“The Handmaid’s Tale” – Badaptations (Chapter 2)

“The Handmaid’s Tale” – Badaptations (Chapter 2)

Stephanie: Blessed be the fruit. Amy: May the Lord open. [badaptations version of the song “Lady in
Red”] Hi, and welcome to Badaptations. This time we will be reviewing The Handmaid’s
Tale by Margaret Atwood. The book itself is getting a ton of buzz right
now because of a recent Hulu adaptation. Although we would like to review the TV series
in the future, we will leave that to a time when all the episodes are out. First, a little background on the book: so
The Handmaid’s Tale was published in 1985. Some would call it dystopia, some would label
it speculative fiction; Margaret Atwood herself resists these sorts of labels, particularly
science fiction. In fact, she and Ursula [K.] Le Guin, who is another really famous fantasy and science fiction author- they had this feud about whether we should call
The Handmaid’s Tale science fiction… But anyways, a brief summary of the book is
that it is set in the republic of Gilead, which is in the United States. People have been split into different roles
in this society, so you’ve got Marthas, who are I guess kitchen maids?; you have Wives,
who are uh, well, the wives of important political figures, um, men in the government such as
the Commander, who is another major character in the book; and then you have Handmaids. So, this is a time in which a lot of the population
has become sterile, and so Handmaids are select women who have in the past been shown to have
been fertile, so they are expected to get pregnant and then have a baby for a Commander
and his wife. Her body is just a container. The story basically is Offred’s account, and
we’re given flashbacks, we’re given out of order thoughts and events. The film was made in 1990, directed by Volker
Schlon- [interview clip: Volker Schlöndorff] Schlondorff [interview clip: Volker Schlöndorff]
a German man- it was directed- you know what, not gonna do this. We’re just gonna put it on the bottom. The film was released in 1990 and adapted
for the screen by Harold Pinter. The film stars Natasha Richardson as Offred,
and Robert Duvall as the Commander and Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, or the Commander’s
Wife. And so a lot of the summary that Amy just
gave is used as background in the movie. But there are quite a few differences, especially in the ending, and the way that various characters connect. Probably the biggest difference is that the
film is told in a very linear perspective. So, when we were looking at the film for a
possible Badaptations review, we first saw the movie poster, um, which is kind of ridiculous:
it looks like an erotica cover, um… It actually does, as Stephanie mentioned,
stick pretty closely to the novel, until the ending. I believe we start with Luke and Kate- *Stephanie
nods* which- Yeah, we don’t know where that name comes
from at all… Luke and Kate are running away and they have
their daughter with them, and they’re trying to escape, presumably to Canada. [film clip: Kate screaming “No!!” as Luke
runs toward armed men] There are flashbacks but there’s not plot
in the flashbacks, and it’s just Kate, who’s now Offred, thinking back to her daughter
Jill, in the snow- so Luke gets shot and he’s killed outright, and so there’s no question
that Luke is dead. In the book it’s pretty vague. Yes; it’s very ambiguous in the book, and
that’s actually something that drives Offred forward, is this uncertainty. Kate is separated from her daughter and brought
to this processing center. What’s fascinating is that you just have this
hammering and awful industrial noise in the background, and women are being processed
and moved around- you get marks of Ellis Island, and the Holocaust in there, with people being
marked and separated. After everybody gets sorted, then the fertile
women are shipped off into an actual animal transport truck, and what’s fascinating is
in this scene, there’s actually, it’s like a clucking noise in the background as the
women are screaming, and so you really see that these women are becoming- they’re becoming
breeding stock. So another part in this scene is that you
notice that the people of color are separated out from white people, and this is a minor
point in the book but it’s really important. So, I believe, in the novel and in the film,
the reason that there are no people of color, particularly black people, is because they’ve
been shipped off to the colonies. So the colonies are full of radioactive waste:
it’s a very dangerous place to live, and the people who are sent there are just put to
work. And so this is a good segue into discussing
the Rachel and Leah Center, or the Red Center. This is where the film kind of moves away
from the book. Offred is in the center- she’s in the center
and then after that she does not return. However, in the movie, we see Offred navigating
these spaces, going back and forth. So this is how the film itself navigates some
of the more difficult, I guess, pieces of the text that depend on the nonlinear plot. I’ll also note that there’s some really sweet
fashion choices in the 1990s film. Apparently, in dystopic worlds, there are
scrunchies. So, just keep that in mind. Everything else will go to hell in the future-
But scrunchies will remain! But scrunchies will remain. [clip from “Clarissa Explains It All”] So another point about the fashion: clothing is very important. Part of the way that the different sections
of society are policed are through what they wear: so Marthas wear green, the Wives wear
blue, and the Handmaids wear red, with white wings. So, part of this is this – the wings – stop
them from looking at one another. The film itself does not do as much. The Handmaids don’t have the wings; they just
wear a headscarf/veil… so Offred’s face is never covered, and that’s such a big part
in the sense that by covering the face with the veil and the wings, you’re also showing
that women are no longer objects, and they can’t tempt men. So in the book, it’s women like Serena Joy
who really encourage this movement. They thought they were creating a utopia for
women. So one of the major points is that there’s
no more pornography: I think that this comes out of a moment in feminism where in the late
70s and early 80s were the feminist sex wars, where they’re debating whether, um.. so you
have scholars like Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin who are arguing against porn. And that’s kind of what the Wives, or Serena
Joy specifically, are arguing. Patriarchy gets women to police themselves. I would love to talk about Serena Joy, because
this was probably the moment that the movie really, really, really let me down, because
Serena Joy, as Amy articulated, is this really complex character. But in the film we lose that entirely, and
I *love* the fact that Serena Joy is this withered, desiccated, arthritic creature-
With a limp! – with a limp, who is kind of this shell of what she used to be, who is
contained to knitting, and probably unraveling all of her knitting constantly. But in the film that’s completely lost, and
that sucks because you have Faye Dunaway, who probably could’ve played it up in a really
hammy, hammy way. [film clip from Mommie Dearest: “No more hangers!”] and instead you kind of get this passive,
off to the side Serena; we don’t really get her backstory, we don’t get anything other
than that she just desperately wants a baby. And again, that’s what makes Atwood’s text
so fascinating: these women that… it’s not just because you’re a woman [that] you’re
subjugated and you have a hard time: it’s women who are subjugated and subjugate women
below them, and you lose that in the film unfortunately. Yeah, and that’s one of the major downsides
of a film: you only have so much time. Probably another, again, character who we
kind of lose some of the nuance [from] is Moira, who in the text is- plays a really
pivotal role in Offred’s life, in constructing this strong female friendship before the war. And so in the film, Moira is at the Red Center
with uh, Kate before she’s Offred, I guess. And she does retain some of that kind of spirit
of rebellion and resistance in the film, and so we do get the escape scene: the escape
itself is very different than the book, because we don’t get it first hand. We actually see this, Offred is part of the
escape. Later we find her [Moira] at Jezebels- she’s
a Jezebel. They’re basically prostitutes or call girls. In the film it’s this weird Logan’s Run mall-esque
type of thing where everybody has all these costumes – they’re supposed to be antiquated
costumes from before the war – so you see Playboy bunny costumes and cheerleader costumes…
and so Moira’s costume in the film is this really great play on the red dress. [film clip: Offred meeting Moira in the Jezebel
bathroom: “You look like the whore of Babylon.”] In the book- we don’t get this as much in
the movie- Moira just… she gives up. So we sort of talked about the different roles
that have been enforced upon women in this society, but you also have different roles
for men: so you have the Commander, Fred. So that’s an explanation for “Offred.” It’s a patronymic, she’s “of Fred.” Offred’s on her third Commander, and something
will happen after, so there will be consequences despite the fact that it’s probably the Commander
who can’t have children. Serena Joy and Nick devise this plan because
Serena Joy- she really wants a baby, not to necessarily have a baby, but in order to increase
her status in society- and they create this plan where she’s- Offred’s gonna have sex
with Nick in order to conceive. The adaptation in the film- it really just
seems like oh she’s hot for Nick: that’s the real motivating factor. In the book, we certainly see how that could
be a factor, but there’s also… it’s a power play. [film clip of Serena Joy asking Offred “Is
this your first placement?” Offred: “Yes.”] The Commander and Serena Joy are her first
family [in the film] and that changes quite a bit, because there’s not a lot at stake,
being with this first family, and it actually changes the relationship with the Commander. Nick is probably the one part that does play
into the weird advertising that’s slightly porny, um, in the sense that there’s some
weird gratuitous, like, breast shots. [photo of a sign that reads: If it jiggles,
cover it up.”] He’s basically, he’s police, he’s law enforcement. He also washes cars-
-And to leer at the Handmaids. -Yeah, basically. -Just, super creepy, pervy… He also poses very sexily in his vest occasionally…
like, the vest is a really pivotal part in the movie, just wanna throw that out there. -Yeah. -He just like washes cars. -Yeah, he also looks a little like Ryan Lochte. -Oh! And he sounds like Joe Pesci, so-
-He’s just this amalgamation of all like, weird, creepy, terrible men… Yeah. Um, anyways… In the film I really think that they’re striving
to make this a real connection between the two. And this then plays into the ending, which
is the really major difference. Also a thing that I just remembered is entirely
omitted from the film, is “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.” – Oh yeah! -So, ‘nolite te bastardes carborundorum” is
fake Latin, and I still can’t pronounce like, correct Latin, so it doesn’t even matter,
but, that is *the* line that people remember from the book, like, people have gotten tattoos
of it… It’s a schoolboy’s Latin joke that is meant
to mean “Don’t let the bastards get [sic] you down.” And this also gives us a little bit of history,
because she [Offred] finds that scrawled in the room, where the previous Handmaid had
presumably hung herself. And then when she is in these meetings in
the Commander’s office, she comes across it in one of the books. So now we know from that that he did the same
thing to the previous Handmaid: this is all like a game to him. Actually in the film we don’t really see that… Offred’s lust for words. She just savors them, because they can’t read:
women can’t read, they’re not allowed to have access to words – and there’s just this *long*
stretch of time where just nothing happens. And we get this in the book, but in the movie
it seems like time move relatively quickly… So, in the book, the Eyes have put her [Offred]
in a van and she’s being taken away and she has no idea if she’s been snitched on, or
if this is a rescue operation. Nick tells her, Oh, we’re saving you, we’re
Mayday, but she can’t tell. And we aren’t given a definitive answer, so
we’re left in this um…. we’re left waiting, like her. And that’s entirely different in the film. Yeah. So, in the film, they try to play up Nick
and Offred’s relationship as a romance, and that really fits with the tone of the ending
as well, which is supposed to be almost hopeful, I would say. It’s very clearly- so, Offred is pregnant,
and what happens is, Offred goes up into her room, and looks in her drawer, and there’s
a knife there. As viewers I was kind of like, Come on! Come on, do it! Do it, do it! And she goes- instead of just a nice gentle
stab, she goes right for the neck. -Yeah. -It’s pretty fantastic, um, and then what
happens is we see the Commander bleeding out. The Eyes in the black van show up; she gets
put in the van and Nick is actually there to help her. And so, she is basically, this is an escape
attempt: it’s definitive, unlike the book. We know that Nick is part of the Mayday resistance;
he’s helping her get out, and so the film ends with a TV kind of news- saying that this
Mayday operation’s gone about, the Commander has been murdered, and they’re looking for
the culprit. You see the city being blown up, so you know
that the resistance is coming out, and the film ends with a shot of uh, Offred, who’s
back to “Kate” now, with a dog, besweatered, in a nice, gentle, mountainous area, with
a dog and a really sweet sweet Airstream and -She’s waiting for Nick. -She’s just thinking of what’s going to happen,
um, she hasn’t had her baby yet. We don’t know what happened to Jill, her daughter,
um, but yeah. That’s how that ends. So that’s just, uh, I think it’s unforgivable
that the film would do that, um… they’re obviously trying to create this message of
hope, um, but the novel’s not about that. Sometimes when we go to films we like to have
hopefulness. Having that hopefulness that the resistance
is gonna come up and we can all band together, and make the world better… and there’s a
cat. -Hey! So now is the moment of truth where we reveal
what we felt about the film. So, mine is a “mehdaptation.” It’s definitely… it’s not a goodaptation. Although film is always gonna be different
from the book, it still wasn’t good enough to warrant a “goodaptation.” But it also wasn’t that bad. The film is really interesting in the sense
that it takes pieces from the book and either elaborates on them, and makes them their own,
or creates its own structure. And although the ending with the dog and the
Airstream is again, as Amy said, pretty unforgivable, I think that the idea of the Commander getting
stabbed in the neck really bumped it up from a badaptation to a mehdaptation. And just again, the idea that it used the
source material in a really constructive way, and I think some of the play with the noise
and the visuals in the film really kind of sealed it in for me. So again, it’s different, and I think that’s
what’s unique about it is that it’s not just Margaret Atwood on the screen, but again,
it’s not perfect, so: mehdaptation for me. Yeah, and as for me, I am… I’ve been struggling between [a] “badaptation”
rating or a “mehdaptation” rating… and I think I’m gonna go for “meh”daptation. So the reason I would’ve given a badaptation
rating is because of the ending: purely because of the ending, and also the marketing. [Both laugh.] But I think that the marketing is misleading
because the film itself is actually not terrible, and it does stay true to a lot of the book;
we’ve obviously talked mostly about the differences. I think that the spirit of it, except for the ending, is largely on point, so we’ll say: “meh.” Yeah. It’s not a bad movie to watch; it’s a decent
90s flick actually so- Yeah. I had very low expectations. For like, a film made in 1990, it’s pretty
damn good. So that’s our rating. We hope that you will check out the film, and definitely,
definitely read the book if you haven’t done so already. – Yes. Read the book. And as always: “like” our video and subscribe
to our channel. Please share, with your friends, with your
enemies (I don’t really care)! Let us know what you think in the comments. You can also let us know what you think about
the TV show; we haven’t watched all of it yet, but if we get some really good comments,
we might incorporate those in our future video when we *do* talk about the TV series. Exactly. So, thank you for watching, and see you next time! [badpatations version of “Lady in Red” cuts in]


  1. I really enjoyed the film, but I am older so in the 90's this is what you had. It was good way to be introduced to the book and I read the book off the back of watching the film.

  2. I was interested in watching the show but I always prefer books over their movies or shows 🙂 Great review. Bummed that I just found your channel & it seems you guys dont do these anymore. At least I can watch all of the ones you've made so far though!

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