Ex, narcissists, social media, TV, Twitter

The sun’ll come out tomorrow…

This afternoon, after Bill and I spent a few hours watching the latest season of The Handmaid’s Tale, we started talking about current events and how they kind of tie in with that show. It’s not that I think the United States will eventually turn into Gilead or anything of that nature, but there have been some disturbing parallels to themes of the show. Take, for instance, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and the misogynistic nightmare some women are being caught up in, as authoritarian, conservative males decide to try to force them to stay pregnant. I’ve read some disturbing ideas on how some of these power mad men intend to try to enforce the abortion bans in some of the red states. There’s even been talk of preventing pregnant women from traveling to another state for abortion purposes. That sounds pretty “Gilead-esque” to me, actually.

Then there’s the very violent nature of the society, where the citizens get used to seeing people being shot, hanged, or stoned. That kind of barbarism is extending more and more in the United States, as people are getting shot as they do their jobs, go to church, shop for groceries, or attend movies and concerts. Yesterday’s blog post was about a young teacher in Virginia who was shot by one of her first grade students, a boy of just six years of age! It’s just another reminder that anyone can be a threat, especially in a country where guns, and the right to own and carry them, are so revered.

Then there’s the story of June and her husband, Luke, who are still obsessively trying to track down their long, lost daughter, Hannah. And Hannah shows in the fifth season that she still remembers who she really is. But there are so many forces against June and Luke. Every time they think they’ve made progress, another roadblock comes up.

I can’t necessarily relate to how that feels, since I don’t have children. But my husband knows all about it. He’s missed out on most of his daughters’ lives, simply because his ex wife is a selfish, narcissistic asshole. Like Hannah, my husband’s younger child has not forgotten who she is. It definitely wasn’t for a lack of effort on Ex’s part, though. She really did her best to try to eliminate Bill, even as she held onto his extended family. These are “nice” people who aren’t so knowledgeable about who she is. They are sympathetic to her, because they’re nice, but they don’t realize that there’s an agenda.

Bill and I have come to the conclusion now that we will never be totally rid of her, because she’s always lurking in the shadows, especially when she’s in need. I suspect that she’s in need right now. I’ve been watching the signs for a long time, and I think this year could be one for the books.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed some patterns in Ex’s behavior. She’s been trying to raise money, even to the point of visiting my husband’s stepmother and asking for it. She even proposed having SMIL move in with her in a different state. She also asked for any items SMIL might want to “pass down”, even though older daughter doesn’t speak to Bill anymore, and Bill is the only reason Ex even knows SMIL.

Ex has made some social media comments that suggest that she’s on the brink of divorce. I don’t actually know if she is or not, but I suspect she could be. Recently, she’s made mention of a certain television show having the potential to save her marriage. She’s made some oblique comments about her husband, as well as made some creative financial decisions. And finally, there’s this recent tweet.

Indeed, she’s been there before… but notice she also writes that she’s “facing the exact dilemma”. Interesting.

She continues by posting to the same person…

Yes… because she needs support.

And some more entertaining, but less relevant tweets that I feel like sharing for Alexis, whom I’ve been missing… As you can see, she’s still tweeting Mark Hamill and other “somebodies” out there… people who might throw her a bone.

You may be wondering… what does this have to do with the title of my post, or The Handmaid’s Tale? As I mentioned up post, I think Bill can identify with June and Luke. He loves his daughters, and he was denied access to them. There were times when he didn’t know where they were, and he felt powerless to do anything about Ex’s craziness, back when it would have mattered the most.

Hannah has been raised by “new parents”, and June and Luke have been told that she loves them and has “moved on”. That’s how Bill felt for a long time. He thought that his daughters had moved on and forgotten him. Of course, they hadn’t, and haven’t… One of them has come back, and compares notes with Bill regularly. And now we know that hope is a good thing, as long as it’s coupled with reality. I guess, in a sense, being raised by Ex might be something like being trapped in Gilead… or raised by Aunt Lydia.

What really sucks about this situation is that, on the whole, people tend to be unsympathetic to men. They get mixed messages, too. Either they hear that they should step aside and let their kid bond with the new “daddy figure”, or they’re reminded not to “give up on their children”. I’ve been told, more than once, that I shouldn’t write about this topic, because I’m “obsessive and unhealthy” and it’s “inappropriate”. I usually respond to such comments by first reminding the person that they don’t know the people involved and therefore shouldn’t judge. Then I wonder what they would do, if they were parents of a child who was pretty much “abducted” from their lives. It happens all the time when marriages end and parents try to force their children to choose sides.

I know I’m just the stepmother. Hell, I’m barely even that, since I’ve only met my husband’s daughters in person once. But what kind of wife would I be if I didn’t have empathy for my husband and his tremendous loss? He was a very involved father when his daughters were small. Younger daughter remembered how loving he was to her, and even though she was scared to talk to him again after so many years, she managed it. Why? Because Ex wasn’t able to erase those memories, in spite of her best efforts.

Even today, she tries to turn younger daughter away from her dad. But her efforts seem to be having the opposite effect, as younger daughter can see pretty clearly what her mother is doing. She knows her mother lies, exaggerates, and takes things out of context, so she can spin an agenda and keep people under control. Better yet, younger daughter knows she doesn’t want her kids exposed to the same crazy train.

And what about the title of the post today? Well, if you notice in the gallery of tweets, Ex posts “I will not be tomorrow who I am today.” She posts that as if it’s a positive thing. It’s like saying “the sun will come out tomorrow” or “tomorrow is another day” or “I’ll think about it tomorrow.” Maybe that’s true… but the opposite can also be true. You won’t be the same as you are today. You’ll be worse off. Or maybe better off. But you won’t be the same. The sun might come out tomorrow… or maybe it’ll be a dark and stormy day. Who knows?

I’d like to be at a point of my life at which I don’t really care about this anymore. That would probably only happen, though, if Bill and I split up. Ex still harasses people Bill loves. And we are not going to be splitting up, because in spite of everything, we’re still very much in love. We’re still very compatible. So I will keep writing about this, for as long as there’s reason. Just think of me as like Prince Harry, writing “my truth”.

I don’t know what’s going on in Ex’s world… but I suspect it’s nothing good. She’s putting on a face to her public. But behind the scenes, I think she’s probably on the verge of a crisis. Just a hunch I have.

Well, that about does it for today. Time for a shower and some black-eyed peas. It actually has been cloudy recently. It would be nice if the sun really did come out tomorrow. Here’s hoping.

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Netflix, TV

We fell into Squid Game over the weekend…

In spite of the beautiful fall weather we had over the weekend, Bill and I ended up staying home on Saturday. I was sitting on the bed, flipping through Netflix, when I landed on Squid Game. I didn’t know much about it, although had seen a lot of press about it. I was initially kind of turned off by it, even not knowing anything about the story. I could see a lot of weird colors and settings in the photos and I had a feeling it was going to be bizarre.

The trailer…

But anyway, since we didn’t have anything else to do, I decided to press “play”. The show began, and Bill quickly joined me. It’s not that often that I land on something he really wants to watch. Bill is a typical guy, and he likes action and violence more than I do when he watches TV or a movie. We watched five episodes on Saturday and the remaining four last night. I thought I would have nightmares, like I did after I watched The Handmaid’s Tale. To my great surprise, no bad dreams haunted me last night or the night before, although I do remember that Saturday’s dreams were pretty busy and vivid.

At first, I wasn’t sure that I’d be interested in Squid Game, even as the series began. But then I was intrigued by the very American sounding voices that were dubbed into the original Korean. And then, the actual premise hooked me, even as I was absolutely horrified by the violence and dark themes.

There they were, all of these Koreans, basically tricked to going to a hellhole, where they are forced to play children’s games. They were there because almost all of them desperately needed money to pay off debts they otherwise could never repay. The payoff for success is a huge pot of money, dumped into an enormous piggy bank that is suspended over the players. Not succeeding means death– quick and sure, with a single shot to the head or chest. It’s brutal and shocking, and ultimately kind of sad. But then there are interesting quirks and twists, and a few comic elements. Plus, there’s a lot of symbolism and uses of color to make the show even more visually appealing and intriguing.

I don’t want to get too much into the plot about this series, because I know a lot of people are still watching it or haven’t seen it. I don’t want to spoil the ending. Do I think you should watch it? Well, that all depends…

In some ways, I think Squid Game is as dark and dystopian as The Handmaid’s Tale is. It’s certainly very violent as it makes a point about the relentless pursuit of wealth. I had some flashes of depression and shock as I watched the players suffer and the tensions build as each one was dispatched, with no thought at all for the people left behind and the witnesses. With each death, a cheery female voice announces that the player has been eliminated. It’s jarring, and surreal.

But on the other hand, as the story progresses, some depth and wisdom emerges. The main character, who was kind of a careless loser at the beginning of the series, develops some decency and turns into a man. It wasn’t unlike the character of Zack Mayo in An Officer and a Gentleman. He starts off as a callous jerk, who doesn’t care about anyone but himself. By the end of the film, he’s developed heart, courage, leadership, and decency. That part of the story appealed to my heart, even as it was broken watching all of the carnage.

Indeed, at the end of the series, we see that the game continues, with new players… not unlike officer’s training school continues in An Officer and a Gentleman, when Gunnery Sergeant Foley delivers his spiel to new recruits. The difference is, of course, most people either get through officer’s training just fine, or they decide to quit. Losers in Squid Game die. And it’s all for the mighty pursuit of money.

I had no idea how serious the debt problem in South Korea is. I suppose that’s another reason why so many Americans are drawn to this series. I think debt is a serious problem in the United States, too. It’s so easy to fall into it, and so hard to get out of it. I could see how some people would be attracted to play a game that would lead to their early deaths. Of course, there were a few times when I had to suspend disbelief. For instance, I wondered how the game could continue, when so many people played it and suddenly disappeared. Wouldn’t people wonder where hundreds of their friends and family members disappeared to with each new round?

Teasing is fun sometimes.

But I also know that people love a good fantasy… Squid Game is a good fantasy, I guess. Some of it is downright creepy and weird, and I marveled at how someone came up with this story, with its twists and turns and special effects. I also thought the actors were great. I found myself wanting to learn more about Korea. The series made it look like such a cool culture.

I was once offered a job teaching English in South Korea. I decided not to take it. There were a few reasons for that. I did kind of feel sad about turning down the job, since I thought it would be exciting and interesting. But I had student loans to pay, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it on what the school would pay me. Also, I didn’t know if I would appreciate the lifestyle in South Korea, or the culture. Now that I’ve watched Squid Game, I think I’d like to know more.

Anyway… I definitely think Squid Game is an interesting series. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who is disturbed by gratuitous violence. I’m glad I watched it. I’m not sure if I would want to watch another season of it… I wouldn’t be surprised if one materializes, though, since I think it’s going to make Netflix a lot of money. But the creator has already said that if he does make another season, he would use other writers and directors. I’ve seen what happens when new people come in and change a show’s vision. It’s not always good. On the other hand, Bill told me the director lost six teeth making the first season. Teeth are a terrible thing to waste.

Now that I’ve seen Squid Game, I may have to learn more about that part of the world… I’ve already read a lot about North Korea. Maybe it’s time I read more about the southern part of the Korean peninsula. I still don’t know if I want to visit, though. I definitely wouldn’t want to be playing Squid Game myself. It’s amazing what’s coming out on television these days. I grew up in an era when we were all happy with cookie cutter sit-coms.

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movies, videos

Repost: A review of the film, Never Let Me Go

Here’s another repost, this time of a movie review I wrote in 2018, as we were about to move from Stuttgart to Wiesbaden. I stumbled across this intriguing film a few years ago and have been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m reposting it as/is.

It’s not so often that I watch movies these days, though sometimes I will search Netflix for something to kill a couple of hours.  Yesterday, I stumbled across a 2010 film called Never Let Me Go.  This British movie, which stars Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightly, and Andrew Garfield, is based on a 2005 Japanese novel by the same name which was written by Kazuo Ishiguro.  The plot is very dystopian, which fits right in with my recent attraction to The Handmaid’s Tale.

As the film begins, we see a couple of captions explaining that medical science has progressed to the point at which people can live beyond 100 years.  All of the maladies that plagued previous generations have been vanquished and humans are enjoying a level of health they never had in the past.  

Then we see young woman who introduces herself as Kathy H.  She’s looking through a window at a young man on an operating table as she explains that she’s been a “carer” for nine years.  She says she’s good at her job and prevents agitation in her patients.  The expression on her face is one of deep concern as the young man on the operating table looks at her.  Then, suddenly, it’s 1978 and Kathy is at an idyllic looking boarding school with many other children, all dressed in drab gray.  They sing an opening hymn before assembly.

A matronly looking woman addresses the children and admonishes them about how important it is that they keep themselves healthy.  She says three spent cigarettes were found and that even though smoking is not healthy for anyone, it’s especially a bad habit for these special children, who have never left the grounds of their school.  The woman then tells the children that Miss Emily will be collecting art samples from the children.  The best ones will go in her special gallery.

Kathy has two friends, Ruth and Tommy.  Kathy likes Tommy and he likes her, although he has a very short temper.  The two of them grow up, never venturing beyond the gates of their school.  Children who have left the grounds uniformly end up dead.  Tommy and Ruth ended up a couple, which guts Kathy.  

A new teacher named Miss Lucy wonders why the children just blindly accept the stories they hear.  She doesn’t seem to know about the school or its purpose, but she’s kind and loving to the children… until the day she tells them their real reason for being.  These children are all clones and the whole reason they were born is to donate organs to other people.  They will donate two, three, or even four times before their lives will end… while they are still young.  But they are told that if they can prove they’ve found love, they will be given a few years together.

In 1985, the children have turned 18 and are left to their own devices.  They’re even allowed to take day trips.  It’s then that Tommy, Ruth, and Kathy become more aware of their love triangle and what it might mean for them in the future, which stops in 1994.

I am going to stop writing at this point, because I think this is a film worth seeing… and if I explain the whole plot, there would be no reason to watch this movie.  I’m glad I watched it, for the story left me thinking.  I told Bill about it last night and he agrees that it’s just the kind of movie he adores.

A trailer for Never Let Me Go.
Another trailer for Never Let Me Go.

This movie is very poignant and a bit depressing, but ultimately kind of a beautiful story.  I probably should spend more time watching foreign films on Netflix.  I’ve found some good ones there.

Meanwhile, I continue to keep looking for a new place to live, which is stressing me out a bit.  I know it will eventually be okay, but the process of moving is such a huge pain in the ass.  I take heart in knowing that in a few months, this process will be a memory.

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book reviews

My thoughts on The Testaments: The Sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale…

I just finished reading The Testaments, Margaret Atwood’s explosive sequel to her smash 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. I read and reviewed Atwood’s most popular novel a couple of years ago. I recently reposted my review of The Handmaid’s Tale, which you can find here. To be honest, I wasn’t all that hot on The Handmaid’s Tale when I first read it. I found it very depressing and had trouble finishing it. But then I started watching the series on Hulu and got hooked on that. When Atwood published The Testaments, I decided I might as well see how the story ends. Or does it end? It’s hard to tell.

I’ll admit, I put off reading The Testaments. I don’t read a lot of novels anymore. I prefer non-fiction books, even though I spent so many years reading fiction as an English major and adolescent bookworm. I finally decided to get busy with The Testaments when I watched the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale. You can find my commentary on the film here.

So… with all of that out of the way, what did I think of the sequel? I’m happy to report that I mostly found it enjoyable. It was a lot more readable and less depressing than The Handmaid’s Tale. Perhaps thanks to the TV series, I was able to form pictures in my mind of what the characters would be like. I also noticed that Margaret Atwood has a knack for being unexpectedly witty, and that made reading her book a delight.

For this book, Atwood focuses on several characters, rather than just the handmaid. The story is set more than fifteen years after the first story, and we’re introduced to characters who were just children when the first book ended. There’s Agnes, a teen who was raised by a high ranking commander and his wife, Tabitha, who is dying. Agnes’s father remarries, and her new stepmother, Paula, is intent on marrying her off to another high ranking commander, who’s been married a few times and seems to have a bad track record with keeping his wives alive.

There’s Daisy/Jade/Nicole… raised in Canada by people who ran a used clothing store. She thought they were her real parents until she turned sixteen, and the people she thought were her parents were suddenly killed when their car blew up. It’s at that point that she finds out who she really is, and why she must journey to Gilead. Nicole is young and snarky; she uses the Lord’s name in vain, which upsets Agnes.

Agnes has a friend named Becka, whose father is the best dentist in Boston who happens to have a penchant for child molestation. She decides she’d rather be an aunt than get married. Becka trades in her bright green dress– the dress for brides to be– for the dull brown dress the aunts wear. She learns how to read, and shows Agnes the way to avoiding marriage and a sure death sentence. Agnes gets a new name and eventually meets a long lost family member.

There’s Aunt Lydia, who seems like a terribly malevolent character at first blush, but then you get her backstory and find out she’s not as bad as she seems. She’s also super smart and witty, and I especially enjoyed some of her funnier quips. You find out that Aunt Lydia has come up with a “missionary program” in which pairs of women, known as “Pearl Girls”, try to recruit people to move to Gilead. Pearl Girls are destined to be aunts, like Lydia. Reading about the aunts is interesting. They reminded me of nuns. I would have liked for Atwood to develop Lydia even more, giving readers more of a look at how and why she turned from who she was into who she now is.

I think I might have found The Testaments even more compelling if it had been a bit more detailed. Because there are three characters to follow, there’s less detail about each protagonist. There’s also less shock value, because there’s less time and opportunity for it. In some ways, I’m glad for less shock value– again, I found this book less depressing than The Handmaid’s Tale. But it seemed to me, I don’t know, kind of rushed and incomplete in some ways. Atwood kind of glosses over what life is really like in Gilead. She could have added more detail about this world she’s created, with more about what the society is really like. That might have made her characters more multi-dimensional. I did enjoy the last bit, which is a look at the future– 2197– long after we’re all gone. Atwood makes mention of the need for sunscreen and insect repellant, a nod to the climate changes that will affect everyone if the world isn’t already destroyed by then. Who knows?

The three characters interacting together are interesting, especially when the reader learns who they really are and, more importantly, witness them learning who they really are. Atwood’s sequel is appealing, and will probably be satisfying to most readers. However, as a work in itself, I don’t think it’s quite as earth shattering as The Handmaid’s Tale is. I couldn’t help but realize that Atwood probably wrote this book for people who don’t necessarily read literature for fun. This book is very commercial and, as such, is a bit watered down. Consequently, it reads more like something the average person would enjoy, rather than something artistic, literary, and groundbreaking. In other words, it seems a little like Atwood “cashed in”, even though I’ll admit that I mostly enjoyed the book.

So, The Testaments definitely has commercial appeal and Atwood’s additions, no doubt, will be used in the series. But overall, the book is kind of lightweight and pedestrian, and it really seems like Atwood wrote The Testaments strictly for the masses. The Handmaid’s Tale, by contrast, is a better quality book because it’s obvious that Atwood really considered the plot for a long time and did her research. She took the time to craft the story using ordeals that real women have endured somewhere in the world at some point in time, giving The Handmaid’s Tale a more realistic feel, which made it a whole lot scarier and more compelling. The Handmaid’s Tale makes a solid, important, bold, political statement that may have felt far-fetched in 1985, but is definitely relevant in 2019. I’m not sure The Testament makes the same caliber of a statement, even if it’s more enjoyable to read.

If I were rating The Testaments on a five star scale, I think I’d give it three-and-a-half stars. The Testaments is definitely readable and interesting, but it doesn’t really stand up to the original story. The story definitely does not have the same level of complexity, and lacks the depth and shock and awe of the original. I found The Handmaid’s Tale much more difficult to read, but ultimately it’s a much better book because it’s been crafted from reality. The Testaments, by contrast, isn’t based as much in reality as it is speculation. And… as I’ve noticed on Amazon.com’s reviews, some people are upset that “June” (who was called Kate in the movie and was unnamed in the original book and remains unnamed in the sequel) gets very little mention in this sequel. So anyone who thinks they’d like to read this to find out about “June” is going to be very disappointed. Readers should remember that “June” doesn’t exist in Atwood’s book. That’s a character name that was given to her for the TV series. Atwood’s books aren’t the TV series, so readers shouldn’t go to the books for updates on what will happen in the series– although I do think aspects of The Testaments will be woven into upcoming seasons of The Handmaid’s Tale.

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movies

The film version of The Handmaid’s Tale…

Recently, I purchased some new content for Apple TV. I often do this during winters in Germany, because it’s cold, wet, and dark here, and that kind of weather makes me want to hibernate. I ran across the 1990 film version of The Handmaid’s Tale, starring the late Natasha Richardson, Robert Duvall, and Faye Dunaway, and though I had heard it wasn’t a great movie, I decided to buy it. Until very recently, the film version of Margaret Atwood’s very famous story was not readily available. I read in a 2015 article about the film posted on The Atlantic’s Web site that old copies of it were selling for as much as $100 on Amazon. In 2019, I can download it for ten bucks. Here’s a link to my review of the book.

I watched the movie version of The Handmaid’s Tale yesterday. I didn’t think it was as bad as some people had led me to believe it would be, although I think it really helped that I’d read the book and have been watching the Hulu series. Knowing the premise of the story helped clear up some confusion that was bound to occur if I’d simply watched director Volker Schlondorff’s film. The screenplay was written by the late British playwright, Harold Pinter, whose work I remember reading when I was majoring in English at Longwood College (now University). In those days, Pinter was still alive, and it had only been a few years since he’d worked on The Handmaid’s Tale. In 1986, when the film rights were initially purchased by producer David Wilson, Pinter was tapped to work with director Karel Reisz. The two had successfully worked together on The French Lieutenant’s Woman, an excellent film that starred Meryl Streep and was later nominated for five Academy Awards.

According to the 2015 article I linked, written by Sophie Gilbert, no one at any film studio wanted to make the movie about how America was conquered and turned into a police state called Gilead. Even though every cruelty perpetrated against women in Atwood’s book had been historically perpetrated against women somewhere in the world, in the 80s, people saw her work as far-fetched, fear mongering, paranoid, and overly feminist. Sigourney Weaver had originally been tapped to play Kate/Offred, the protagonist (who, aside from being called Offred, is unnamed in the book and called “June” in the TV show), but she had to drop out because she got pregnant. After that, it seemed that no actress wanted anything to do with the project, because they were afraid of being labeled or attached to such an overtly feminist work. The Handmaid’s Tale was seen as hostile, and it was too much about women. Women were not a popular topic in those days, even though I remember a film called Eating, another movie about women from 1990 that was both intriguing and widely panned. As I recall, Eating also got horrible reviews. I did see it myself, and don’t remember liking it, although I might feel differently if I watched it today.

Because of the difficulty and delay in making the film, Karel Reisz had to drop out of the project. Then, there was trouble finding a new director, until Russian filmmaker Volker Schlondorff took on the task. Schlondorff was the man responsible for the Oscar winning film adaptation of The Tin Drum, a novel written by Gunter Grass. Evidently, Pinter and Schlondorff did not work as well together as Pinter and Reisz did.

Natasha Richardson, who was eventually cast as Kate/Offred, had complaints about the way the screenplay was written. She claimed Harold Pinter had something against narration and voice overs. In the book, the character, Offred, does a lot of narration, which explains a lot of what’s happening. Without the narration, viewers are forced to figure things out for themselves. If I hadn’t been familiar with the story, that would have been difficult. I might have had to watch the movie more than once to get everything. Harold Pinter supposedly didn’t want to claim his work on The Handmaid’s Tale and refused to allow it to be published, saying that it had been so altered and edited by other people that it was no longer really his work.

And then there’s the casting. Natasha Richardson, daughter of actress Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson, was cast as Offred. She was joined by Blanche Baker (who famously played Ginny Baker in Sixteen Candles) playing Ofwarren, Elizabeth McGovern (of Ordinary People) playing Moira, Faye Dunaway (Mommie Dearest) as Serena Joy, and Victoria Tennant (All of Me) as Aunt Lydia. Frankly, I was surprised Dunaway played Serena Joy. I thought she’d make a better Aunt Lydia. Certainly, she would have been more convincing and cruel than Victoria Tennant was. When I watched Ms. Dunaway playing Serena Joy, I kept thinking of Mommie Dearest. In fact, I ended up watching that movie next. Robert Duvall, who played Bull Meacham in The Great Santini, was convincing as Commander Fred. I noticed that the movie cast was overwhelmingly white. Unlike the television series, which has people of different races represented, the Gilead in the film version appears to be full of white people, which also makes it less believable.

A trailer for the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale…

So what did I think of the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale? I’m glad I watched it. It was interesting to see a 1990 era take on Atwood’s story, especially having seen the television series. However, I’m afraid that the film is a bit campy and strange, even though the message is very important and, done differently, would have served as a warning to us today. One thing I noticed about the film was the music was odd. The soundtrack reminded me of something I’d have heard in a cheesy 80s horror movie. Yes, the story is horrifying, but The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t supposed to be a horror story, at least not in the sense that most horror stories are. Ryuichi Sakamoto, the man in charge of the music, didn’t set up the grim, oppressive, depressing mood that I would have expected for this film.

Toward the end of the movie, Fred takes Offred/Kate to a brothel, where she runs into her old friend, Moira. Moira has become a “Jezebel” and has had her hands mangled. She says, “We don’t need hands or feet for our work”. Curiously, as the high ranking men are cavorting with the prostitutes and “whores” in the brothels, Sakamoto uses the classic song, “Crazy”, sung by Patsy Cline. It doesn’t seem to fit with the mood… but it does add more camp to the story. In another scene, the wives are attending a birth as Janine (who keeps both eyes in the film) has a baby for her couple. There’s a band playing, and I would swear it’s the same music that was played in an episode of The Brady Bunch. That I was reminded of The Brady Bunch while watching a film that should have been scary and grim says something about the way the story was treated.

After this scene, they play music that sounds like Warren’s audition piece on the accordion. It’s schmaltzy and kind of schlocky… not nearly dark and depressing enough.

I noticed, too, that the use of color in the film was very obvious and kind of silly. Anyone who has read The Handmaid’s Tale or watched the television show, knows that colors are very important. The handmaids wear red. The “Marthas” (women who are too old or are sterile) wear grey. The “wives” wear blue. But I like the way this is done in the television show better than the way it was done for the film. The costumes in the film are very garish and bright, and they have a dated look to them. Faye Dunaway’s blue dress, the same dress that all the wives wear, looks like something I might have bought at The Limited in 1988. It doesn’t age well, nor does it appear to be modest enough for the story. I am not convinced that Gilead– the new country formed after the coup that decimated America– is run by fundamentalist Christians. In fact, now that I think about it, the movie almost seems like a satirical treatment of Atwood’s book.

But… I do remember 1990. That was the year I graduated from high school. Although I’m sure there were fundies in those days, we didn’t hear about them nearly as much as we do today. I remember that time as more hopeful and progressive. I never felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t do whatever I wanted with my life. I don’t remember worrying about whether or not Roe v Wade would be overturned. I never heard any politician talking about trying to re-implant ectopic pregnancies. Although I do remember hearing horror stories about women trying to induce abortion by using coat hangers, I also remember being reassured that abortions were safe and available, and birth control was available and encouraged. And so, it makes sense that the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale was treated in such a farcical way. Back then, no one believed that the scenario presented in the film could one day be a realistic look at what life could one day be like. In fact, here are a few comments from film critics quoted in The Atlantic who panned the movie:

Roger Ebert said, “The movie seems equally angry that women have to have children at all, and that it is hard for them to have children now that men have mucked up the planet with their greedy schemes.”  (uh huh… that about sums it up, Mr. Ebert.)

Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers said, “[the ceremony is] about as erotic as a gynecological exam,” and the movie had “narrowed the focus to [Male Chauvinist Pigs] who like to put women in their place.”  (since when is rape supposed to be “erotic”, anyway?)

Entertainment Weekly’s Owen Glieberman said, “[the film’s version of the future] is so poisonous and mechanical that you have to wonder: Is this really what our society is threatening to turn into, or is Atwood just exorcising her own fear and loathing?” (um… yes, Mr. Glieberman, “that” is exactly what our society is threatening to turn into…)

As it turns out, Atwood’s 1985 vision of the world may be scarily astute, as conservative politicians and religious wingnuts do their best to take away women’s reproductive rights and our “president” does his best to quash any progress made toward equality and better living for everyone. It seems today like we had a lot more extreme religious nuts out there, coupled with militant atheists. Maybe it’s simply because the Internet is a thing now, and people are exposed to a lot more around information than we were in the blissfully ignorant days prior to the Internet. Back in 1990, I never imagined that a guy like Joel Osteen– a televangelist– or a woman like Paula White (whom I used to watch on TBN and laugh at)– would be esteemed and seen by so many people. And yet, here they are… Osteen is cavorting with rapper/born again Christian Kanye West, and Paula White is Donald Trump’s “spiritual adviser”. And they’re all about as sincere and Christlike as Damien. When I think of these people, I don’t think of real examples of Christians. I think of power and money hungry vermin who feed on the gullible and the stupid.

In Atwood’s book, the character Serena Joy is a former televangelist who rose to power and prestige, preaching for the world that women endure in The Handmaid’s Tale. In both the film and the television show, we see her character watching the way things were kind of wistfully. Things didn’t turn out the way she’d planned, and it wasn’t so good for her as a second class citizen with no real choices. But in the movie, that point isn’t made meaningful or poignant. Instead, it just seems bizarre and satirical. Mommie Dearest with blonde hair singing “Amazing Grace” in an appallingly spine tingling soprano that set my teeth on edge.

A couple of female reviewers had nicer things to say about the movie and Atwood’s tale of warning– again taken from Sophie Gilbert’s article about this film for The Atlantic:

The New York Times Janet Maslin wrote “As visions of a hellish, dehumanizing future go, this one could never be mistaken for a man’s. With its devilish attention to polite little touches, its abundant bitchiness … The Handmaid’s Tale is a shrewd if preposterous cautionary tale that strikes a wide range of resonant chords.” (yes, it sure is a cautionary tale, and the updated version would strike a lot more resonant chords…)

The Washington Post’s Rita Kempley wrote “surrogate motherhood run amok in a society dominated by iron-fisted pulpit thumpers turned fascist militarists,” even while acknowledging that “Schlondorff seems as uncomfortable in this feminist nightmare as a man in a lingerie department.” (perhaps this movie would have been better in a woman’s hands…)

I’m not inclined to be as generous about this movie as Maslin or Kempley are, although I do kind of understand why it came off as “uncomfortable” and “preposterous”. That’s because in the late 80s and early 90s, these ideas did seem “preposterous” to most of us. Most of us didn’t see 2019 coming– that so many women would be fighting to maintain their right to terminate a pregnancy without fearing a prison sentence, health complications, or having to plead their cases to politicians and men in charge of the medical system.

In 1990, I could not have conceived of Texan Marlise Munoz’s horrifying last weeks of “life”, spent brain dead, but on life support, because she happened to be pregnant when she collapsed in her home. Medical personnel, citing a Texas law requiring that lifesaving measures be maintained if a female patient was pregnant, kept that poor woman artificially alive weeks after she was declared brain dead. In Texas, brain death is considered “legal death”, and yet Marlise was kept in intensive care for many weeks while her family watched her rot. In the end, the baby she was carrying didn’t survive and was horribly deformed. I’ll bet the medical bills were a sight to behold, too. Isn’t it interesting that conservative politicians want to declare life when a heartbeat is detected in a developing embryo, but legally, death occurs when the brain stops functioning?

Anyway… I give the people who brought us the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale props for tackling that subject in 1990. They obviously tried. I just think that for most people back in 1990, the story was too weird and far-fetched to get a realistic treatment on film. Today, Atwood’s cautionary tale seems more like it could happen, so the television series seems more real and much scarier, although I will admit that season 3 gave me the impression that the show is about to “jump the shark”. I mean, seriously, it’s unrealistic that June/Offred on the show would still be living after all she’s done. But if they get rid of June, the show will probably tank. I expect she’s headed for underground in season 4, at least if the writers know what’s good for them.

I did take note of The Atlantic’s staff writer, Sophie Gilbert’s, closing statements in her 2015 look back at the film version of The Handmaid’s Tale. She wrote:

Since [1990], a number of Atwood’s imaginings (themselves ripped from American historyhave manifested in reality, prompting the question of what insight might be gained from a new, more faithful Handmaid’s Tale. Still, it’s equally possible that, even 25 years later, neither audiences nor the film industry is ready yet.

I guess back in 2015, we didn’t know that in 2017, we’d get a new, more faithful Handmaid’s Tale, and it would alternately thrill and scare the shit out of today’s audiences. I, for one, hope that this particular “fiction” tale stops being so true.

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