Friday, July 1, 2011
The Handmaid's Fail.
I read Margaret Atwood's book of this a couple of times when I was sixteen or seventeen but I never got round to watchin' the fillum because... because, although it was a good book to read, I couldn't see the fillum in it.
After finding 'A Boy and his Dog's sexual politics not quite to my taste I thought maybe now'd be the time to check it out: after all, it's carrying on along a general theme of futuristic dystopia that I started on with A Boy and his Dog, and I was fairly confident that whatever cinematic story was made out of 'A Handmaid's Tale' it's unlikely to be as shallowly chauvinistic as that particular celluloid offering had been, —or at least if it was gonna be down on any gender in a one-sided way, then it'd be down on the 'Chaps' this time.
It's certainly possible that for some people an adaptation of 'The Tale' might be regarded as an (mysophallust?) (gynophile?) (misander?)... as an 'Anti-chap' story ( it's an attack on Chistian right-wing patriarchy definitely), but overall, what I'd gotten from the book anyway, was that the men in this society seem to be having a fairly crap time of it too— even the privileged ones, and that the women, ( far from being uniformly compassionate and oppressed ),— act with a vengeful spite and complete lack of solidarity to one another, which, if you know anything about human nature, you might find both equally sad and authentic, and makes it less of a black-and-white 'man/bad' 'ladies/great' type of thing.
I knew Robert Duvall and Faye Dunaway were in it but only discovered, ( to my surprise ), as the credits rolled up, that Harold Pinter had written the screenplay!
'Gettafugatttahere!— 'Harold Pinter'? the Harold Pinter?
Yes... the Harold Pinter, I shit-you-not. It's a terrible thing to confess, but when I saw the name of a Nobel-prize laureate for literature come up (and I'd gotten over the initial shock), I thought
"Oh, I bet this is going to be shit".
Not a reaction that I'm proud of, but the worst thing about it was that I was right.
One of the things that the book pointed out is how everything changes when the context changes: playing the hum-drum act of playing 'scrabble' for example becomes a naughty game for an indulgent Commander to play with his concubine in a society where women are officially illiterate for example. In the context of a fillum I haven't heard much about, by a writer I have heard much about... well the chances are it must be one of the 'shit' things that they did. It is shit.
Sorry boys and girls but there it is. Fay Dunaway's great in it, Robert Duvall plays the 'Patriarch' cipher competently, it's (fairly) faithful to the novel and, in fairness, the two-hour length doesn't drag either, so why is it so ultimately unsatisfactory?
Well for a start, the book represents the story from a far distant future where 'The Handmaid's tale' is an anonymous fragment from the ancient past whose authorship or authenticity cannot be verified, and this gives the story a kind of 'remove'.
This framing is dispensed with for the film.
Also, we lose the 1st-person narrative ( there is no 'voice-over' even ) and without these, the denuded premise seems a bit more ludicrous. With the film you just 'see' it, and if one reads the message as being the standard near-future dystopian warning, i.e. " this could happen!" a part of one's brain kick's back and says
" Nah man, I don't see it"
Despite the striking colour-burka the dystopia she lives in feels... well... like american surburbia in the late 1980's. The handmaid even has Big Blond Hair ( the veil she wears to cover it is dispensed with as often as possible, as if the actress felt she looked plain without her Big Blond Hair, if so, her fears were justified ).
The whole story rests upon our belief in the strength and intelligence of a protagonist who is presented to us in a variety of situations where she can neither speak her mind nor act upon her desires and I dunno if that's possible to carry off but I do know that they picked the wrong generic big-haired dame to do it.
What happens to her only ally in the book and film 'Moira'(McGovern) is an illustration of what the system does to the truly free spirit, in the film she is also a rare opportunity for us to see the 'real' Ofred interacting with someone outside of the social system.
McGovern ( who also looks plain in a headscarf, but at least she doesn't look stupid) is the irrepressible fiesty pal and, despite the film's ludicrous elements she's believable, what isn't believable is why she aligns herself to a drink of water like Natasha Richardson's 'Ofred'.
You never get a sense of 'who' Ofred is, by what she does. The book gave us a savvy and intelligent woman placed in a society that silences her almost completely, the film gives us someone without much to say who does things we don't understand.
It touches upon some really great themes such as:
Freedom and oppression,
society and individuals,
childbirth as privilege, burden or duty to state,
the relationship of privileged women to disenfranchised women.
But in the end, makes no statement about any of them.
Oh Harold, what you gone and done?