The Handmaid’s Tale
“In the series, women are the most cruel”
Serie. Interview of Bruce Miller, showrunner of The Handmaid’s Tale, the flagship series that describes a patriarchal dictatorship in a post-Trump America. The Handmaid’s Tale season 2 now on OCS (season 1 available in replay).
By Jacques Braunstein
Meeting with Bruce Miller, the cheerful showrunner of the most hyped series of the moment (8 Emmy et 2 Golden Globes in 2017). The Handmaid’s Tale (broadcasted by the Hulu platform in the US) inspired by the novel of Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale, 1985) describes a totalitarian and patriarchal world in the grip of dropping in the birth rates. Fertile women are condemned to carry the leaders’ children whose wife is sterile. We follow the enfranchisement attempts of a rebel Ofred/June, embodies by Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, The Square…).
“8 Emmy et 2 Golden Globes in 2017.”
We meet Bruce Miller, former scenarist for ER and The 100 (honest dystopia for teens), in a suit of the Plazza Athénée in Paris 8e. He begins by warmly thanking his team. Voluble, he claims the influence of Kubrick : the madness of Shining ? The nightmarish future of Orange Mécanique ? The baroque of Barry Lyndon ? He doesn’t specify it, but we imagine that it is a bit of the three. Passionate, he tells us that in the upcoming episodes of season 2 and of the third one (already signed), he wants to explore the life of working classes and the one of Canadians facing the immigration of millions of Americans wanting to escape the Gilead dictature that became the head of the US. Interview.
Your show received many good reviews. But for the second season, some have argued against the fact that to denounce violence against women, you actually show too much violence against women.
Yes, this is still a problem. But how to represent Gilead, this place governed by violence where women are reduced to the status of sex slave, without defining it visually ? We tried to show what is necessary to tell the story, no more and no less. In season 1 for example, we talk about female genital mutilation. Yet we showed nothing. The character wakes up with a bandage but nothing is explicit. The spectator knows something awful happened without having actually attended to it. The idea is suggested and that’s enough to create a tension. This is a delicate dosage on which we are attentive for each scene. Especially since a scene written on paper seems even more dreadful once brought to the screen.
Your series echoes the #Metoo movement or the election of Donald Trump… How could you know, five years ago, that at the moment of its adaptation this old eighties novel would totally be relevant ?
I would have preferred the series was not that relevant. Though, I did not have a crystal ball… The forces that generated the #Metoo movement or the election of Trump, we already felt them at the moment of the script writing. But all the credit goes to Margaret who saw them emerge 35 years ago. We didn’t invent anything, we only exploited the material that she had created. I had red the novel when I was a student and I had always kept it in a corner of my mind.
Some feminist claim that patriarchal oppression comes only from men. The series seems, at the opposite, to show that women can also be responsible for it.
Margaret gives a lot of importance to this matter in the book. Oppression of women is often done by other women. But in the series, I am more attached to the notion of totalitarian state than to the notion of patriarchal oppression. How people are used for oppress a group. And those who know the group best are precisely those who are already part of it. In the show, some women appears as the most cruel. This is terrible, they organized society from their frustrations that act like venom. But this is not a matter of patriarchy that I develop here, this is more a matter of totalitarianism that I wanted to highlight.
What motivated you to deal with a story, which you knew, was controversial ? This is not the easiest choice…
You really think I said to myself « go ahead I’m gonna do it so my series will be at the center of controversy all around the world ? » (laughs) All that I want to do is making a good show. I’ve learned one thing from my work as a scenarist for The 100 (even if I wasn’t the showrunner because the series was created by Jason Rothenberg) : the more realistic it is, the more absorbing it is. I took inspiration from this concept for The Handmaid’s Tales. Even if it is a dystopia, the team immediately understood the importance to stay very anchored in reality. It’s frightening only if it’s realistic.