“I was asleep before.
That’s how we let it happen.
When they slaughtered congress, we didn’t wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either.
Now I’m awake.”
Thus begins one of the trailers for Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. First published in 1986, the dystopian fiction novel filled readers with terror at the thought of such a reality.
Now it’s coming to life on your television screen.
What They Will Do:
The producers behind this production of The Handmaid’s Tale are going to update the timelessness it for today’s audience.
Atwood followed the guidance of James Joyce while writing the tale and only included the “nightmare” that was history at the time. And there are certain elements of the original story that have a 1980’s feel, but she chose her details so carefully that the work itself has a quality of being without a time. Expect the narrative arc and the details to remain the same– Why throw out the baby with the bath water?–but be prepared for echoes of current news stories and events of the recent past. The creative team will add subtle elements to the clothes and set that will remind viewers of today–the 21st century–without dating the production or sacrificing the integrity of the story.
What They Won’t Do:
Despite the somewhat graphic and shocking footage in the trailer, this story is not a sex tale and, if they’re worth their salt, the production team behind this adaptation will see that too.
Yes, sex and reproduction are elements of the story. But they serve as mere symptoms of the greater change in worldview by inhabitants of Gilead. Equally important to the story is the presentation that women and others deemed “unsuitable” are restricted and abused. In particular, the laws preventing women from reading or accessing knowledge broke my heart. And these other shifts in culture deserve as much screen time as the awkward, reproductive-focused ménages à trois.
What They Should Do:
In some way incorporate Atwood’s stunning language and preserve the gradual and inconspicuous beginnings of Gilead.
Confession, I finished this book for the first time only a week ago. While reading, I was often struck dumb by the utter beauty and relevancy of the moments between the story–the parts when the main character is reflecting on the time before.
The coup, as Offred/Atwood relates it, happened while everyone was trying to ignore the realities of life…
Nothing changes instantaneously: in the gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it. […]
The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives.
We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of the print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories. (56-57)
By preserving some of Atwood’s beautiful language, the impact of the story remains in tact. However, because the agency of Offred is threatened, her voice within the parameters of the story is limited. A voice-over done well might be acceptable under such circumstances.
What They Should UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES DO:
Give Offred a name.
Offred, or “of-Fred” or “offered,” contains so much significance in merely her name.
Or lack thereof.
Atwood never gives readers the main character’s real name and the creators of this Hulu series should not deign to put a foot on this sacred ground. For, as Atwood herself explains in a recent New York Times article: “[S]o many people throughout history have had their names changed, or have simply disappeared from view.”
The author is also often asked if the novel she began writing on yellow legal paper and a German typewriter on one side of the wall in Berlin was a prediction. Although fiction is fiction, she takes it one step further and claims the story is an “anti-prediction.” That perhaps, by describing a world she hopes never exists in lurid detail, that it will never come to pass.
Is this superstitious? Silly? Maybe watching the expressive face of Offred (played by Elisabeth Moss) and her pain will cement the novel’s status as an anti-prediction.
Viewers cannot help but continue to ponder Atwood’s words and “step up, into the darkness within; or else the light” (295).
Wish List Item:
I’d really love to see the jocular history professor, Professor Pieixoto, from the “historical note” at the end of the book to make an appearance somehow.
Chances of this happening:
Considering he is not a part of Offred’s narrative, I give it only 3 winged white bonnets out of 100.
Hulu’s adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale will be available to stream beginning April 26, 2017.
Images retrieved from Independent, engadget.com, imdb.com, and spin.com. All rights to the images ultimately belong to Hulu.
Atwood, M. (1986). The Handmaid’s Tale. Anchor Books: New York. Print.