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The Handmaid's Tale

3.7 out of 5 stars 99 customer reviews

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(Dec 11, 2001)
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Editorial Reviews

With "cool eroticism, intelligence and intensity" (Playboy), this eerie futuristic thriller,based on Margaret Atwood's controversial and critically acclaimed best-selling novel, is filled with "large themes and deep thoughts" (Roger Ebert). Boasting a phenomenal cast, including Natasha Richardson (Nell) and Oscar(r) winners* Faye Dunaway (Network) and Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies), this film "dazzles with its ingenuity and shocks with its outrageousness" (WNCN Radio)! In the not-so-distant future, strong-willed and beautiful Kate (Richardson) possesses a precious commodity that most women have lost and most men want to control fertility. Forced into a brain-washing boot camp that turns fertile women into surrogate mothers for social-elite men and their infertile wives, Kate thinks she's made out well when she's assigned to an eminent partyleader (Duvall). But when she learns that he's sterile, she's faced with the impossible choice: produce him an heir or die! *Dunaway: Actress, Network (1976); Duvall: Actor, Tender Mercies (1983)

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Natasha Richardson, Faye Dunaway, Aidan Quinn, Elizabeth McGovern, Victoria Tennant
  • Directors: Volker Schlöndorff
  • Writers: Harold Pinter, Margaret Atwood
  • Producers: Alex Gartner, Daniel Wilson, Eberhard Junkersdorf, Gale Goldberg, Wolfgang Glattes
  • Format: Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated:
  • Studio: MGM (Video & DVD)
  • DVD Release Date: December 11, 2001
  • Run Time: 108 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B00005PJ6P
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #84,692 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "The Handmaid's Tale" on IMDb

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: DVD
I first read Margaret Atwood's book The Handmaid's Tale for a women's studies course at my local community college and I enjoyed it very much. It is a very important work, much in the same vein as Orwell's "1984," but more hopeful, and told from the perspective of a woman. However, the movie was a huge disappointment and loses much of Atwood's message.
A quick overview of the story: Offred is a Handmaid in a futuristic, dystopian society known as Gilead. The birthrate in Gilead is very low due to severe toxic pollution, and so the remaining fertile women are selected to be Handmaids whose sole purpose is to become pregnant by the upper class men (called Commanders). As soon as they provide their Commander with a child, they are packed off to another household to do it all again. If they are ever unable to bear more children, they will more than likely be labeled "Unwomen" and shipped away to a work colony to die. Handmaids are not allowed to read, and can only leave the house with permission. The book consists mostly of Offred's thoughts about her former life and her current position. There are hints of a resistance movement, but no one in this world can ever be sure that anyone else is trustworthy. Offred does not know what is real, or what is safe, and lives in constant fear. The regime has made it illegal for a man to be termed infertile, so if a Handmaid has no children, it is blamed on her without question. Offred's Commander is obviously incapable of fathering children, and she faces relocation to the colonies if she does not conceive. As her time runs out, the suspense builds to a crescendo of urgency and terror.
The film does not capture the full horror of the world Offred, the story's main character, lives in.
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Format: DVD
The first time I watched The Handmaid's Tale I was hooked! Like Huxley's Brave New World, it is a scary vision of a possible future in which birth is regulated by the government. Unlike Huxley, however, The Handmaid's Tale is also a vision of something far worse--what happens when religion is twisted around and used as a means to force people to do something they don't wish to do, especially if said religion controls the State. Whether it's Christianity or New Age, or any other religion for that matter, a religion-controlled State can be a very bad thing.
The actors in The Handmaid's Tale are a very good bunch. Natasha Richardson as Kate/Offred turned in a stunning performance, as did Faye Dunaway and Robert Duvall as Serena Joy and the Commander. Aidan Quinn was excellent as Nick, and I loved Elizabeth McGovern's scheming, wily Moira. Victoria Tennant gave me the chills in her role of Aunt Lydia, and the role of Ofglen, though small, was wonderfully handled by Blanche Baker.
All in all, The Handmaid's Tale is a good movie. My only gripe with the DVD is that it didn't have any extras apart from the trailer, but the film itself is definitely worth watching.
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Format: DVD
Margaret Atwood, a Canadian novelist (and poet) wrote the dark fantasy novel upon which this DVD is loosely based. The novel is set in The Republic of Gilead, formerly the United States, or at least the parts of the US that are not radioactive. The radioactive parts are called the colonies, where bad girls are sent to die of radiation poisoning. The time is the near future, after the inevitable nuclear war, and the breakdown of government as we know it.

The society depicted in The Handmaid's Tale, DVD and novel, is a nightmare: everyone is watched by the Eyes, ,women are strictly controlled. They are forbidden to have jobs. They may have no money of their own. They are irrevocably assigned to classes.. There are, at the top, the chaste, but morally superior, Wives, almost all of whom have been rendered infertile by the inevitable nuclear war. At the bottom are the housekeepers, or Marthas, who are non-entities. In the middle are the Handmaids of the title, who are fertile, but tightly controlled.

Handmaids are forced to have sex with the Commanders, the husbands of the Wives. During this sex, the Wives are intimately present to take in any "love" their Commanders have to give.

The Handmaids are trained to remain unattached to the Commanders. They are prohibited from using makeup or doing anything to make themselves attractive. Handmaids are forced to turn their offspring over to the Wives. And Handmaids are never taught to read. They are left illiterate.

Kate is a Handmaid who, despite her training (read brainwashing), recalls her past, her loving husband, and her adored daughter. She tells with sparkling, and terrifying clarity, how the society came to be the way it is.
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Format: DVD Verified Purchase
Taken on its own, this is a reasonably enjoyable movie. Some social collapse turns the US in the Nation of Gilead, a brutal theocratic oligarchy. With the social collapse, there was some ecological collapse as well, leaving "one in a hundred" (so they say) women able to conceive. Those fertile few are forced into service, to ensure heirs to oligarchs - male ones, of course - with barren marriages.

Fay Dunaway plays the scheming wife behind The Commander (Robert Duvall). Natasha Richardson takes the role of Kate, or "offred" as she is called in her position as human brood mare. The cover of this DVD gives a hint of what's inside. Richardson has an unusual face, with equal parts strength and fragility in it. It makes her unique - not "pretty", but beautiful in a way all her own. The cover picture has airbrushed Richardson's charm into a standard, Barbie-doll look, and lost everything in that face that made it real. That's kind of what they did to Atwood's book, too. They jammed it into the conventional mold with a happy ending (or happy enough). That Procrustean fit required a fair bit of trimming - as with Richardson's face on the cover, they discarded everything about the book that made it so memorable.

If you haven't read the book, it's a fair movie. If you have read it, don't get your hopes up.

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