The Handmaid’s Tale

The book by Margaret Attwood is
one of my favorites. In fact, it’s the first Margaret Attwood I read — the
New York Times ran a review by Mary McCarthy
which as I remember it was a bit snarky, but it convinced me I’d
be interested in the book, so I went to Harvard Square (probably
the late, lamented Wordsworth) and bought it. Then I read and
mostly bought all her other books.

I wasn’t getting to the movies much in 1990 when this one came
out, so it wasn’t until looking at Natasha Richardson‘s filmography after she died that I remembered
that I wanted to see it and put it on my netflix list.

It’s a good movie — visually quite beautiful, with two stellar
performances by Natasha Richardson and Robert Duvall, and good
acting and writing all around.

It’s mostly pretty faithful to the book, with the amount left
out that you have to leave out to keep a movie under two hours,
and things made explicit that are implicit in the book to make
it easier to comprehend in two hours.

The big disappointment, though, was that they changed the
setting. The book is actually one of the great Cambridge novels
— as a long-time Cambridge resident, I can almost tell you
where the Red Center and the Commander’s house are, and the
Savaging takes place in Harvard Yard. I also know exactly what
store is currently on the corner in Harvard Square where the “Prayer
Store” is, which Ofglen can’t remember what used to be there.

My theory while I was watching was that Harvard had decided it
didn’t want to have a state-sponsored lynching filmed on its
precincts. IMDB says that filming in Harvard
Square would be too difficult, and Harvard has a “no filming”
policy in general. This is probably not quite true — weren’t
both Paper Chase and Love story filmed there?

In any case, read the book, if you want both Cambridge local
color and a chilling reminder that it can happen here.
If you want a beautifully filmed experience that
causes you to be able to really feel what it would be like to
plunge a knife into a powerful man’s neck, watch the movie.

If you haven’t read any Margaret Attwood, they’re all pretty
good. I would start with either this one or Cat’s
if you can stand remembering elementary school that
well. Her essays and poems are also worth reading.

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