappearance of a 12-year old pregnant girl, Tui, in a remote backwater town in southern New Zealand named Laketop.  The hamlet of Laketop is as much a character in the series as are the main actors.  Laketop seethes with brutal violence, fear and bigoted townspeople, with a history of brutal rapes and missing young girls.  And the plot takes the viewer down slowly as it sinks into this corner of the world which has no place for outsiders, even residents who have moved away and returned.

Robin Griffin (Elisabeth Moss of  Peggy Olsen fame in “Mad Men”) is  one such former resident.  A furloughed investigator, home to visit her dying mother, Robin  does not want to be in Laketop.   No one else, including her mother, wants her there either.

The incestuous pathology of the townspeople and their dangerous secrets are slowly revealed through seven episodes. Magnificent scenery obscures a cesspool of corruption and brutality. Tui is always the undercurrent that keeps you on the edge of your seat, shocked by her heartbreaking situation.  Brilliant acting with raw emotional nakedness at every turn results in some explosive surprises throughout.

“Top of the Lake” is a remarkable thriller, in some ways similar to the excellent “The Killing”, set in the northwest.  While there is an original storyline in the pre-teen who is at the center of the investigation, “Top of the Lake” has two stories which do not always integrate as well as they could have.  The Paradise commune–a recovery group of middle-aged women with their hippie guru GJ (Holly Hunter)–offers comic relief and some insightful observations that could not have been presented easily in another way.  However, GJ seems wasted in the last episodes and could have been a catalyst for the solving of the crime.  Consequently, there isn’t the dramatic liftoff the narrative should give us.

Nonetheless, I really recommend this as a binge-viewing weekend excursion (available through Netflix).  Enter a dark, sinister world full of menace and deception. The bravery of the women is inspirational and the dramatic energy of a Campion production is a wonder to behold.