Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum. “Don’t let the bastards get you down.” In the world we live in today, this is valuable advice.
In 2017, Hulu carved its position in the online streaming niche alongside established greats like Netflix and HBO by hopping on the original production bandwagon. The Handmaid’s Tale, based on Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name, was launched to great acclaim.
It may not seem like it at first, but The Handmaid’s Tale actually classifies as postapocalyptic dystopian science fiction. The story is set after the Second American Civil War, which captured fertile women and wrangled America into “Gilead,” a totalitarian government pegged on extremist religious beliefs. In this world, fertile women are “owned” by the ruling class and are subject to sexual servitude.
The Handmaid’s Tale is told through the eyes of Offred, a woman once named June who was captured, separated from her own family, and made to become a Handmaid for one of Gilead’s most powerful men. In the series, the timeline jumps from past to present, slowly revealing the story of how the United States became a totalitarian religious government.
Offred’s name comes from “Of Fred,” essentially meaning that she is owned by Commander Fred Waterford. She is part of a group of women called Handmaids, the remaining population of fertile women. Handmaids are then “assigned” to an upper-class family for whom they must bear a child. Before being assigned to a family, the Handmaids undergo rigorous training by the Aunts, who enforce submissive beliefs and enact torture should any of the women misbehave.
While it may seem that the Handmaids have it rough, the Wives aren’t doing so well either. While they are afforded a certain degree of respect, they are taught to be just as submissive as the Handmaids and aren’t considered to be on the same level as their husbands. The only difference is the Wives have power over the Handmaids and own all the children that they bear.
However, all does not seem lost. A secret group within Gilead, together with the Canadian government, is working to break the government from within and rescue the Handmaids. And Offred might just play an important role in this revolt. While in a moment of weakness, Offred lies down on the floor of her room, and she finds on the wall an inscription that reads Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum. This sparks something in Offred and makes her want to fight back not only for herself but also for the handmaids who came before her.
This Latin phrase is actually back-translated word for word from English to Latin according to an article by Vanity Fair. Nevertheless, the made-up quote has taken on a life of its own beyond Gatwood’s universe and has become a popular tattoo.
The Handmaid’s Tale takes on a dark and eerie tone, with the women often soft-spoken or even whispering. The cinematography is equally gloomy, with emphasis on the red robes of the Handmaids and the teal dresses of the Wives.
The series amplifies important issues, especially religious extremism and feminism. Initially, the story may seem far removed from reality, but its flashbacks present society in its current state, implying that the events are set in the near future.
The series has already won an Emmy Award for Most Outstanding Series, the first for a series produced by a streaming service. It has also won two Golden Globe Awards, including Best Actress for Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred, and Best Television Drama Series.
The cast, script, execution, and cinematography all combine to create a well-crafted story which is equally terrifying and beautiful. All in all, the series presents a chilling possibility of a future, which, hopefully, will spark some action today.
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