Studies in Literature and Culture
Filming the Experience of Gilead: Volker Schlöndorff’s The Handmaid’s Tale
← 248 | 249 →Justyna Galant
“The best and the most successful SF novel written by a Canadian” (Ketterer 209), The Handmaid’s Tale has enjoyed increasing critical attention from its creation. As an account of a life after a global crisis of fertility it was prominent for the “topicality of its theme and the wealth of supporting detail” (Domville 2006, 869). The 1990 adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s canonical work has been persistently castigated for what the critics recognised as cardinal failures. As a deeply personal tale of a woman’s suppression written by a female author, it invited deriding comments when translated into film by a male director aided by a male screenwriter – Harold Pinter. For justifiable reasons gender-centred studies pointed to the work as an unfortunate “contradiction in terms” (Cooper 1995, 57) where the viewers, guided by the intrusive patriarchal gaze of the camera participate in the “acting out […] of the political oppression” (Cooper 1995, 58). Read in such terms, the film may appear as a major artistic misunderstanding guilty of concurring with the misogynistic cultural practice. In line with the negative critical responses, significant changes to the story’s ending and several alterations of plot development have been recognised as inexpedient departures from the original, which reduced it to a “commonplace thriller” (Domville 2006, 876). Perhaps most importantly, the rebelliously connotated “vitality of the creative (particularly linguistic) imagination” (Domville 2005, 872),1 so conspicuous in the novel, failed to find an equivalent in the cinematic version of the tale. The absence of the rich first-person narration...
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