A Hard Look at The Handmaid’s Tale

I have to say that I think that Hulu has really hit its stride in the last year or so, first with 11/22/63 then The Path and now with the captivating re-imagining of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  You might think that a physics and astronomy guy like me wouldn’t have much to say about this sort of speculative fiction, but in my view, for me, its all about assessing how interesting and convincing of a world is created for us, the reader or viewer.

There’s no doubt about it. Hulu and their partner, MGM Studios, have certainly created an interesting series with The Handmaid’s Tale. The series starts off with a jarring mix of dark images (people exchanging small talk in the streets with victims of hangings clearly visible in the background), snarky narration by the main character (played by Elizabeth Moss), and popular songs from past decades used strategically to accent the happenings of the scenes in which they’re played. But I do wonder how realistic it all is.

A speculative tale needn’t be realistic, but I have the feeling this was meant to be, so I’ll take my analysis a bit further. I do understand how we could potentially get caught up in an autocracy/theocracy if we aren’t vigilant. I won’t get too caught up in whether or not I think the current American administration could lead in that direction, but suffice to say that the writer’s of this version of  The Handmaid’s Tale probably thought/think so. My main criticism is the speed with which all of this happens.  We are to believe that June, Luke, Moira and others are living fairly normal lives until a cabal of theocratic moguls take over by using terrorist acts as an excuse for limiting/abolishing the various branches of government.  Not long after (though it might be as much as six years, since we see no signs of June’s 6 year old girl, Hannah, in these flashbacks depicting the break down of society), women’s rights are completely abolished, fertile women are corralled for purposes of being “trained” to be concubines for the male leaders (“commanders”), as most of their wives are “barren.”  Many either try to escape  Gilead (the theocracy that’s replaced most of the US) or help others to escape. Many are killed by the new brutal government.

I do wonder how fast such a transition could occur. A year? Six years? More? perhaps it would behoove me to be a bit more of a pessimistic worrier!

But perhaps I’m just naive. I do accept t as a possibility that we could be taken off guard, and not realize whats really happening until its too late.

Don’t forget my book, The Physics and Astronomy of Science Fiction, published by McFarland and available from them and many online booksellers. It is available in electronic formats.

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