You don’t need to be living in Trump’s America to agree that we’re passing through some bleak times. Around the world, climate change is already hitting back at us with floods and drought. Scientists are starting to flag under the battle of antibiotic resistance. Fertility rates in Western countries (at least for now) are on the decline. Terrorist attacks are becoming the new normal. At home, the legal age of marriage has been lowered, despite protests, rape cases become topics of national debate, and moral policing continues to enjoy its moment in the spotlight. Some thirty-two years after Margaret Atwood, inspired by her memory of her travels behind the Iron Curtain, wrote The Handmaid’s Tale, the dystopian fantasy she created suddenly doesn’t seem so far-fetched at all.
Hulu’s television adaptation of the same, brings to life the frightening world of Gilead, built on what remains of the United States following some major system failure, and fertility is on the decline. The society that exists is frighteningly hierarchical, intolerant and exploitative. All forms of media are strictly rationed. Women have no rights to speak of; the few remaining fertile ones are forced to have sex with, and bear children for powerful men. Penalties for the slightest infraction are severe – “if thine right eye offends thee, cut it off” is taken literally.
The little tweaks and departures made by the show-runners of The Handmaid’s Tale make it even more relatable to today’s audience – the clever montage of past and present making a credible case for how such a state has come to pass. Through some truly brilliant performances – Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men fame is simply sublime as the show’s protagonist Offred/June – and masterful use of colour, sound, and perspective to vividly convey the claustrophobia and the paranoia of the handmaids. But the real genius behind this most relevant show is how they capture the normalisation of such extreme violations of human rights.
It is a sad reflection on the human condition that the book was never not relevant ever since it hit the shelves, but the show seems particularly timely. The Handmaid’s Tale has easily earned its place amongst the top must-see shows of 2017