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July 31, 2017 | by  | in TV |
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The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu)

I first read Margaret Atwood’s feminist classic The Handmaid’s Tale in 2009, on the recommendation of my Year 13 English teacher who was incredibly supportive of my writing but worried about some of my ill-formed Christchurch-born white girl ideologies (hint: I didn’t know shit). A few weeks ago my mum messaged me saying she had just read it, and asked if I had heard there was a new television adaptation — of course! TV is my life and I was thrilled to inform her Alexis Bledel from Gilmore Girls was in it. As Hulu vies for Netflix’s crown in quality original programming, it brings a gripping though enduringly grim portrait of what may as well be life under a Trump regime.

For those who haven’t read the book, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a dystopian future version of America called the Republic of Gilead where a religious totalitarian dictatorship has overthrown the former government. With sterility on the rise due to pollution and the spread of sexually transmitted disease, women are forced to serve as “handmaids” to elite couples and bear them children. Women have few rights under the new hyper-Christian leadership and are denied connections to their former lives. The show is narrated by Offred (Elisabeth Moss), formerly June but now with a new name denoting her position as property of high-ranking government official Commander Fred Waterford (of-fred). When handmaids exhibit resistance to the rules of the new society they are punished with the gouging of their eyeballs, while many men are simply killed for their perceived crimes and their bodies displayed in public as reminders of the consequences of divergence.

While Elisabeth Moss is an amazing actress, I find it hard to reconcile her lack of self-awareness in playing lead Offred and being a member of the glorified cult of Scientology — a “religion” prone to being just as cruel and oppressive as the Republic depicted in the show. Reports of Scientology’s abuse of its members and negative treatment of women, children, and the mentally ill go back decades, though having being raised in the church Moss is likely thoroughly indoctrinated (she frequently declines comment on her involvement within the church in interviews, other than claiming it is “grossly misunderstood” in the media). Still, she fully immerses herself and the viewer in her role as Offred, part of a stellar cast including Orange is the New Black’s Samira Wiley, Chuck’s Yvonne Strahovski, and the aforementioned Rory Gilmore herself.

The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t happy viewing; its content is as pervasively cold and bleak as its colour scheme. I found the rape scene in the first episode so confronting that I’m yet to watch episode two, not out of distaste for the show — which I think is incredible television, and handled a scene of sexual assault with far more grace than something like Game of Thrones — but rather because I know it’s not going to get any easier to watch such haunting depictions of a world not far from our own. The echoes of the oppression and fear involved in the real life experiences of being socialised as female that are present in The Handmaid’s Tale, to always be polite to men and permit your subjugation to them and their ideas, ring just as true in 2017 as they did when the original novel was released in 1985. A recommended watch that I’m looking forward to eventually continuing with, but a heavy trigger warning for anyone going in unprepared.

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