Sirens screaming, a car crashing, a man sending a woman and child running through a forest, fleeing for their lives. Gunshots are sounding and men with guns are coming ever closer and then they turn and leave, she’s lulled into a feeling of false security. Finally after pausing to ensure the men are gone, she leaves her hiding place only to be captured, the child taken from her arms while she is beaten unconsciousness.
The television series adaptation of author Margaret Atwood’s award winning novel The Handmaid’s Tale with its all star cast including Elizabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes and Yvonne Strahovski is coming to SBS On Demand from Thursday July 6, 2017. It has gained critical acclaim internationally, presenting the society it portrays as dystopian; one characterised by human misery and oppression.
What it should do is have many people re-evaluate what they believe is an ideal society, one in which they would like to live and work.
Elizabeth Moss proves her acting abilities are excellent, portraying Offred as a woman ‘sacrificed’ on the altar of a new established order.
Forced into sexual slavery by the all-new extremist Christian based theocratic government, which has recently overthrown the ruling government in the USA, they are taking society back into the dark ages, where a fundamentalist regime is in charge, subjugating women as in the days of the Old Testament in The Bible.
It is different this society, a place where God is not just in the details. He is in reality the Devil incarnate in a place where religion has become a front for tyranny. It’s far removed from Christian New Testament theology and a giving loving role model in Jesus the Christ; the whole concept is more than hard to come to terms with.
Margaret Attwood built her imagined vile ‘Republic of Gilead’ on the foundation of the Puritan roots of modern-day America, the one we thought we all knew before the current President, and his heavy handed associates, brought to reality a toxic environment, that seems to be growing exponentially.
Offred is living in a society riddled with misogyny, one that champions oppression, is causing havoc environmentally, physically, psychologically and politically, while destroying education, stamping out enlightenment and ensuring only hatred will and does reign.
This dark depressing award-winning story written in 1985 has gained new meaning since the result of the recent American elections has meant fear and anxiety is at the forefront of social and political change, while the greed is good mentality of the richest in society thrives.
The new President in charge in America is a man with scant or little regard or respect for the women who surround him, either professionally or personally, and he’s not afraid to show it.
Fear is at the beginning of how democracies first fail and then suddenly as it accelerates, fall. Western civilisation itself is in danger here.
The questions the story throws up come thick and fast watching a television series that is trying its best to provoke the viewer, to both question and act. We need to ask ourselves, are we all too comfortably out of touch to see what is really happening before our eyes?
The colours of the costume the women in The Handmaid’s Tale wear are significant; costume projects beliefs while aesthetically conveying an image for purposes of personal status or to distinguish one person from another.
Totalitarian regimes always use clothing to control people. Think of the yellow patches the Nazi’s used to identify the Jewish people they were exterminating during World War II, while the Romans used purple for purposes of status reflecting both their power and influence.
In The Handmaid’s Tale, the wives wear blue like the Virgin Mary; they are married until ‘death’ parts them from the man they worship and serve.
The Handmaids are to bear the children and they wear red, from the blood associated with childbirth, but also for all the women martyrs in history. Red is the colour of passion and it is much easier to see if you happen to be fleeing from this horror of horrors being inflicted up on you.
Down at the bottom the scale the wives of men lower in the social hierarchy of the new society are called Econowives; they wear stripes, as did prisoners in days gone by. When we meet Offred recovering from her escape, she is doing her best to survive so hopefully she will be able to find the daughter taken from her. It seems from the outset that hers is a lost cause.
So many things in this new world are forbidden. There are silences to endure; motivating those who can still think positively to find ways they may convey information. Anything can happen at any time and anywhere.
Change is instant and those who cannot embrace it wither away or simply disappear from both sight and mind. The handmaids are compelled to beat any man found guilty of having sex with another handmaid to death. Sadists, opportunists, informers, women have been integral to every repressive regime that has ever ruled on earth
In this the ‘face hiding’ bonnets the handmaids wear are meant to be frightening. No one is your friend; all women are considered sluts, serving men who are leaders of the faithful, bearing children for them.
Worst of all are the women ganging up on other women. Power is relative and those who have it are desperate to hang on to it and they seemingly relish turning on those they believe may have the ‘balls’ to challenge them.
The terrible scene in Episode 1 where Offred who is a handmaid is given by his wife Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) to the Commander (Joseph Fiennes) to begat a child is in many ways too much to bear.
Offred, lying between the legs of his wife while he bears down on her in a loveless union is literally taken straight from the Bible Genesis 30:9 – ‘Leah saw that she had left bearing, she took Zilpah her handmaid, and gave her to Jacob to wife’.
The Handmaidens are told how lucky are they? Privileged… rebellion is not an option and the meek are the one’s who will survive this ordeal, anyone offering resistance is eliminated very quickly.
Having grown up in the wake of World War II in a world where many men still wielded control over women, often forcibly, it’s not an experience I need to relive for a minute more than I have to.
No matter how good the acting is, I have to admit, Episode 1 was too much for me and before watching any more, I will have to re-find my own fortitude.
Will you rebel or run away as fast as you can from viewing The Handmaid’s Tale – I would be intrigued to know?
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017