The fulsomely praised new Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale, which is available for streaming starting tomorrow, takes place in a chilling near-future where women are reduced to wombs on feet, gays are publicly executed, and a Christian theocracy has squashed civil liberties. The show is an eerie, too-perfect encapsulation of the Trump Era.
As I look out my window in Manhattan, the only women I see are wearing monk’s robes colored scarlet, to emphasize their sin, and topped by nun-like white bonnets. Oranges are scarce in our part of the country due to our ongoing wars with Florida, and since January 20 it has become a regular occurrence to see gay men, priests, and abortionists publicly hanged, their lifeless bodies left black and bruised as a warning to us all. Prophetic? The story is downright unerring.
Just as Margaret Atwood foretold in the 1985 novel from which The Handmaid’s Tale is adapted, all fertile women are being held in prison camps run by domineering Mother Superior types armed with tasers, while men of sufficient rank are simply assigned women to be their sex slaves and helpmeets. Sex these days takes place with both parties almost completely clothed, the women silent and unmoving, the men muttering ritualistic Bible references.
And hey, who hasn’t noticed all the protest marches that ended with government troops opening fire? Or the regime-ordered group executions (partici-cutions, in Handmaid-speak) whereby accused people were beaten to death at the hands of vicious mobs? Or the many brave martyrs shot trying to cross the border from Maine into Canada? Or the Stalinist-style surveillance system tracking our every move? Or the way you can be Tasered for referring to people as “gay” rather than “gender traitors”? Of course, you’re aware that the Northeastern U.S. is now a breakaway Bible-based state called “Gilead,” that all college professors have forcibly been sent out to “the colonies,” and that Anchorage is now the capital of what remains of the United States. It’s a grim fact of life that all women in these parts have been forced to abandon their given names and renamed with Cotton-Mather-meets-J.R.R.-Tolkien handles such as “Offred,” the bewildered lead character portrayed in the show by Mad Men star Elisabeth Moss. Really, not since the nuclear-meltdown thriller The China Syndrome hit theaters two weeks before the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster has a piece of Hollywood entertainment arrived with such grimly apropos timing.
The country’s journalists are, praise be, shining a bright light on Atwood’s uncanny accuracy. “A time very much like ours” is how The New York Times describes the scenes, shown in flashback, in which the gay-executing, woman-subjugating theocracy seizes power, using a terror attack in Washington as its Reichstag fire. Another Times piece says the show “arrives with a newfound and unexpected resonance in Trump’s America.” The Hollywood Reporter calls it “a story for the time and place we’re living in.” Harper’s Bazaar avers that it “Strikes uncomfortably close to real-world political rhetoric.” Slate deems it “Eerily prescient.”
Sure, technically speaking, maybe nothing in The Handmaid’s Tale has actually happened yet, just as, if you want to get picayune about niggling details, when you criticize the Trump regime you tend to get awarded your own late-night comedy gig instead of being tasered. But everything Atwood presaged is just about ten minutes from happening. Just as it was ten minutes from happening when the Reverend Jerry Falwell formed the Moral Majority in 1979. It was always just around the corner during the Reagan years, when George H.W. Bush spoke of family values, and when admitted born-again Christian George W. Bush became president. Now President Trump’s evident lack of interest in religion or morals makes him an especially insidious theocratic threat.
The scene in episode three of The Handmaid’s Tale in which a woman awakes in horror in a hospital bed to find that her genitals have been mutilated in order to teach her a lesson brought things devastatingly home for me: The real-world parallels are impossible to miss. Indeed, just as some of the most fawning reviews of the show were being published, a Michigan doctor was indicted for allegedly mutilating the genitals of seven-year-old girls in a religious-based ritual; two others, a doctor and his wife, were subsequently charged with similar offenses. The same theocratic culture is associated with public execution by mob, with execution of gay people, with making women second-class citizens, with imposing dress restrictions on women, and with placing theological authorities in charge of criminal proceedings. It’s all chilling, it’s all based on religious zealotry backed by terror, and it’s clearly all to the everlasting shame of President Trump.
— Kyle Smith is National Review’s critic-at-large.