Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Handmaid's Tale

Could the United States be converted into fundamentalist utopia -- the 'Republic of Gilead' -- and the status of women be demoted to Old Testament proportions? It seemed possible in 1985, when Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale, and even though the political muscle of evangelical sects has diminished a bit since then, the rise of ISIS/ISIL has shown that there are some places on earth where it can. ISIS has eliminated education for women; ruled that girls can be married as early as the age of nine, and consigned them to a life of domestic duties. Alcohol and cigarettes are banned (although, much like the Commander, some leaders in ISIS seem to flaunt their own rules), and ancient statues in museums are to be smashed as signs of idolatry.

In 1990, the novel was adapted as a film. Things looked good at the start, with Harold Pinter (later a Nobel laureate) set to write the script, and an A-list cast was lined up that included Robert Duvall as the Commander, Faye Dunaway as Serena Joy, and Natasha Richardson as Offred. The original director, Karol Reisz, had wanted thousands of extras for the crowd scenes, along with other big-budget set pieces; when the studio nixed these, he quit, and was replaced by Volker Schlondorff. Pinter, claiming he was "exhausted," begged off doing any of the script changes Schlondorff requested, giving him and author Margaret Atwood "carte blanche" in rewrites, and later trying to have his name taken off the script. Another day in Hollywood.

Given all that, it's remarkable that the film is as strong, as coherent, and as passionate as it is. Certainly, it was far ahead of its time in many ways, and despite its modest production values conveys an uncanny feeling that such a world might still, a quarter of a century later, be just around the corner.

23 comments:

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel by Margaret Atwood. In this book people live in a society in which reproduction is at a low. People are divided into certain groups: the Commanders who are older gentleman, their staff which includes people such as chauffeurs, the commanders’ wives who wear blue, the handmaids who dress in red, the Marthas who sport a dull green, and the aunts who wear tan. In this society, the women are not allowed to read, and everything is labeled with pictures. The aunts teach the handmaids about their responsibilities and how to perform them. The handmaids’ only purpose is to provide the commanders and their wives with a child. No one is allowed to have relations, so love does not exist in this time. The handmaids’ real names are not allowed to be used; their designations are simply the word “of” combined with their assigned commander’s name. Therefore, the narrator whose commander’s name is Fred is called Offred. Offred often has flashbacks of those she believes to be lost to her: her husband Luke, their daughter, her mother, and her best friend Moira. Offred constantly checks the wall on which they post those who have been killed; this display serves as a public reminder to follow the rules. Although he probably was killed, the reader never learns the fate of Luke. However, her daughter is alive as Serena Joy, the Commander’s wife, shows Offred a picture of her. Serena does this as an attempt to bribe Offred to have a child with Nick, the chauffer, because she is desperate to have a child. Women who become pregnant, give birth, and give up their child are then sent to the next commander. Those who are unable to provide this function are shipped to the colonies. Some of the Handmaids are against this organization of society and try to help themselves by forming a group called Mayday. The ending of the book is a cliffhanger and the reader is left to decide what happens. Two men arrive in a black car to take Offred away, but is it part of a Mayday operation as Nick said or is for treason? I tend to play both scenarios in my head, and I feel as though she is in serious trouble. After reading The Stepford Wives, I really did not care for another book in which women are demoralized. (Amanda Lussier)

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  2. In the 1990 movie, I felt that the chaos of the Republic of Gilead was depicted fairly well. Everyone was wearing masks, and healthy women were being selected as handmaids, while unfit women were being disposed of. I felt that the Commander’s wife also did a decent job portraying the emotional pain through which the wives must go in order to conceive a child; the pain was the hardship of wanting a child, knowing that it is impossible, and relying on the handmaids to fulfill their desires. Although the book and movie had many similarities, it did have a number of differences. Unlike the book, the movie revealed that Offred’s husband was shot in front of her as they were trying to escape with their child. Offred met Moira on a bus as they were being transported to the Red Center; they were not friends before this, as they had been in the book. The narrator’s real name, Kate, was revealed only in the movie; she was always referred to as Offred in the book. Unlike the book, Offred did not recognize Serena Joy as the singer on television; the Commander’s wife just introduced herself in the movie. Although Moira escaped by telling one of the aunts that the toilet was overflowing and then threatened her with a pipe, her method of her escape differed. Moira did not tie up the aunt in the boiler room as in the book, but rather she did so in the bathroom. Only in the movie, did Kate help Moira escape. Instead of the wife bribing Kate with the picture of her child before seeing Nick, in the movie she said that she would find out what she could and showed her the picture only after seeing him; however, she told her that it was impossible to ever see her child again. During the hanging ceremony, only one handmaid was hanged in the movie, and the justification for her death was stated. In contrast, the book described how two handmaids and one wife were executed, and it was felt that it was better for them to not know the reason behind it. At the end of the movie, Kate killed the commander, and with the help of Nick, she escaped. It ends with her living on a mountainside, hoping to see her child and be reunited with Nick, unlike the book which leaves the reader with a cliffhanger. I prefer the ending of the movie better than that of the book, as I always hate when a book leaves me guessing. In addition, after reading and viewing The Stepford Wives, it would be nice to know that she survived, unlike Joanne. (Amanda Lussier)

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  3. The Handmaid’s Tale is an intense story about how women have been turned into the property of men, whose only use it to reproduce. People are ruled by the new regime called the Republic of Gilead. Women of this time don’t even get their own real names, they have names like “Offred” which is short for “property of Fred”. This really struck a chord with me because no one should ever be treated like this. The women are “prisoners” or concubines of the men. They are kept in “the gym” and are under constant supervision of the angels and the aunts; they aren’t allowed to speak or interact with one another either. They are moved to their own rooms that have the same kind of feel to it, strict and prison-like. If they have sexual relations with another man outside of the “ceremony” they get punished severely, sometimes even with death. Not only are they just killed, but they are hung in front of the other handmaids and citizens as an example of what can happen to those who do not obey the rules. This new way of living is awful for the women who are mistreated and abused, and there is really nothing they can do about it unless the men, who say they are in “the Mayday resistance”, actually rebel against the current government. In the end it leaves you guessing whether they will actually fight against the government and win, or not. I liked this book, it keeps you thinking “what if?” and you get drawn into the story and begin to really sympathize with the characters. (Elizabeth Cook)

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  4. In the book the Handmaid's Tale there is a women who works in this house that is run by a married Commander who she must have sex with on a regular basis (in a standard Ceremony) in an attempt to become pregnant and provide the household with a child. Throughout the book she has frequent flashbacks to various times in her life: her relationship with her husband Luke, their daughter, and her mother. One scene that stuck out to me was when she was in the waiting room. While he performs his "invasive examination," he offers to help her. He lifts up the sheet and looks at her face. At first she thinks he means help her with news of Luke. But he's offering to have sex with her so maybe she'll get pregnant. It's dangerous to say that men are sterile, because the society blames infertility exclusively on women.The narrator thinks vaguely that if she can't have children, she might die. On birth days the Handmaids have more freedom than usual. The narrator thinks about her options: she could set fire to the house, try to break her unbreakable window, approach the Commander, kill herself, kill Serena Joy, try to walk out authoritatively, go to Nick. She thinks that they are all not good options.She then sees a black van coming for her. These men take the narrator out to the van and she gets in, not knowing whether she's about to be rescued or killed. At first, it's difficult to tell what exactly is going on in the handmaid's world, One thing I liked about this was the fact that she actually seemed to gain some small measure of hope. She never stopped giving up no matter how she was feeling. A theme of this book is the little moments of happiness. She always had good flashbacks of her and Luke and her daughter; that would keep her moving along. I normally don't like the books when it comes from a narrative point of view but this one wasn't too bad. But overall, I really wish I knew what happened to her at the end.( Jaimee Barrett)

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  5. Margaret Atwood’s novel and film of “The Handmaid’s Tale” (1990) showed both minor and major differences. In the book, the Handmaids wear loose-fitting garments that hide all of their body and allow them not to see much, whereas in the film, the Handmaids wear knee-length red dresses and not as much head covering. In the film, Offred's true name was revealed as Kate whereas in the book it was unknown to readers. In the book, Handmaid’s were forced to wear hats with wings to block side views yet the film showed all Handmaid’s wearing red veils. Offred saw her husband killed at the border while the book showed Luke’s disappearance to be a mystery. It ends with her hoping to see her child and be reunited with Nick unlike the book which doesn't tell you anything just the fact that she got into a van. I liked this ending better because like I said before I don't like when you don't know what happened at the end and the movie gave you some kind of view of what happened afterwards. (Jaimee Barrett)

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  6. The novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, presents a very interesting idea. It is scary to think about something so powerful that could reverse women’s hard earned rights. It is crazy that these handmaids live their lives in so much fear that they would rather take their own lives then live any longer. Just by looking at the handmaid’s names it is easy to tell that they are inferior to males. Their status is seen as so low that they aren’t even deserving of a name, just as property of their Commander. In society today it is clear that women have far more rights than they did in our nation’s history. However, they aren’t completely seen as equal to men in some places and this concept of them regressing to ways of inferiority may not be as unrealistic as we would hope. Even though this novel is fiction, it is a real eye-opener to show us that we need to keep supporting women’s rights. Although I don’t think this would actually happen because there are too many groups like “Mayday” that would strongly support women and fight for their rights.

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  7. The Handmaid’s tale is a story that is based on a new world where society is divided into roles. What’s interesting is the fact that the main character Offred, has some recollection of her past life. This is contrary to A Canticle for Leibowitz where no one really knew what the past life was like. I think knowing the past is even more painful, because she remembers bits of pieces of her loved ones and the freedom. This is evident when in the first couple of chapters she describes her environment in the gym and the house as controlling, like a prison.
    What i found interesting in the novel was that you can tell no one is really happy with the current situation. Even a women like Serena, who seems to have elite status is unhappy that she can’t be happy or free in life or her own marriage. The commander seemed not to enjoy the fact that the Gilead society was not allowed love or passion. He asked Offred for a kiss because he didn’t like the fact that everything had to be protocol or strict. Of course the novel shows women suffering from having no rights, but also the effects of that and how society as a whole becomes boring and routine.
    In the movie, the outfit of the handmaids were described differently. They seemed to be a long coverings and it made me think of radical islamist thinking. It always scary to think how seeing the movie you think, “oh, this can never happen.” But it already is, a few terrorist groups are eliminating the rights of many women. And even the in Stepford Wives I ask the question of why would anyone want a subordinate wife, why don’t you want a loving educated women? But for a few men, its better to be feared than loved. (Cindy Xon)

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  8. The novel of Handmaid's Tale crosses boundaries to present an idea that many years ago might have sounded crazy. But, the scary thing now is we know that this idea could be withheld. The novel is based on this idea that the society they are living in now has specific roles for everyone. The main character Offred who is a handmaid in this new republic that has seemingly replaced the United States. What i found interesting was how they are assigned names, many people take pride in there name it is who they are as a person, there identity. But here she gets her name starting with 'of' as all handmaids names do and ending in the name of there commander so she is of Fred. They not only have all these roles but take away identities as well. They took away all women right and treated them as if they do not even have lives to live.
    I felt as though the movie held most of the book to an extent. In the book the women where loss fitting garments and in the movie they where this more uniform fitting knee length type of dress. The movie also reveals that her real name is Kate where in the book it is not stated what it is for sure. The movie also shows that Luke was shot and killed in the attempt to cross the border but in the book it does not say what happened to Luke and there child. Overall there are a lot of differences and this interesting. I enjoy the ideas Handmaids Tale addresses and i think though, the issues is more presently then ever. The idea of something as bazaar and out there as Handmaids Tale brings up will not happen anytime in the near future.
    (Gabrielle Demers)

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  9. The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel by Margaret Atwood, As the Movie is based off of her novel. In this novel people live in a very strict society where it is very rare for women to be able to be pregnant with a child. People within this society are separated and divided in specific parties or groups: First are the Commanders, they are older (gentle)man, then the commanders have their staff. The staff consists of chauffeurs, the commanders’ wives who are adorned in the color blue, their handmaids who are dressed in long garments of red, the Marthas who all wear this bland green, and lastly the aunts who are all dressed up in the color of tan. How horrible and boring this must be for everyone, to be color coded. All of this is consistent in both the movie and novel, although how they were styled for each party differed.
    Men are in control of every aspect in this society. Women have their rights removed from them, they are not educated, they can not have relations with those around them unless they are as followed by the rules, they don't even read! (because everything is like a picture book, thats how things are labeled with pictures! ) Men of high stature are apparently allowed to "bend the rules" that are so applied to everyone around them.
    For example, in a scene where offred and her commander were together, she asked for some hand cream for her hands and skin get dry as the weather gets colder. He seemed to find that amusing and said of course he can get her hand cream, why not? Although, if offred were to ask for this by other means, she would be punished.
    All of these handmaid's were not able to be presented with their own name. Our narrator's name is "Kate" but she is called "offred" which basically means "property of Fred". The Commander's name is Fred, and he is the one who owns Kate.
    It honestly struck a cord with me that Kate was separated from her daughter, because i know that if i was to ever be separated like that from my 2 year old girl i would die. I've lost my daughter in the house once before and i thought my world was ending, so i can only imagine Kate's heart break.
    Another thing that struck a cord with me was how dramatic the birth scene was. I have a 2 year old, which means i've given birth. Honestly it is not THAT dramatic, there also aren't like 15 other women around you being dramatic as well. Yes, it does hurt that bad, but you can get through it because if women couldn't withstand the pain of contractions we wouldn't be able to have babies. I also thought that how they had this woman giving birth wasn't as realistic as i was expecting it to be...*(you're supposed to chew chunks of ice in between contractions, not suck on it.. that doesn't help.)
    The fact that women basically have no other value than to give birth to children is also a horrible thing to think of. Women have much much more potential than we take note of, but in parts of the world this is some woman's reality even today. So I didn't much care for that part, but overall i enjoyed this book/movie, it was an eye-opener for sure. (K.Overly)

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  10. I must say The Handmaid's Tale was very interesting. It was crazy how in the story they basically mistreated women and only used them to be able and reproduce. The Republic Glead, is whom was in charge of this chaotic situation. They were the ones who choose between many women and picked certain ones out of the bunch to continue through with this idea. The women who did not have children or couldn't were not aloud to proceed, in which I feel was very sexist. Many of the women most likely could reproduce and it might have just been the males who were infertile. However, each women were put in a certain household, and was expected to bring a baby into that house. It is like that house is a prison for the women and they are the prisoners. They got taken away from their family and can not see them anymore. The main character Kate often has flashbacks throughout the movie and book about her husband and child. I feel as for something's in the book and movie were some sort of different and leaves us asking questions what happened to some people, because it doesn't say. This is overall an interesting book and movie, and feel this will never happen in our future.

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  11. The Handmaid’s Tale is the best movie and book that we've read this semester. Not only because of the book itself but what the novel was about. This book brought of different emotions out of me. For example, I felt mad because of the way women are treated and portrayed in this book, sad because at one point in time, women were not treated exactly the way they are in the book but very close to it and fearful because this drastic change could happen at any time in my life. I enjoy reading about women and what they go through in the world because I think it goes unnoticed and we are not appreciated the way we should be. Not only back then, but today women are not respected and are set to live a certain life and if not, then we are looked at and judged differently, but the total opposite for a man and I just don't think that is fair at all. So when I get to read about women and their problems my attention is immediately caught. Also, it makes me happy that maybe someone who is not aware or care about the problems have in their everyday life will be able to notice and become aware by reading stories that are true or that could possibly become true.

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  12. My first reaction of the film The Handmaids Tale as very jaw dropping. I was so surprised how women were treated in this movie. How women are a thing and material vs a human being. These women were used as incubators basically for other couples that couldn’t conceive children. These women were placed in these households and basically had to give themselves to the wife’s husbands to try and give them a baby. The women are all getting brain washed and the things that we see as wrong they considered it right or the way that women were viewed. It was crazy to read and watch about situations like these women. If you think about it women today do carry babies for other women that are unable to conceive. They are called surrogates, the only difference is that women today have to give permission and it’s their decision whether they want to do it or not. It’s completely up to the women and its voluntary not demanded. This was an interesting read I would say the most interesting thus far.
    (Jesenia Martinez)

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  13. When I first saw the Handmaid’s Tale I was in shock from how the women were treated. They were only used as a reproducer for the couples that could not have a child on their own. What we considered wrong was considered right in the movie, the women were all brainwashed. Women were thrown into households and were for the most part forced to have that couples baby. After reading the book and watching the film I feel this will never happen in our future. Women shouldn’t be taken away from their families and forced to live in a house that is considered their prison. (Kelsey Wood)

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  14. The only thing I didn't like about the story was forcing the handmaid to have sex with a "Commander". There were a few differences I noticed. In the book, unlike the movie, there is a "terrorist attack"/war that starts the story. Another difference I noticed is how Offred kills the Commander in the movie, but in the book he is killed after Offred is taken away. Also, I don't remember Offred contemplating suicide in the movie. Almost everything else was nearly identical. For example, in the book and in the movie Offred begins a relationship with the Commanders driver, Nick and becomes pregnant. Another similarity was how the Commander formed a "relationship" with Offred and takes her out. Other than forcing women to have sex with whoever, the story was interesting and was definitely, I think, a dystopian novel.

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  15. I don't usually read books in a single day, but I just couldn't put this down. Part of it was that I just couldn't leave Offred to her fate. And part of it is that this book offered a lot to think about. The grammatical style could be confusing to some readers as, whenever the past is being connected, all dialogues are written without quotation marks. If the reader is unaware, this can lead to misreading a sentence or giving a sentence a meaning other than was intended. The concept of the beginning of "The Handmaid's Tale" is that we only gradually realize what's going on. We come across the main character, Offred, discovering that she is a "handmaid" in the household of a "commander" and that she is effectively a slave. She narrates her experiences, with the commander's family and from earlier, when she had a husband and daughter. Through her narration, we slowly learn that an ultra-right religious group has taken control of the United States, ruling that women are second-class citizens, not capable to vote or even hold any property. As a mother of a child born out of wedlock, Offred's situation is much worse. She is effectually a slave, whose only purpose is to bear child for the commander's family. We never learn her true name. Offred turns out to be just a patronymic, which the main character will only hold for as long as she lives in this actual commander's household. I have to say, Offred is a very strong character to endure what she has. She loses her husband and daughter and it's never conformed whether they're even alive or not. And not only that, but she's obligatory to become a handmaid for commanders and their wives that can't have children for themselves. Yet all this time she never questions that the society might be wrong. She does wonder about her daughter and her husband, but she isn't disobedient to wander outside of her limitations. This proves that not only has the society molded her, but it also has complete control of her and her actions. I think that's pretty scary. On the other hand, I really liked this book. I think that not only does it teach us to be cautious of the government, but it teaches us to appreciate all the times where we're happy and satisfied with our lives. When Offred reflects on her past and things she was able to do, she realizes that she has taken them for granted. This book is trying to teach that we should cherish those happy moments and hold on to them forever, because we may never know what's ahead of us. And we need to be ready for anything. This book made me think a lot, and I assume that's a good thing. (Rosmina Gonzalez)

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  16. (Post #2: Movie) This film gives hope to people who are trying to “escape.” I noticed how in the movie, in general, they give more power/authority to the Handmaids by giving them actual names, not just Ofglen or Offred. This shows that they are their own beings, not solely property of their Commanders. I believe that this gave it a less extreme effect than the book, but it still got the point across. Presently, in our society all beings are individual, even if it may not seem like that at times, we have been moving in that direction for a long time now. Kate managing to escape from the power of her Commander and be “free” again displays the message that with determination, it is possible to make a change. Although in the movie, Kate kills her commander, and in the novel she does not, either way displays her realization that what she is going through is wrong and her determination to stop it. This shows that even if times are hard and far, far from fair, if you truly believe in something, it is possible to change it in a more positive way. Even though Kate can never get her husband back, and she isn’t with her daughter, she was able to escape to a life that is far better than the one she was living with the commander.

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  17. The Handmaids Tale is defiantly a story that makes you think outside of the box. Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian and theocratic state that has replaced the United States of America. Because of dangerously low reproduction rates, Handmaids are assigned to bear children for elite couples that have trouble conceiving. Offred serves the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy, a former gospel singer and advocate for “traditional values.” Offred is not the narrator’s real name—Handmaid names consist of the word “of” followed by the name of the Handmaid’s Commander. Every month, when Offred is at the right point in her menstrual cycle, she must have impersonal, wordless sex with the Commander while Serena sits behind her, holding her hands. This whole concept was troubling to me however did open my eyes to what may or may not happen in the future.

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  18. It surprises me how women were treated. They are not being treated as the human they are but as a material thing. Women should be treated the same as men. They can be a sergeant to another woman that is unable to have a baby. This is good because they will still be able to have kids by having another woman carry. Now a day’s women have to sign off to be able to do this. It is their choice if they want to carry someone else’s baby or not.

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  19. I found it interesting how in this society, there is no such thing as a sterile man anymore. In this culture, women are either fruitful or infertile. The women had one sole purpose in life and show how they viewed women as objects. The women's job was to provide their household with a child. The Handmaids had to wear certain clothing that was loose-fitting to hide all their body and certain hats. Which is down grading for a women to wear certain clothing and told how to act. I found it shocking how women were used mentally physically and was a sexual and domestic slave to men.

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  20. The Handmaids Tale was an interesting story, obviously it is crazy to think that women were forced to have babies for other people. I could never see that happening in todays society, where there is pretty much an opposite effect going on, where we may just have too many people in this world. But the way the women were treated as material things would never fly now a days, and I'm sure is a touchy subject for most people. (Brad Auger)

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  21. Book- I enjoyed this book as it focused very heavily on feminism and that is appealing to me. I liked the strong female characters and I liked the flow of the novel. I found myself excited to read as it got me riled up about women's rights. I am strongly feminist and I thought the message behind this book was powerful; so powerful that I would sometimes think was a real life occurrence. I get angry reading it because there can a correlation made to current day. Although a stretch, women are treated as objects in present day and our bodies are often seen as our greatest achievements. This idea is misogynistic and hurtful to women. This book allows women to have a role model to overcome this obstacles. That's why I liked this book so much; Offred is a great role model and that ties in the book together to make it interesting and worthwhile.

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  22. Movie- The movie version of the Handmaid's Tale was just as good as the book. Personally I loved the movie and although a bit intense a times, it got its message across perfectly. The visuals throughout the movie were what made it so powerful. The imagery and directing od this book adaptation were the best part of the film. The timing was done amazingly and it allowed me to follow the movie easily as well as pick up things I could not see reading in the book. The dramatic shots and camera angles were powerful and strong. They lent to the strong feminists such as Offred. Her characters was filmed to give her a tougher appeal and that was a smart choice. This made her more relate able to a female audience. Te camera angles and directing were exceptional and allowed this movie and story's plot to really shine through well.

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  23. The Handmaids Tale is a story told by Offred who is kept as a handmaid with the other women as reproduction purposes. The book is written in first person while Offred tells her story and the story of several different classes of other women in Gilead's society. The movie, was equal to the book, and was extremely intense. This was not one of my favorites we've seen throughout the semester although I couldn't imagine myself or any other female in my life being forced to have a child for other people. Such a crazy set of ideas.

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