The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)

handaids tale

I’ve decided to focus exclusively on older, more obscure movies to review here, since everyone else (and their mothers!) seem to have the blockbusters and new releases pretty well covered. My buddy, Jack Wolf, might decide to review some more popular, contemporary films on this site. But, until then, you’re probably not going to get anything but offbeat, esoteric picks from me.¬† So, with that in mind, I decided to [finally] watch The Handmaid’s Tale from 1990. I’m blatantly hoping that the recent success of the Hulu series — which I have never seen, by the way — will drive some traffic here. (Oh, and I’ve never read the Margaret Atwood novel either.) But the old film, which stars Natasha Richardson alongside Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall, is still quite disturbing in 2018.

The movie, which takes place in the fictional but terrifyingly-plausible country of “Gilead,” highlights just how poisonous the marriage of Church and State can be, depicting a conservative, patriarchal police state in which fertile “handmaids” are forced into surrogate motherhood for powerful, barren couples. This dystopian nightmare was efficiently — if a little clinically — committed to film by the German director, Volker Schl√∂ndorff, who effectively swapped the relentless, bloodthirsty Stasi with uptight, sexually-repressed nuns and got strangely chilling results: brutal brainwashing techniques, public hangings, and hysterically violent lynch mobs to keep the masses of Gilead in line. But nothing is more hauntingly bizarre than the super-awkward sex/rape scene between the fully-clothed Robert Duvall, the extremely spiteful Faye Dunaway, and their poor handmaid, sandwiched between them in the missionary position.

The dated and admittedly stilted production does an admirable job, bringing this cautionary tale of religious fascism and fanaticism to life. Most of us (with brains) have awoken, over the past few decades, to the fact that sexism is utterly rampant in the world — and that organized, orthodox religion has, generally, helped to keep the proverbial “foot,” first referenced by Sarah Grimpke, firmly on the necks of our sisters. But, since the President of the United States is currently rushing a horrifyingly-conservative Supreme Court Justice through the confirmation process, The Handmaid’s Tale is probably more relevant now than it’s ever been before.

Because it was so brutal and genuinely frightening, I award this dated movie three pot leafs out of five (as I shudder at the current state of the union):
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The Handmaid’s Tale (1990)