With a low birth rate blamed on everything from birth control to polluted air and water, the world’s greatest natural resource is now any female whose ovaries are still functional. Based on the bestselling 1985 science fiction novel by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, “The Handmaid’s Tale” is a chilling love story set in the dystopic near future.
The democratic United States no longer exists. It’s been replaced by the Republic of Gilead, seized in a coup and ruled with an iron fist by an ultra-conservative government. Think of Orwell’s “1984”, but with a religious slant.
As the movie opens, Kate (Natasha Richardson), her daughter and husband are making a desperate but ultiimately futile dash for the Canadian border. Her husband is killed, her daughter disappears and Kate is forcibly taken away to the Red Centre. After a test proving her fertility, she and other women are primed for indoctrination as a Handmaid. A Handmaid’s job is bearing children for the governing elite. In due course Kate is assigned to a Commander (Robert Duvall) and his wife Serena Joy (Faye Dunaway), a former gospel singer from before the coup. She lives in hope that her daughter survives and that her “gender traitor” lesbian friend Moira managed a successful escape from the Red Centre.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” successfully portrays Atwood’s colour-coded repressive society, right down to the bizarre mating ceremony. Handmaids wear red. Marthas (older infertile women who work as household servants) wear green. Commanders’ wives dress in royal blue. The “Aunts” at the Red Centre wear brown. The “Guardians” wear black and patrol everywhere with machine guns. Stores no longer have names on their signage but pictures indicating what they carry. And Gilead seems constantly at war, fighting rebels inside the country and unnamed enemies outside.
Like any rigidly controlled society Gilead has its emotional “safety valves” for the masses, as Kate discovers to her horror when she is forced to witness a “Salvaging”. She also discovers Gilead’s hypocrisies. Frantic for a baby and fearing her husband isn’t up to the job, Serena Joy enlists the Commander’s handsome driver Nick (Aidan Quinn) to provide stud service to Kate. And her Commander involves her in his secret life and his secret vices, some of which aren’t what you might think. Up to her neck in forbidden activities, Kate is in danger from all sides. Then she becomes pregnant. Will Nick help her escape or is he one of the dreaded secret informers called “Eyes”?
“The Handmaid’s Tale” is rated R for language, violence and nudity.