The Handmaid's Tale
The Handmaid's Tale represents Schlöndorff's first feature-length contribution to the science fiction genre, but it also continues some of his earlier thematic and structural preoccupations. It is one of a number of works exploring, both in print and in screen adaptations that usually followed the novels, the science fiction subgenre that portrays dystopian societies in the future. Among the most famous literary works of this genre are George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, and Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. In writing the novel on which the film was based, Margaret Atwood saw herself as extending this literary genre. Beginning with Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) and William Cameron Menzies's Things to Come (1936), up to more recent works such as François Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 (1966), Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), and Terry Gilliam's Brazil (1985), filmmakers have used this same genre to provide both entertainment and commentary on their present-day societies. Schlöndorff himself toyed with this approach in his contribution to the omnibus film War and Peace (1983). Within the dystopian genre, however, Schlöndorff in The Handmaid's Tale manages to pick up and rework a number of ideas, ideological concerns, and rhetorical and poetic strategies that have characterized much of his earlier work. In many ways, The Handmaid's Tale represents a return to the Schlöndorff of the 1970s in its focus on a woman's right to personal and sexual fulfillment.
Writers and filmmakers have long used science fiction as a way to present relatively abstract ideas about society. Many critics have also argued that science fiction works, although set in the future, are always about the society in which they are produced. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is part of this tradition. Atwood's view of the future involves a feminist concern with the role of women and with issues of sexual equality and reproductive rights. She presents a world in which the radical religious right has transformed North American society. She creates for liberal readers an embodiment of their worst