Adaptation: Book VS Film discussion

The Handmaid's Tale (The Handmaid's Tale, #1)
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Book to TV Series > The Handmaids Tale (book to Hulu series )

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Simon (siid) | 27 comments (some minor spoilers ahead)

That book took me by surprise. I didn’t really know what to expect from the story, I only knew very little about it. What initially drew me to the book was that it dealt with a theocratic dystopian future where women are oppressed by men. One might argue that you need not look far to find something akin to that in our modern society.

Being an atheist myself, the thought of a theocratic state is something absurd to me. However, I guess there are numerous examples of countries and societies that are, at least to some extent, theocratic. All western civilizations are, more or less, based on the Ten Commandments; politicians oftentimes refer to God and His Will, when dealing with certain issues. US-American politicians come to mind (sorry, I do not want to start bashing the US here, but there are some prime examples available there), especially with the whole abortion-topic. But also European politics pretend to be having based their policies and values on Christianity (Angela Merkels Christian Democratic Union in Germany for example) ISIS/Daesh probably are the current example of it in Islam. So, while the status quo surely is not as horrible nowadays (ISIS aside) as it is in Atwoods book, there are certain parallels to be found all over the globe.

I thought it was fascinating that Atwoods topics are still that relevant nowadays as they were 30 years ago. So it does seem obvious that the book was adapted as a TV-show. I have only seen the first episode yet, and have to admit that I am sitting on the fence here. I think that the show is well produced and I also like its visual concept, yet there are certain aspects that worry me a bit.

First of all, how can they produce 10 episodes, let alone a second season, from this book? In the first episode alone is so much content from the book, that I’m more than a little worried that the producers will add aspects to the story that were not in the book. That said, if this additional material is any good, it very well can serve and expand the story. But past adaptions of other books leave me with a bitter taste regarding this (I’m looking at you The Hobbit!!!)

The titular character is way more daring and active in the TV-show. It seems like she is ready to fight, while she is very passive and afraid in the book. So, she has a very different air there that might not go hand in hand with the character in the novel. However, I am curious to see where the show leads us from that first episode.

What I very much liked was the victim blaming, in the book as well as in the first episode. Not that I support victim blaming (on the contrary) but for me, the sequence in the book, although being very short and marginal, set the tone for the whole oppression of women. The show very accurately presented that scene as well.

As mentioned before, I very much liked the book and Atwoods use of language but I’m not as eager to praise the adaptation. There surely is a lot of potential and the story itself is very strong, interesting and important, but I think a three or four-episode mini-series would have fitted the book better.

An aspect that I very much enjoy is the title of the book/series. If you play with the words handmaid may become hand-made and tale might be seen as tail. Both alternatives that fit in a certain way:)

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Kerry Casey (caseykerry) | 249 comments I have actually just started the series and ive just ordered the book so I hope it is something special :)

Jennifer (jaye22) | 5 comments Finished the book but definitely should have read the book before watching the series

My Review

“Audible and Kindle App”

I think I made the mistake of watching some of the episodes of the television series before reading the book. In my mind I already had faces to the names beforehand instead of my usual preference of creating the images of people using my imagination.

I found the book a little bitty and at times confusing. I suppose with the series they can tackle any flashback scenes much better.

I disliked the idea that the sole purpose in which the women were necessary which was to breed and cruelly have their babies taken and given to childless women in the house and the indignity in how the sexual acts took place. But somehow I felt compelled to read on.

For me the television series works better although uncomfortable to watch to the point I felt like switching off. Read/listen to it and make up your own mind

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Kerry Casey (caseykerry) | 249 comments Hi Jennifer. That's a very strong reaction you've had to the story, (which is likely the exact response the author/creators had hoped for :)

I'm 3/4 the way through and I'm enjoying it, it's a little heavy handed/heavy winded although I realise that this is true literature and has its own style. I've had to pop it down a couple of times, not because Of the sensitive material surrounding women's rights- to be honest I'm not even associating it with feminism or the current political climate, but as it's text is heavy winded it does take a while to get through.

I agree completely - the series WORKS really WELL, and I will continue to watch that.
Will you? Or is it too much?

Jennifer (jaye22) | 5 comments Hi Kerry

Definitely going to continue with the series, I can understand the first series based on the book but see there is going to be a second series. I wonder how that will work. I understand what you mean about the heavy literature it was not a book that I could race through, I look forward to your review. X

Simon (siid) | 27 comments Hello ladies:)

In what ways did you find the book bitty and confusing.
Having only watched the first episode of the adaption, I prefer the book over the show, however, I have only seen just one episode, so the following episodes might convince me otherwise.
I do have a question for you (and obviously anybody else): You said you disliked the idea of the role of women as breeders and so on. Would it be a reason for you to stop reading a book / watching a movie, if you disagreed with the status quo in a book? For me that actually would even be more interesting to read/watch on since I can’t fathom the mind-set of the characters. If I only read novels that I absolutely agreed with, I probably would only read very little:)


I simply can not understand how you can not associate the whole topic with the curren tpolitical climate as well as with current debates about feminism (#metoo and so on). For me the book very much is an exaggerated portrayal of current events. Obviously women are/were treated as objects and are/were degraded in (sexual) ways…yet still one guy who brags about it is the current POTUS. And, if I remember correctly, 53% of women voted for him? I do not get that at all.

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Kerry Casey (caseykerry) | 249 comments Hi Simon, to be honest i see the story as the story, the handmaids are the only fertile women so to carry on populating, they are reserved for breeding, it's their 'job'. The sex act doesn't bother me in context of the story, the banishment of their old lives and their intelligence does, much more so than getting fixated on women's rights or feminism in general. (In that case you should include the non women the wives and the Martha's not just the 'poor' handmaids. Each other person has suffered in a way when the governing entity shifted to totalitarianism.

But yeah, great story and very full of layers. I'm enjoying.
As far as the American (Do I have to address his as this? :( ) gulp.. president. Is conserved. He's a disgusting natsassistic pig,
Though I don't carry his weight inward with this book.

Jennifer (jaye22) | 5 comments Hi Simon

For me I found the first half of the book very slow, subject heavy and I cannot say I was glued to it. The second half of the book flowed a bit better and I was hooked wanting to find out what happens and not at the same time. For me the series plays out better but that’s my opinion. I will continue to watch it but like my review said perhaps I should have read the book first rather than the other way around.

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Kerry Casey (caseykerry) | 249 comments I'm carrying on with the book now but agree Jennifer it's very heavy, I love the series though! I also think K it translates best in series.

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Rowas | 1 comments Hello everyone, I could not read this book for a long time, but I still found the time and am very happy about it. I am very impressed with this book, because in the near dystopian future, the world has become so polluted that most women have become infertile, this is a huge problem. Be sure to read the article which is written on this topic. It also talks about a complete and updated guide to The Handmaid's Tale filming locations. I really liked it and I even want to revise this work.

Graham Monkman | 1 comments The Handmaid’s Tale – a challenging and disturbing classic written by Canadian author Margaret Atwood - was first published in 1985. It was set in the year 2005 in Gilead – an imaginary republic governed by a fanatical and power hungry religious extremist regime which has taken over the United States. Its rise to power has had disastrous consequences for the population – in particular women who become brutally oppressed.
The fertile amongst them are forced to work as natal slaves to combat declining birth rates – the outcome of sexually transmitted disease and environmental pollution. Others are forced to work in limited and frequently degrading roles, banned from owning property or handling money, and forbidden to read.
Their numbers include adulterers, single or unmarried mothers, lesbians, non Chiristians, political dissidents and academics. They are called ‘Handmaids’ and they are placed in the homes of the male rulers (called ‘Commanders’) and forced into ritualized rape.
One such handmaid is the central character of the film, Ofred, (Elisabeth Moss), who has been captured while trying to escape to Canada with her husband and child. Classified as an adulterer because she married her husband before obtaining a divorce, she is assigned to Fred Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), a Commander, party heavyweight, and one of the architects of Gilead.
The female exploitation in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’may well explain its positioning by some as a ‘feminist 1984’. But as Margaret Atwood points out, it is actually about power - in particular power justified by fanatical religious conviction. The Commanders preach Christian values while they oversee the gouging out of one of the Handmaiden’s eyes and ‘definger’ Fred Waterford’s wife, Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski) when she questions the ethics of a state she has been involved in creating. The Handmaidens are supervised by the ‘Aunts’, whose observance of God’s will doesn’t stop them from insulting and beating their charges.
Margaret Atwood believes that all of the cruelties and twisted philosophies in Gilead have already happened or are happening in our own world. She backs up her views by showing Afghanistan to be an example of a religious theocracy forcing women out of public life, The Philippines is similarly attacked for its’state sanctioned murder of dissidents’. She also explains that many similarly deplorable acts were not just present in other cultures and countries ‘but within both Western society and the Christian tradition itself’.
With regard to cruelties that have already happened, it’s worth recalling that when the senseless slaughter and destruction of the first world war finally came to an end in 1918, the cry went up ‘never again.’ It was to be ‘the war to end all wars’. And yet within 18 years, Adolf Hitler – rightly described by Winston Churchill as ‘a maniac if ferocious genius’ – had set the world ablaze again, determined to give it the delights of his national socialist ideology.
They included the Gestapo, concentration camps (including a special one for women) ,torture, the murder of political opponents, and the ruthless extermination of gypsies, homosexuals and Jews – in keeping with the warped Nazi belief in ‘racial superiority’.
At the same time, his fellow monster in Russia, Joseph Stalin, was equally hell bent on giving the world the delights of communism – including the KGB, exile to Siberia, the Gulag labour camps, the assassination and persecution of opponents, and a dreary and colourless environment, rather like ‘Gilead’ in Margaret Atwood’s novel.
It’s interesting that ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was published in 1985 – a year after the year chosen by George Orwell as the title of his much applauded 1949 novel on the evils of a future totalitarian state – ‘1984’. In ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, the USA becomes ‘Gilead’- in Orwell’s ‘1984’, Britain becomes ‘Airstrip One’. In reality, ‘1984’ produced nothing as dramatic as Orwell predicted – except perhaps, inspiring a TV commercial for Apple, which became the most popular ever screened at the Super Bowl.
Nevertheless, one must admit that the horrific society of ‘Big Brother’ in ‘1984’remains a possibility – as does the equally horrific world of Gilead which Margaret Atwood brings so effectively to life in ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’. Power mad religious fanatics are still around – evidenced in particular through the terror attacks by Islamic fundamentalists in the 21st century
In Stalin’s Russia, if you disagreed with the government or with Communist doctrine, you were either shot or despatched to a labour camp in Siberia, with the prospect of being either worked, frozen or starved to death. In Gilead, any woman who dared to question the system ended up working in the state brothel or labouring in ‘the Colonies’, digging up toxic waste and dying from the inevitable ensuing health problems. The scenes in the Colonies are as dramatic as they are disturbing. The inmates are forced to labour till they drop by sadistic guards wearing protective gear and masks. Needless to say no such protection is offered to the women. Such cruelty and oppression always accompanies totalitarian regimes. Hitler’s concentration camps were thought to belong in the past, but the ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the Bosnian War in the 1990’s showed them to be alive and well. And incidentally, in the same conflict around 50,000 women were raped
‘The Handmaid’s Tale TV series takes the savagery of the Gilead regime head on. In one frightening sequence Aunt Lydia (Anne Dowd) asks the girls to stone a member of their group to death. The stones are dug from the ground and passed to each Handmaid to hurl at the hapless victim. Thankfully, the girls refuse to obey the order, causing the Aunt to descend into a rage of monumental intensity. Aunt Lydia also presides over a hanging, which the maids are forced to witness. In another frightening scene, Aunt Lydia gives the girls free rein to attack a man convicted of rape. The girls turn into beasts and the man is torn to pieces.
The sets of the TV series are stunning – in particular the opulent homes of the Commanders. But they are always gloomy – with lots of lamps and just a bit of natural light from one window with the curtains drawn. No doubt this was deliberate to reflect the depressing story. Similarly, the weather in the outdoor scenes is always either grey, wet, or snowing.
Ofred’s plan to escape or to be reunited with her daughter (who has been placed into a new home by the Commanders) are major ingredients in the rest of the story. The baby she gives birth to as a Handmaid is eventually smuggled into Canada, to be looked after by her husband who had escaped Gilead after Ofred was captured. At the end of the TV series, she oversees the escape of a number of children from Gilead – by air to Canada. She herself is shot when the escapees are confronted with armed guards. Her fate will no doubt be revealed when the next series commences.
The three Handmaid’s Tale TV series are compulsive viewing. The acting – particularly by Elisabeth Moss and Yvonne Strahovski – is stunning throughout. I think the story was a little drawn out and my only other reservation was that there was a lot of whispering and subdued voices which made the dialogue difficult to pick up. Adam Taylor’s music suited the story and settings admirably – including the inclusion of existing pop classics such as ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’ and ‘You’ve Got To Be Cruel To Be Kind’. The latter might have made a good anthem for Gilead!
5 stars definitely.

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