Eventually, the multiple Emmy awards, the constant streaming of advertisements, and the general hype about The Handmaid’s Tale sucked me into a disturbing futuristic world created by Margaret Atwood. This sometimes savage story about totalitarian theonomy that has taken over the United States is enough to make you nauseous. There were times I wanted to turn it off but felt imprisoned to watch the outcome much as the poor handmaidens are kept enslaved.
Written in 1985, the book has won multiple awards, including the series itself. It’s based on the story of a woman who was once known as June who narrates her tale in the given name of Offred. The plot summary is rather detailed, including the Republic of Gilead and how it works in the scheme of this new world. Because the future has left an immoral and out-of-control society, a fundamentalist group of men rise up and gain enough power to bring about change. The revolution kills the leaders of the free world, takes away the rights of women, disbands the Constitution, and initiates a social order based on Old Testament theology, sprinkled with a few verses from the New Testament, and extreme religious fanaticism. Thinking these people are Christians could not be further from the truth. It’s a new religion of sorts, while they destroy the old beliefs and tear down churches.
In addition, the world has been polluted and diluted from disease to such an extent that the population is diminishing. Women are infertile; men are sterile; few women remain who are able to bear children. To breed, the higher caste who run the government inslave fertile woman, calling them handmaidens of the Lord. They base their practice upon the Biblical story of Jacob’s wife, Rachel, who entreated her husband to impregnate her handmaid since she was barren. The new society turns it into a rather disturbing ceremonial ritual that leaves you appalled.
Because this new society of Gilead is so detailed in its workings you should head over to Wikipedia and read the explanation of who plays what role in this caste society. Even their dress and colors have various meanings, as well as their names. I must admit that Margaret Atwood’s fantasy-created world is seriously distressing but genius storytelling.
This series has done an excellent job on many levels, which despite the story that gives you the shivers, does deserve its accolades as well.
- First and foremost the acting is phenomenal for all involved. I cannot rave enough about Elizabeth Moss’ performance and well-deserved Emmy win. It’s not often that an actress can portray such hopelessness, fear, and loathing with such intensity that you experience the same emotions during the scenes.
- The music adds to the terror and tenseness of the plot with expert precision.
- The awards speak for themselves: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, Best Drama Series, Outstanding Guest Actress, Outstanding Supporting Actress, Outstanding Writing, Outstanding Cinematography, Outstanding Direction, etc.
My warning about this show is that you may find it deeply distressing. The story may shock, grieve, anger, and bring you to tears. It will incite in your heart fear and make you question whether something like this could ever happen in our lifetime. It will cause you to ponder how a group of people could gain dominion and control over society with such force. It is religious fanaticism forced upon the masses at its worse. You will wonder if faced with the same scenario, would you give in and obey or would you never let the bastards win. Perhaps that is the purpose of this story — to leave you troubled and vexed for a good reason.
As most of us know, there are pockets of such societies that sadly exist upon this earth today. To make matters worse, some groups are still intent on imposing their beliefs and controls upon others elsewhere in the world. Let us pray, if you do pray, that nothing like Sons or Jacob or Gilead ever rises to power in our lives.
In the meantime, if you have enough courage, head on over and immerse yourself in the frightful scenario of the land of Gilead.