The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 6: “A Woman’s Place”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 6: “A Woman’s Place”
Directed by Floria Sigismondi
Written by Wendy Straker Hauser

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Faithful” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “The Other Side” – click here
Pic 1We start as we finished last episode, as Offred (Elisabeth Moss) falls into actual passion with Nick (Max Minghella). She thinks of it the next day, but laments it won’t happen anymore. “Sorry, Nick.”
The handmaids are out cleaning a wall of execution blood. Government officials are coming, so they don’t want any of the nastiness around to make Gilead look bad, now do they? Janine (Madeline Brewer) remarks how it doesn’t look the same without all the “dead bodies.” Amazing what you can get used to in Gilead. Back at home, Offred’s called to see Serena (Yvonne Strahovski), she preps the handmaid on the coming visit, a trade delegation from Mexico; the one which Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) went to arrange a short while ago. The woman of the house wants everything to go smoothly.
But will it?
Offred: “Reds my colour
We see Serena remember different times with Fred. They rushed to the bedroom in lust for one another. Although quoting the Bible’s a bit strange. Either way, there were happier moments for them. Now it’s all an eerie struggle, a routine, an elaborate, emotionless spectacle. Serena’s complicit in the patriarchy, despite any of her issues she continues trying to make her husband happy.
Pic 1AOne thing Offred, the woman formerly known as June, has not lost is her spirit, and her sense of humour. She’s very sly, in many ways. Also there’s a clear connection between her and Nick. He does his best, outwardly, to deny this fact. It’s obvious, though. And they keep it as quiet a secret as possible. In the meantime, Offred’s trotted in to see the delegation. There’s a vast divide between women in Gilead v. women from Mexico, for instance. She automatically believes the ambassador could not be a woman. Even as smart and tough as June was, still is, she’s been brainwashed, beaten down by the system in this nation-state.
On top of everything, she’s forced to say that she chose being a handmaid. When Ambassador Castillo (Zabryna Guevara) asks if Offred is happy, she reluctantly reads the script prepared in her mind. Sadly, she knows a woman’s place in Gilead. As do the barren wives, all too tragically. We find out more of Serena, too. She was a rebel. The ambassador puts it to her pretty hard and sees how these women, all of them, are trodden upon.
Ambassador Castillo: “Never mistake a womans meekness for weakness
More flashbacks show us a time before. When Fred was working towards the idea of Gilead, setting things in motion. Serena supported him every step of the way, which illustrates the lengths of her complicity in an authoritarian patriarchal rule. We see the divide between America then, Gilead now. Even Fred, he was slightly different. Before power took hold, anyways. Then suddenly he gets word about “three attacks” coordinated in several weeks. The beginning of the end.
So, as much as I pity Serena, I pity the handmaids more. She used an epidemic to subjugate the will of fertile women. Offred, and so, so many more, they suffer much worse because of what Serena allowed to grow in her own actions and support of Fred. Kinda like how I couldn’t give a shit now that Ann Coulter thinks anybody cares that she’s FINALLY figured out that Trump duped her and a portion of the country. Because she is one of those women whose toxic aid to the patriarchy of America has only made things worse for women who don’t hold the privilege of her status.
Pic 2Alone together, Offred gets closer and closer with Commander Waterford. Perhaps too close. It’s a dangerous game, even if it’s a part of a plan she’s enacting over the course of time. He feels wildly unpredictable. He asks for a kiss, which she grants him. Later she scrubs her mouth raw with a toothbrush to get the taste out.
Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) has the handmaids out, well behaved, going to a dinner. They even get to sit at tables like normal people. Present and enforcing strict dress code, Serena requires “the damaged ones” removed. But Lydia says they are serving the Lord, therefore it’s worthy of honour. To Mrs. Waterford they’re “bruised apples” and nothing more.
More flashbacks take us to before Gilead rose, as America fell. Serena slowly sees her privileges erode. Once a writer of books, she was on her way to never being allowed to read one again, being pushed out of the bureaucracy of the coming changes. Fred actually starts coming off as a guy who didn’t realise what would happen when he started out. As if he was one of those bible thumping Republicans who began hard on terrorism, letting civil rights erode, then watched as it all spun out of control. But no matter. Somewhere along the way he wholly accepted the state of things.
In Gilead, at their fancy dinner, Serena is allowed to speak. ALLOWED is the operative term. The handmaids are honoured. Blah, blah, blah. All for show. Then the children are paraded through to music, those who’ve been produced in Gilead like cattle. IT’s a way of blinding the delegation. All the sour, hideous shit is hidden beneath this glossy exterior, fabricated out of the sadness of these women who are made to stand by and, some of them, watch their own children who’ve been yanked from their arms being used as propaganda.
Worse – Mexico’s looking to trade for handmaids. That’s so terrible, so ugly. What a heavy scene. With all the heaviness that’s come before it, hard to imagine this is so weighty. One of the subtle, toughest moments shows us a flashback as Serena gathers things together, throwing things away; outside, garbage trucks and men take all things belonging to women, truckloads, and cart it away for a new beginning.
Pic 3A rare lovemaking moment occurs between Mr. and Mrs. Waterford, going against the whole idea in Gilead that sex is for procreation only. Tsk, tsk. But I wish they’d get back to that, their old lives. Instead of raping women into pregnancy for their own cruel needs.
Offred beats herself up for acting in front of the ambassador and everyone else, saying she’s happy there. It rips her apart, and no wonder. Having to say that, even if she doesn’t mean it, just having to let those words out of her mouth is a form of giving up to the patriarchy of Gilead.
The next day when the ambassador stops by before leaving, June tells her it is a prisoner there and about the abuse they suffer. She tells her everything. She pleads for her to do something, but the woman refuses. Another woman complicit with the authoritarian patriarchy of Gilead. Disgusting. All in the name of making babies.
Ambassador Castillo: “My country is dying
Offred: “My countrys already dead
However, the man with Ambassador Castillo offers to get a message to her husband. He is not dead, and Mr. Flores (Christian Barillas) knows. He also knows that her name is June. Wow. I could see the whole episode his eyes were kinder, somehow he was sensitive to their plight. And dammit, I was right.
Pic 4What’s going to happen next? What a grim yet still beautiful episode. Christ, they up the ante every week with this series. Next is “The Other Side” and I’m anticipating other, bigger things will come out.

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The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 5: “Faithful”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 5: “Faithful”
Directed by Mike Barker
Written by Dorothy Fortenberry

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Nolites Te Bastardes Carborundorum” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “A Woman’s Place” – click here
Pic 1 (1)Offred (Elisabeth Moss) and Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) continue playing Scrabble. They have a drink in front of a fire. “He likes it when I flirt,” she tells us, discovering this for certain after 34 games. They’re certainly spending quite a bit of time together, which you can also be sure pisses off Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski).
If only she knew her husband was giving the handmaid presents, such as a copy of Beautify magazine that were thought destroyed with all the other supposed feminine things in society reaching out to women. What we see is how Waterford breaks the rules for her, he has feelings for Offred underneath all the patriarchal horror. As she looks through the magazine the women all appear foreign to her in this new world, like “zoo animals” unaware they’re heading into extinction shortly.
Fashback. Moira (Samira Wiley) and June a.k.a Offred debate the merits of Tinder. This is when they first meet Luke (O-T Fagbenle) on the street, as Moira asks him to help pick out June’s profile picture. A cute little meeting at that.
Luke (to June): “You look invincible
In the present, Offred’s helping Serena in the garden, worrying if the wife’s found out one of her several secrets. At the same time our handmaid sees the men around her, from the Commander to Nick (Max Minghella), vying in sly ways for her attention, just like Beautify and Cosmopolitan tell ladies via 10 Ten lists. But more importantly Serena worries her husband may be sterile, she whispers of it in the garden with Offred; she wants to help her get pregnant, via another man. You know exactly who, too: Nick. That’s a lot of conflicted feelings. And is Serena doing this for real, or is she luring the poor handmaid into something worse? I’m inclined to believe the former. For now.
Pic 1AOffred runs into Janine (Madeline Brewer) and others at the eerie, white-walled grocery store. Moreover, Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) – Ofsteven now – has returned, genitals mutilated and her soul crushed. She’s adjusting to the new life. Offred wants to know about The Eyes, whether Nick is one of them. Then she discovers something called “Mayday” before being pulled away by her latest handmaid partner, Ofglen #2 (Tattiawna Jones).
We see that #2 is brainwashed. Her life before was that of a junkie, now she’s clean and sees this place as where she’s been saved. That’s sad; you offer a measly little olive branch to the right, vulnerable woman, and she winds up complicit in the patriarchy.
Later that day Serena sneaks Offred out to see Nick; an unauthorised Ceremony Day. Our handmaid thinks about Luke, for the time it’s as if she’s “cheating” on him, though every bit of it’s forced. Flashback to her on a date with Luke. They’re getting to know one another, the first steps of falling in love. Although he’s still married; tsk, tsk. And gradually they teeter along an affair, slipping into the water flirtatiously.
An awkward meet of Serena, Nick, and Offred, as they start their hopefully baby-making exercise. Nick and Offred’s first time, almost as awful as she and the Commander, is juxtaposed with the tender first time of June and Luke in a hotel room succumbing to a waiting passion. Compared to that, the sex with Nick is horrible, between the silence and Serena watching in the background, them barely touching one another aside from the obvious penetration; it’s ghastly. Then they finish and Offred’s brought back home, put away in her room like a piece of fine China.
Pic 2 (1)Poor Ofsteven. Her life somehow got worse than it was previously. Now she adjusts to a life without a literal, physical part of her. We briefly see some woman to woman care, just a glimpse, as she’s offered a slight hand by her female keeper. But Ofsteven recognises the fact there is no escape from the nastiness of a handmaid’s life.
Another Ceremony Day commences at the Waterford house, though everyone’s hiding their respective secret – Fred’s falling in love with Offred, Offred had to have sex with Nick, Serena of course knows about what she helped happen. One of the more horrifying moments of rape, if that’s imaginable, so far in The Handmaid’s Tale. That night Offred confronts Fred about how he touched her during the ritual, with lust instead of merely carrying out the function of intercourse. Oh, the waters are muddying. Fast. Particularly with the Commander dangling things from life before Gilead in front of Offred, as they continue spending time alone together at night.
Furthermore we see that Fred doesn’t care about love, he only likes fucking her. He doesn’t believe in love, or much else other than the twisted biblical law of Gilead. Offred also finds out about what happened to Ofglen during her procedure.
Offred: “We had choices then
Fred: “Now you have respect. You have protection. You can fulfil your biological destinies in peace.”
Pic 3Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse for some.”
Flashback. June asks Luke to leave his wife, to which he agrees easily. They’re in love and they both know it, no sense in denying that. Again, juxtaposed with life in Gilead there’s an emotional depth these scenes reach that wouldn’t be seen if we only watched one portion of June/Offred’s life in long stretches. Edited in like memories, these flashbacks help build the core of the story, and it makes the character development shine.
Offred again talks with Ofsteven. She tells Offred to join with Mayday, to help them in her absence. For the first time Ofsteven tells her friend her name, Emily, but Offred’s pulled away before she can also speak her name. Suddenly we see Emily sneak into a car when one of the men hops out briefly. She speeds off.
An act of driving, something so simple, allows the other women to feel a strange sense of freedom. Women are no longer allowed to do the tiniest activities, such as driving. And even with an armed standoff outside the car, Emily gives them all spirit in her brief defiance of the patriarchal rule. Compounded by running over a man’s head, popping it like a watermelon in front of the crowd. Whoa. I worry for what they’re going to do with Ofsteven after that.
Offred: “Maidez. Help me.”
At home, Serena paints, and Offred comes back following the scene in town with her renewed spirit brewing inside. While Mrs. Waterford talks of a woman’s “requirements” Offred only eyes the sharp objects nearby. The murder of that man may have instilled her with something dangerous, but useful all the same. That night she goes to see Nick in his room, she gives herself to him only this time with much more passion and heated lust.
Thus begins the next step in her own personal rebellion.
Offred: “She looked invincible
Pic 4Another stellar episode, one that bridges the past and present in such a tangible way through Offred(a.k.a June)’s memories. I can’t get enough of the series, especially the acting and the heavy themes presented with such grace. It’s all around a fascinating show, coming around at just the right time in North America certainly.
Next episode is “A Woman’s Place” and I can only begin to imagine what we’ll see go down.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 4: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 4: “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum”
Directed by Mike Barker
Written by Leila Gerstein

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Late” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Faithful” – click here
Pic 1After Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) being subjected to genital mutilation, and Offred (Elisabeth Moss) not yet pregnant, suffering the misogyny of fellow woman Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), some might think Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t get any worse. Right?
Wrong.
Offred’s been banished to her room, “thirteen days so far.” She is under lock and key, worse than usual. She likens herself to an explorer in the room, rather than getting too carried away with memories. She explores the closet where her uniform is, but then lays there on the floor. There she discovers NOLITE TE BASTARDES CARBORUNDORUM scratched in the door’s frame. Translation: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
Flash to Offred and Moira (Samira Wiley). We get bits of their lives in the well-scribed dialogue, including that the handmaids aren’t allowed to write. Another piece of the patriarchy’s dirty puzzle.
Pic 1ACommander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Serena don’t have much of a relationship, which isn’t exactly a surprise. “Weve got good men working on it” is his answer when she tries to give valuable input; albeit input into the patriarchal madness. Still, that divide between her place in that society and where she believes herself to be is always clear. More and more to herself, as well.
After fainting Offred is taken to the doctor by Serena, the first fresh air and sun she’s felt on her face in nearly two whole weeks. Even the rain is a delight to her after such isolation. She remembers Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) giving a lecture to the handmaids about possibly getting pregnant, moving in with their “new family” and such. They speak of “the ceremony” where the handmaids must have a rapey threesome on their fertile days. What we’re seeing is a lesson in complicity, in normalisation. Lydia and the patriarchy are conditioning these women to accept this hideous assault, justified with the Bible in perverted wisdom.
Aunt Lydia: “That is his word, dear. And we shall abide.”
At the doctor’s clinic Offred prepares herself for an exam by the doctor. It’s eerie, as he stands behind a sheet and her lower half is obscured. Far too clinical in an oddly puritanical manner. Doctors can’t even look at their patients, they must keep a sheet between them; not while peeking at the lady parts! Disgusting and weird. This adaptation of Atwood is chilling. Offred’s narration tells us that “sterile is a forbidden word” because their society of men has convinced themselves they are infallible. Even worse, the doc suggests he impregnate her because if the Commander’s sterile – many of them are apparently – then it’ll all be blamed on her, of course. Yuck.
Just viciously ugly. A stark look at the nation of Gilead. A place threatening not only the physical lives of women like Offred, it threatens their sanity even worse than today’s society (which is bad enough).


Today is breeding day. Offred’s been examined, cleared for what’s to follow. She goes back home and plays the part for Serena, asking to be let out from her room. No sympathy, though.
Flash to Moira and Offred. They trick Aunt Elizabeth (Edie Inksetter) into the bathroom where they take her hostage. They lead her through the building’s basement where they shock her, making her strip, so they can use her uniform. They tie her to a pipe then head off outside.
Back to the ceremony, breeding day. Except Commander Waterford breaks the rules a little. Things are supposed to proceed in a specific fashion. Instead he comes in to make another Scrabble date. Hmm.
Serena: “Blessed be the fruit
Offred: “May the Lord open
And so goes the ceremony, or at least it would if Commander Fred could stand at attention. He has… issues. Makes things twice as awkward having wife and rape mistress on his bed, so he walks out. Yeah, that’s no good for anybody. When Serena goes to help him out it’s like they’re no longer used to physical contact; sex has become no longer about pleasure, it is about power and breeding. He refuses a blowjob from her, too. Is Fred catching feelings? Ugh, gross. Either way, Offred doesn’t have to be assaulted for one night, at least.
Worse is how Offred internalises the misogyny, believing she is “not blameless” in that she could’ve shown him more affection, when he came to her before the ceremony. That is terrible. But what the writing does cleverly, in this not-so-hyperbole dystopian future, is outline how women internalise the hatred, many times totally unknowingly, and this happens TODAY. Not just in this terrifying Atwood adaptation. Remember that, men!
Flash to Moira in her Aunt costume taking Offred through the city. They see everything decimated, street signs removed and replaced, corpses brought through the square bloodied in a heap. In a subway station they look for a train to Boston. So militarised, every place they go. Then, as Offred talks to an armed Guardian, she lets Moira go off on the train by herself, as she’s taken back to the city. After her attempt to flee with Moira, Offred’s taken to Aunts Lydia and Elizabeth, who visit nasty tortures on her, whipping the bare soles of her feet like something straight out of the Old Testament.
Pic 3Pic 4Back to Offred, who uses Moira as inspiration to not let those bastards get her down. She goes to see Commander Waterford. They play Scrabble, he drinks and tells her of his trip to Mexico. THE MOST IRONY EVER: he complains a word she plays is archaic; such a perfect line for a man dominating an archaic society! On the shelf as she fetches a dictionary, she notices one for Latin, too (“knower of Latin, scratcher of words“). Once the game is finished they make a date again for after the next ceremony. And Offred does her best to try manipulating Waterford with that bittersweet element which at once gives her power and holds her down in Gilead: femininity.
Something that gradually comes out is the keeping of knowledge, how men and the patriarchy try keeping women down by filtering what they’re expose to and taught, or outright excluding them from knowledge (writing, language, et cetera). Of course that’s how authoritarian systems work.
We get a little montage of the power of women in the end. We see Offred recovering from her punishment having tried to escape. Other women bring her food at bedside, giving her strength and support. Through Waterford’s tale of the previous Offred, this Offred is given a renewed sense of life.
Offred: “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, bitches.”
Pic 5Probably my favourite episode of the series so far! On top of that, Hulu renewed it for another season. How damn good can it get? Love so much about this episode, but as usual I’m excited for the next one. “Faithful” is next week; I wonder how much deeper we’ll go into the devastating patriarchal nightmare that is the reality for these poor handmaids.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 3: “Late”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 3: “Late”
Directed by Reed Morano
Written by Bruce Miller

* For a recap & review of the previous episode, “Birth Day” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum” – click here
Pic 1Offred (Elisabeth Moss) hears about what happened to Ofglen (Alexis Bledel). She was taken in a black van. Whisked away. She was a “member of the Resistance” and those are CHOICE WORDS for 2017. “I didnt even know her name,” Offred a.k.a June laments. Now the girl is gone. Disappeared in some cell, in an unknown place.
When they slaughtered Congress, we didnt wake up. When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didnt wake up then, either. They said it would be temporary.”
Flashbacks to June and Moira (Samira Wiley), jogging together and listening to tunes. They have a nasty confrontation with a guy in a coffee shop. He drops the word SLUT on them and this gets Moira particularly pissed. Open misogyny already, long before the patriarchy clamped down. June has troubles with her bank account, and later she sees men with guns come to the office where she works. A troubling development. Their boss has to let them go, required by law; all the women are gone. Ominous, as an army arrives. Not the regular US army, though.
In the present, Offred is tended to by Rita (Amanda Brugel), who’s suddenly more a fan of her. This shows us what goes in the minds of the women bent under the state. She didn’t care about her before. Since she hasn’t had a period yet, Rita deems her more worthy. Because she may be pregnant. Suddenly Offred, even in the eyes of other women like Rita in servitude and Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) in lesser servitude but still shackled, is more than nothing. For now. Until she’s given birth, like poor Janine (Madeline Brewer).
What Margaret Atwood’s book did well, as does this adaptation, is present how difficult life can be between women when the patriarchy has trodden them into near dust. She shows, through characters such as Serena and Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), that the ruling class of men oppressing women likewise leads to the oppression of women by other women. Devastating consequences in many forms.
Pic 1AOffred tries comforting Janine, who slips further into a bad mental state. She starts thinking she is free, that she can do what she wants because of her ability to conceive. Fine to think she can eat lots of ice cream. Not fine if she pushes it too far in that militarised zone. I hate to think what may happen to Janine. I truly worry, especially since she believes her Commander is in love.
Later we see Serena try justifying herself, in a way, to Offred. She says that she’s “blessed” to have her around. I can’t help thinking that’s a load of shit. Then there’s Nick (Max Minghella), I haven’t sussed out his purpose or what he’s up to, ultimately. Maybe he’s the reason Ofglen isn’t around anymore, maybe he isn’t. He has a properly nihilistic view of their new world, believing it’s useless to try acting hard: “Everybody breaks. Everybody.” And this time around, he’s taken her to a black van. He advises her to tell them whatever she knows. Uh oh.
Flashback to June and Moira, before the fall. Women cannot own property by law anymore; not money or a house, nothing. They’re starting to shut America down after the terrorist attack in Washington awhile back. Women are systematically being jailed, in every sense. Moira makes a good argument for why the #NotAllMen crowd need to shut up, because the heinousness of men is too terrible for us individual men to worry about being separated in name from the crowd. We do too much damage. In The Handmaid’s Tale, this is presented all too clear, in every bit of its rawness.
Luke: “Should I just go in the kitchen and cut my dick off?”
In the present, Offred is questioned by a man and zapped by Aunt Lydia. They want to know more of Ofglen, what they talked about, any mentions of unpatriotic activities, so on. Then up comes the subject of lesbianism. Touchy, especially when breeding stock and a known lesbian come into contact. According to their world Ofglen is a “gender traitor” and you’ve heard similar words before from rabid racists who use the term race traitor for white people empathetic/sympathetic to people of colour. In fact, this society expressly forbids the use of the word gay.


In the meantime, Ofglen spends her days with a mask covering her mouth, brought from one place to the next in shackles. She tries appealing to the baser needs of the guards, though they won’t bend. She is branded an “abomination” but sentenced to “redemption” because she is “fruitful.” Not a good omen, that’s absolutely positive. Ofglen’s lover is taken to a vacant lot where she’s lifted on a crane and hung by the neck. One of the slowest, most brutal death scenes without graphic violence that I’ve EVER SEEN! Ofglen is then carted away to her own, perhaps even slower punishment.
Nick goes to see Offred, bringing her ice for the stun stick wounds she suffered. There’s more to him, even if he’s complicit in the entire thing. He plays the whole nice guy card while alone with her, acting as if he could be the hero. But again, similar to what Moira spoke of in the earlier flashback, men are not the answer, they are the problem here; the nice ones, too. The women, eventually, are going to enact revolution. Whether it’s painful and bloody on the way is an entirely other situation. It will be women, though. They will not be saved by any men in this world, nor do they need it.
We flashback to a protest, before America fell to fascist, authoritarian government. A spooky rendition of “Heart of Glass” plays while the violence breaks out, the militarised police with their guns bearing down on the innocent protesters, male and female alike. Guns start firing, then Moira and June finally realise the serious depths of what is happening around them. A tragic, emotional sequence as the two women run for their lives and hide.
Pic 3Offred’s discovered she isn’t pregnant after all. Therefore, no more special treatment, and more of that skin crawling sex with Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), held down by Serena as she watches on. Yuck. And once the infertile Mrs. Waterford hears the news, it’s not pleasant. At all. Fucking horrifying, actually. The woman is mad, driven mad by her complicity in the whole debacle. Then she tells Offred: “Things can get much worse for you.” Something that’s actually hard to imagine at this point.
Pic 4We see that Ofglen’s been brought to a stark white facility. She finds there’s been a procedure done on her while she was unconscious. Aunt Lydia reveals her real name: Emily. She says things will be easier for the girl now. “You wont want what you cannot have,” Lydia tells her. Oh, man. Harsh. Like an Atwood vision of body horror.
By the way, the song playing at the end is “Waiting for Something” by Jay Reatard. Great tune for a whopping moment.
Pic 4AThis was maybe my favourite episode. It gave us a window into before the fall, as well as other horrors in the new world of the authoritarian patriarchy. I can’t wait for the next episode. Very glad to have had the opportunity to preview these before the premiere!

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 2: “Birth Day”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 2: “Birth Day”
Directed by Reed Morano
Written by Bruce Miller

* For a recap & review of the Season 1 premiere, “Offred” – click here
* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Late” – click here
Pic 1Offred (Elisabeth Moss) tries to escape the breeding rape of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes), held down by his wife Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski). The sex is not just a visceral sexual assault. It is symbolic of women like Serena who’ve been complicit with the patriarchy, holding other women down figuratively, literally, in every kind of way. A brilliantly disturbing metaphor.
Under his eye
Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) gets closer to Offred, they talk of who they were before they were trapped in that nation-state of misogyny. We find out that churches are being dismantled, everywhere. And so do they still worship God? They read scripture, they’re Conservative people. What exactly is the patriarchal nation-state up to? Regardless of that Ofglen tells Offred about a “network” of women. They’re ultra secretive, obviously.
Offred: “There has to be an us because now there is a them.”
Pic 1ANot entirely sure what Nick (Max Minghella) is doing, if he’s a force of good or another arm of the male authority. He seems to like Offred, but again it could be less than valiant. He’s not exactly a Commander, a higher-up. He is the proletariat, a worker. He relays to Offred that Commander Waterford has called to see her. She’s ushered into the birthmobile by Rita (Amanda Brugel); the thing is like a hearse, which is brutally ironic. At once, life and death touches. They are, in fact, living death.
Offred: “Theres a smell coming from that room. Something primal. Its the smell of dens, of inhabited caves. Its the smell of the plaid blanket on the bed where the cat gave birth once, before she was spade. Its the smell of genesis.”
Offred – or, June, as she was – flashes back to when she was pregnant, before everything changed. It’s a creepy atmosphere, as people chant outside the hospital, praying for the babies in the face of the fertility plague. But no time for daydreaming, June! Real life is too nasty now to let daydreams take over long. The atmosphere is creepier in the present, as the infertile wives pamper the handmaids getting ready to give birth, a ritualistic process from which the women almost derive pleasure. So odd. They’re all led into a room where Janine (Madeline Brewer) is in labour. Everybody tells her to breathe, calming her down. Although Offred does the most for her, in less creeper fashion.
Flashbacks to June in the hospital post-birth show us how bad the fertility plague became; her baby Hannah was the only one to have survived while she was there, others dying. A sad image shows rows of empty basins in the children’s ward where June walks aimlessly. Like rows of graves in a cemetery.


Offred does well priming herself to survive that brutal place. She does what she’s supposed to do with grim servitude. She keeps her June alive by smiling in the mirror, remembering who she is on the inside. As long as she doesn’t forget, June’s never lost to Offred.
In the room with Janine another woman is brought in and the two of them push, breath, going through the birthing process with the aid of Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd), Serena and the infertile wives. Turns out the other woman is one of the infertile wives; they go through the whole thing as if actually pregnant, an unsettling ritual. It’s scary to watch. As if a church service has gone wild, the chanting like a hymn. And when a “fine and healthy girl” is born they rejoice. In the midst of all the cruelty, the terror, is that miracle of birth; life in the fields of death.
Such raw subject matter in a dystopian setting. The baby is ripped from Janine, given to the infertile woman, and she lays in bed with it as if she’d just given birth herself. Whoa. Margaret Atwood’s source novel expertly scared already, disturbing and all too prescient. With visuals, the score, the expertly acted characters, it’s all so effective.
We flashback again to June and Luke (O-T Fagbenle) in the hospital, before the fall of America. A woman’s broken in and stolen Hannah. This is what the infertility plague did to people, the mania it caused. Luckily they get the child back. This illustrates the terrifying climate before the authoritarian iron fist crushed American women into submission; they were already suffering, now they suffer more.
Pic 3Janine is still seen as useful. She has to breastfeed the child before she’ll be torn away once more. She sings Bob Marley to her daughter. That intimate connection between mother and child is too strong a bond to simply break with one snap. There’ll be more trouble with this concept as the episodes progress.
Beyond the Commanders door” is somewhere nobody, not even Serena goes. Offred has been summoned to see him. She only assumes something bad, relating it to the typical horror trope of a young woman stupidly descending into a dark basement believing her boyfriend is there, only to meet a bloody end; maybe allegorically, she’s correct. In she goes, sitting with Waterford. They play Scrabble together, in expected awkwardness. Like a good citizen, she spells out NATION first on the board. After they finish she even tries out humour on him; he enjoys it. They plan on another date when he’s back from out of town. Creepy, yet you can see Offred working to figure out what she can do to keep herself alive in that tyrannical palace and city.
Most interesting is that Offred is finally rediscovering her power as a woman. Although she’s in this weakened state because of the ruling class, she starts figuring out that she still holds sway over men, because they are the weak ones. They’re the ones who’ve done this because they are afraid of the power of women, what they hold over them with their sexuality; it’s all they can think of, the wretched, oppressive patriarchy of that place. But a wrench is thrown in the mix, too. No longer is Offred paired with Ofglen, another woman comes in her place. Well, she’s Ofglen; just not the same one.
Things are… never as they seem.


What a great episode to follow-up on the first! I loved it. Can’t get enough already, I’m hooked. You’ll love it, too. Especially if you’re a fan of Atwood’s book.
Next episode is “Late” and it promises more terror, more dark comedy, more powerhouse acting and directing, as well.

The Handmaid’s Tale – Season 1, Episode 1: “Offred”

Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale
Season 1, Episode 1: “Offred”
Directed by Reed Morano
Written by Bruce Miller

* For a recap & review of the next episode, “Birth Day” – click here
Pic 1AThis adapted series from Margaret Atwood’s blistering novel begins with a car being chased down a road, police close behind. Offred (Elisabeth Moss) sits in the back with Hannah (Jordana Blake) next to her; Luke (O-T Fagbenle) drives, fast as he can. Soon they’re stuck in a ditch and they have to get out and run. They go quick in desperation, their destination supposedly not far off. Gunshots blast in the distance, so Offred picks her child up and runs. After some time they hide, but men with guns lurk too close for comfort. They eventually leave.
Although it’s clear this is a world full of dangers. It isn’t long until the men catch up with them and take the child from her mother. They’re taken out of the woods and back to the place from which Offred so badly hoped to escape.
She is a handmaid. She’s forbidden to be herself; a woman. Or rather, she is made to be only woman. As in, nothing other than her biological sex – determined by the ruling class: man.
She’s kept in line by Serena Joy (Yvonne Strahovski), who shovels the shit of Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and others like him. Offred is at her new posting, seeing as how the last one didn’t… work out. There is much woman-on-woman hate here. In the days of hyper nationalist women today, ushered in heartily by Trump and Co, it isn’t hard to see Strahovski channel people like Ann Coulter or Kellyanne Conway (among many) who seem to be women bent on destroying other women. And what all that can lead to, which is this authoritarian, patriarchal nation-state they live under.
Pic 2 Offred: “A handmaid wouldnt get far. Its those other escapes, the ones you can open in yourself given a cutting edge, or a twisted sheet and a chandelier.”
Poor Offred and other women go through the motions. They’re in permanent servitude. There’s definitely a hierarchy of men, too. But then again, that doesn’t matter because they’re the oppressing and ruling class, the dominant gender in this horrific world. Guys like Nick (Max Minghella) do the ‘lower’ work like labour as The Commander struts about his mansion. Meanwhile, Offred and Ofglen (Alexis Bledel) walk in pairs, they wear their uniforms.
Note: The headdress they wear is intriguing and in terms of costuming this series is off to a major start, such impressive work! They’re essentially a less-covered, Conservative version of a veil. Also, they’re blinders. Like horses would wear. Fucking grim, Margaret! Nice touch. Likewise the cinematography already is spectacular – so rich, at the same time it’s grim even in the light of day in the midst of a forest. Courtesy of Colin Watkinson (shot Tarsem Singh’s 200 visual feast The Fall).
Life in this nation-state is terrifying. Offred and Ofglen see three men hung on a wall as they walk through the otherwise beautiful city: a priest, a doctor, and a gay man. We see Offred in flashbacks to life outside in the real world, with a friend named Moira (Samira Wiley). Then they’re in a classroom, Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) talking of God and how he “whipped up a special plaguethe plague of infertility.” And we see Offred meet eyes with Moira, now both in the same, awful place. These women in the room are fertile. They’re intended to bear children; this is their purpose to men. Lydia is another self-hating woman whose purpose is to keep other women in line. A little worse, though. She has a stun stick she carries, zapping anyone who talks too much. Those aren’t the worst punishments. The breeding stock women are treated almost worse than others; one of them is punished by having her eyes plucked out. Don’t need eyes to have babies. Yikes!
Aunt Lydia: “This will become ordinary
Pic 2BCeremony Day is coming up, so this means Offred must be washed, cleaned to the utmost care. Like a “prized pig.” At the same time, it’s hard for her to forget life before the state and its tyranny. She longs for her daughter, hoping that she won’t be forgotten. It’s a brutally real emotion and Moss quietly portrays it with great nuance.
The breeding women sit in a circle, as one of them is made to confess supposed transgressions for leading on boys. Lydia makes them all chant “Her fault” in response. When Offred doesn’t say the right words, a woman steps in and slaps her face (that’s Margaret Atwood, by the way). Then she succumbs, falls in line; in her place.
There are many rules living with The Commander. One reason why Serena is so bitter towards Offred is, clearly, she is infertile, and hates her for somehow being able to bear children. Well, Ceremony Day isn’t the easiest especially. A bit of reading from the Bible, some mechanical sex as Offred is held by Serena who looks her husband in the eye, and he stares back. Holy fuck; pardon the double pun. Afterwards, it’s more than awkward. The environment of the house is straight out hostile. “Get out,” Serena tells Offred once the dirty deed is complete.
At night the girl with her eye plucked out, Janine (Madeline Brewer), is having troubles. She’s going a bit crazy, talking to herself. When Moira tries to stop her, we find out a bit of information. About the Colonies, where people clean up toxic waste, where they get radiation poisoning and their skin peels off and they die. One place is as bad as the other, just in different terms.
All the handmaids are brought to a field where a stage is setup. Offred hears that Moira was sent to the Colonies. Likely dead. No time to mourn, they have rituals to perform and everyone lines up to kneel on their pillows while Aunt Lydia speaks onstage. A man’s been convicted of a rape, and sentenced to death. We see the disconnect between state and individual, as the state sanctions widespread dehumanisation of women, lets the Commanders rape and impregnate women. Yet this lower man, still a rapist, is held to a different standard. These men are used to let the handmaids take out frustration. Capital punishment is carried out by their hand, as they beat him to death. All their hatred for the state is purged on this single individual. Such a strange, terrifying concept.


Another flashback to Offred and Moira outside, to when the former first believed she was pregnant. We see the original fears of women before the authoritarian state. Offred worried about a miscarriage, but she had Moira, her husband. She wasn’t kept under lock and key. Now, she’s in that tyrannical place without Moira.
Ofglen: “Was there ever a before?”
We see the further disconnect between the women, how they’re nurtured to distrust one another. Ofglen and Offred understand each other better as they talk more. We discover that Ofglen, in her real life, had a wife, a son named Oliver. They were able to flee to Canada while she was caught on the border without a passport. So many families divided, torn apart. So many women destroyed, abused, and much worse.
At the Commander’s home there’s a big meeting of men, all the while the women scuttle about preparing dinner and alcohol and everything else the patriarchy requires. And again there’s more disconnect. Offred can see how Serena, though more privileged, is just another woman to the men; though she has a seemingly better life than the rest, she is still excluded and set aside.
Furthermore, we now know Offred’s name was and is June. And she intends to survive this tyranny. Some way.
Pic 4What an episode! Wow. I’m more than impressed, and satisfied as a fan of the novel. I’m excited for the next episode. Been grateful to get to see the first few episodes before the premiere.
Next is “Birth Day” and you can be sure, it doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

High-Rise to the Isolation of Socioeconomic Madness

High-Rise. 2016.Directed by Ben Wheatley. Screenplay by Amy Jump, based on the novel of the same name by J.G. Ballard.
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Elisabeth Moss, James Purefoy, Keeley Hawes, Peter Ferdinando, Sienna Guillory, Reece Shearsmith, Enzo Cilenti, Augustus Prew, Dan Renton Skinner, Stacy Martin, & Tony Way. Recorded Picture Company/British Film Institute.
Rated 18A. 119 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
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Almost from the opening, High-Rise caught me as impressive. Part of that is because I find J.G. Ballard’s writing beyond thought provoking. The other is because Tom Hiddleston commands an audience’s attention similar to the old school Hollywood leading man. And finally, a large part is due to Ben Wheatley. Ever since I had the chance to see his debut feature Down Terrace there was something worth the attention in his directing. It only got better as he moved through an excellently varied catalogue of films including Kill List, my personal favourite of his SightseersA Field of England, as well as some other projects. While each film is vastly different from the other his style is one an auteur. In each of his works there’s an existential question, of some sort, whether that be about family, loyalty, love, work, and much more. Writer Amy Jump has written several of his features, alongside Wheatley. She is also a great writer with an uncanny ability to look into human nature honestly, whose talents are solo here in adapting Ballard. A job she does well.
Together in High-Rise, using Ballard as the foundation and source, Jump and Wheatley explore an earlier view of the future. Yet for all its madness this story is certainly a great analogy for the war of classes in society, at any point. Particularly, though, in a day and age where billionaires are profiting the most, paying the least for their transgressions, as the poor end up footing the societal and economic bill, this is a book and film that holds as much if not more weight than first when Ballard conceived it.
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Dr. Laing: “The facial mask simply slips off the skull
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It’s literally dog eat dog now. Or man eat dog. From the beginning, Wheatley shows us the resulting chaos. Similar to how Hitchcock spoke of showing his audience ‘the bomb underneath the table’, and then for the rest of the film letting people sweat it out wondering… when will it go off? So it’s a perfect place to start the journey. Now we’re left to watch as Dr. Laing (Hiddleston) and all the other inhabitants of the towering titular high-rise complex descend into the madness of their isolated, socially divided existence.
One of Ballard’s interests as a novelist lies in the convergence point between society and technology, between human psychology and technical advancements. In Crash, he examined a very physical space of body horror where the human body and the metal of cars meet in a disturbingly erotic nature. High-Rise examines a more psychological and moral space than anything physical. As everyone of all kinds is mashed together in the elaborate complex, which for all its space becomes more claustrophobic over the course of the film, the moral compass of its various residents and their respective concern for fellow people in different social classes begins to spiral. Downward. So in effect, Ballard’s main themes are that the higher we get in terms of technology, often the lower we get in social skills, but more importantly in social and moral empathy.
Laing is completely oblivious to his class privilege. He tells a cashier to keep the change, but she can only reply: “There isnt any.” Brief little bit of Jump’s excellent adaptation. A little later he’s completely humiliated at a fancy costume party where everyone’s dressed in centuries old party clothing. Then thrown out. A great juxtaposition of moments for Laing to experience.
Three big characters in High-Rise have significant names. Royal (Irons) – the main sitting at the top of the throne. Wilder (Evans) – the primitively violent man, arguably the first to fully succumb to the influence of the divided complex. Then there’s Dr. Laing himself, whose name is lifted from psychiatrist R.D. Laing, which connects with his concept of schizophrenia as a type of self-defense mechanism against certain social situations and events. They all play pivotal roles, as the isolation and almost blissfully ignorant nature of high-rise living (a microcosm of social structures) takes its toll in so many intensely brutal ways.
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Wheatley often works with cinematographer Laurie Rose. In fact, if I’m not mistaken he’s essentially shot all his feature films. His eye for composition, alongside the directorial choices of Wheatley, always serve the best interest of the subject matter. Plus, he captures everything so rich and full that it jumps off the screen. No matter what type of things he’s shooting. From the bigger, more grand scale shots to the close, tight moments, Rose has a wonderfully classic sense of filmmaking. At times he and Wheatley go for experimental sequences, but mostly they craft a beautiful, old school-looking film that’s modern in theme. It’s a story that was written back 1975, likely started a little earlier, so Rose and Wheatley bring this interesting ’70s vibe to their atmosphere and look while exploring the modern themes in that space rather than update it completely to a contemporary setting.
You could easily see some filmmakers shooting this, as well as writing this, in a complete vision of future today. With the trio of Jump, Rose, and Wheatley, the J.G. Ballard adaptation they give us is the one which the author imagined, as a vision of the future in the 1970s. Everything, right down to the set design, is absolutely astonishing.
Then there’s Clint Mansell, whose work many recognize from his various collaborations with Darren Aronofsky among other scores he’s composed. He does fantastic things with a bunch of orchestral pieces, as well as the iconic electronic pieces he’s known for, too. The opening sequence is accompanied by some nicely fitting orchestra. Later, electronic scores pulse us towards the violent finale. Having Mansell a part of this team only makes the film more effective.
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For me, this is a 5-star cinematic experience. Ben Wheatley, Amy Jump, Laurie Rose, as well as every one of the actors involved, particularly Tom Hiddleston and Luke Evans, each do a perfect job bringing this J.G. Ballard adaptation to the screen. Notably, this was previously deemed ‘unfilmable’ in Hollywood. So take that, big wigs. Wheatley continues an impressive career. He is a visionary director and every bit deserving of his status as an auteur filmmaker. Jump brings her wonderful writing to the table, and along with Rose’s keen eye they’re able to make Ballard palatable, exciting, and every bit as brutally engaging as his original novel. This is available as of this writing today on VOD. But I’ll also be heading out to see it on the big screen as soon as it shows up here. High-Rise is the type of film I’ve seen on VOD, I’ll see in theatre, then be damned sure I’ll buy up on Blu ray. Great cinema, great minds, great actors.

Beauty in the Breakdown: Alex Ross Perry’s Perfectly Uncomfortable Queen of Earth

Queen of Earth. 2015. Directed & Written by Alex Ross Perry.
Starring Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston, Patrick Fugit, Kentucker Audley, Keith Poulson, and Kate Lyn Sheil. Washington Square Films.
Unrated. 90 minutes.
Drama/Thriller

★★★★★
queen_of_earth_ver2_xlgOpening with such a tightly framed shot of Elisabeth Moss’ Catherine, Alex Ross Perry completely submerges us immediately into her world. Not to mention she’s in an absolute state of disarray and her temper is flaring, her makeup smeared and running. There are plenty of tight close-ups on Catherine moving on through the film, but it’s this almost shocking, jarring opener of her face, in our face, vulnerable and weeping, angry, emotional, which sets the tone of the film. Furthermore, I love how Perry has the title card come up in a hot pink colouring, as it sort of gives things an interesting little twist – as if everything’s fine on top, the pink like the makeup, yet underneath things are wrecked. A nice start to an oddly beautiful film.
From there, Queen of Earth descends into a spiral of broken friendship, jealousy, treacherous relationships, and a general atmosphere of dread and madness. For a movie that isn’t horror, it’s awfully scary. A lot of filmgoers seem to see this is as partly a comedy, though, for the life of me I cannot figure that one out. There’s nothing funny to me here. Not even in the darkly comic sense, which is the type of comedy I personally love most. Mostly this is full of terrifying reality, perched upon two vastly different but equally impressive performances from Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston. Above all else Perry crafted an excellent and classic style thriller out of a mess of emotions and psychological torment.
10293697.0A big problem I have is that I see so many people online bashing this movie because, supposedly, nothing happens. First of all, it troubles me how many of these same people also admitted they’d pirated it. So right away, I honestly have no regard for that opinion; you stole it, didn’t enjoy it, well fuck off. Honestly, if you can’t shell out a couple bucks to watch a movie online as opposed to going to theatre, which yes is damn expensive these days, well why should I care what your opinion is? It’s the same as if you start to heed the opinions of people who don’t actually pay to go to art galleries but rather they look at Polaroids of the artwork and then critique it. Regardless of what you thought about this film, a lot of people worked on it, just as you work at your job, and then people go ahead and pirate that hard work, giving nothing back, what does that say? It’s sad, whatever it says.
Secondly, I have to say that it’s fine if you don’t dig this type of film – the quiet, slow burning style that’s more focused on dialogue and character than action, whether big or small. Queen of Earth is more like a play, as we’re focused mainly on two characters – a couple others sort of in the wings in smaller supporting roles – and the bulk of the plot takes place in a single claustrophobic type of location. That’s part of what I love, as those who say “nothing happens” are SO WRONG. You really think nothing at all happens? Maybe you didn’t listen to all the fascinating dialogue between Elisabeth Moss and Katherine Waterston, or did you miss all the palpable tension going on during scenes with Moss and Patrick Fugit? I don’t know. Might do well with seeing the film again. Because for me, a ton happens in this movie and the plot pops right out of the frame, grips ahold of your neck, and refuses to let go until the very last shot. A movie doesn’t have to have a ton of action – by action, I don’t solely mean car crashes and explosions, I mean action as in big sequences – and I think Alex Ross Perry knows that, more than well. I’ve not actually seen any of his other films, but now I’m determined to go back and watch them. They’re surely not all like this, as there’s a genuine air of old school psychological thriller throughout Queen of Earth, but it’s obvious in this one film alone he knows how to focus in on character, as well as relationships between characters, and how to draw out the tension in normal, everyday type situations; so much of that happens here from beginning to end.
IMG_1976I’ll get to Elisabeth Moss and her performance as Catherine afterwards. I’d like to talk about Virginia to begin; the character wonderfully played by Katherine Waterston. While clearly, painfully obvious that Catherine has some deep issues, it seems to me certain filmgoers are ignoring altogether how damaged Virginia is in her own right. Starting out early on, within the first 15 minutes, there’s a flashback scene between Virginia and Catherine, the latter with her saccharinely sweet boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley) around – they talk about codependency, needing the other person in a relationship and what would happen if there was a breakup, et cetera. This is very telling. What we come to see is that not only does Catherine seem to be highly codependent
One way we can see the already glaringly obvious parallel in the situations of Catherine and Virginia is the boyfriends. Though the Kentucker Audley and Patrick Fugit characters are vastly different, the obviousness lies in the women themselves. They’re like a figurative tennis match, each of them batting the ball with equal force, mirroring the charge of the other. For instance, at the beginning we see James (Audley) calling Virginia ‘Ginny’, which she continually says is what close friends call her and advises him not to; not long after, James again calls her Ginny, she once more chastises him for it. A year later, once the situations have been reversed, Rich (Fugit) does the exact same thing to Catherine that James did – he calls her ‘Kay’, over and over despite the fact she tells him not to. What’s most interesting is that it’s not something initiated by either of the women, it’s something springing organically from these people, as if Catherine and Virginia are somehow willing it out of the universe.
Or is it? I also wonder if Virginia provoked Rich into taunting Catherine with the ‘Kay’ nickname in retaliation for how she perceived her friend to have treated her that year before. Because something strikes me as highly childish about Virginia. Each of these women are somewhat spoiled in terms of money – both of them have/had parents you’d most likely classify as rich – and so I think they’ve got their individual tendencies. But what’s telling in terms of why I think Virginia is especially childish is a scene where she and her boyfriend Rich (Fugit) are laughing in their room – when Catherine comes up quietly towards the door, Virginia won’t look at her and Rich goes to the door, without a word, closing it in Catherine’s face. Virginia and Rich giggle behind the door like two children, as Catherine stands for a moment outside, hurt, confused, then walks away. I thought this moment spoke VOLUMES in regards to Virginia particularly.
Because essentially, we’re seeing a back and forth duel between these two, supposedly, best friends who wound one another like a violently psychological and emotionally unstable game of tag. Instead of standing together, they fall harder and harder apart as the scant 90 minute runtime of Queen of Earth rolls on. This relationship is what sets up so much of the incredible tension within. Bottom line it comes down to the fact these two women are more interested in boosting their own egos than helping each other, neither wanting to be the bigger person and instead tearing their friend apart even worse at the seams.
IMG_1974 IMG_1973 IMG_1975Not only is the perpetually depressed and anxious character of Catherine written well by Perry, the way in which Elisabeth Moss inhabits the character is out of this world. I’m not a fan of Mad Men. However, after I saw Moss in Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake, I became really impressed with her abilities as an actor. She has this very quiet and subtle presence about her, yet there are scenes where she has the ability to take hold of everything near, hauling the scenes down around her and just scorching the earth; I mean this, if it’s not clear, in a hugely positive way. I’ll say it: my top favourite performance of 2015. There is no doubt about it. Starting at the first frame, closed in tight on her weepy, angry face, I was utterly taken with Moss and her portrayal of Catherine. There’s a feeling going into this film you might be expecting something big, loud, brash, yet she surprises by keeping things low-key. Still, there is always a gripping sense of tone when she’s onscreen, whether she is being emotionally intense or quiet and withdrawn. I do love Waterston in this movie. There’s simply an undeniably awesome quality to Moss and her performance, throughout every last scene; not once did I find myself watching her and wanting more, or feeling there ought to be less, rather I continually felt impressed with everything she did.
IMG_1977The score from Keegan DeWitt lays just beneath the surface, like a thin layer of skin beneath the outer edges. At times the pieces are genuinely unsettling, others it’s like a swell is happening and at any moment things might burst, shattering the world in Queen of Earth to pieces. Most of all, the music fits so well in every scene of the film. For me, it’s DeWitt who adds so much of the uneasiness and terrible feeling inherent in the atmosphere of the film, he gives the screenplay and Perry’s direction a dream-like and also nightmarish quality. It’s amazing, really. Even in one scene as Virginia is out running, faded into a scene of Catherine generally not taking care of herself (eating crackers/chips and drinking pop in the morning), there’s a haunting piece with a flute riff on top of some electronic style sounds which sucks you into a weird state and kind of sticks to your skin a while. Great, great score. I think my favourite bits are the extremely foreboding pieces – you’ll know which ones – full of the horns and low woodwinds, then undercut with these deep and growling electronic rumbles.
Music and cinematography can go together hand in hand as lovers if the work is done correctly. Queen of Earth has that with DeWitt’s compositions pairing together with the camerawork of Sean Price Williams. One thing I love in terms of Williams’ cinematography here is how the close-ups really pull the viewer directly into this world. In particular, there’s a great scene with Catherine and Virginia where they’re recounting past relationships, bad ones, and there’s this great profile-like set of shots of the two talking, listening; reminds me very much of an Ingmar Bergman film at times, honestly. These perfect shots, peppered everywhere throughout the film, make the emotional and psychological weight of the screenplay resonate long and wide. Without such gorgeous looking visuals, I don’t think the film would have near as much depth, so I’m glad the look of the movie fits so well with the screenplay and its themes.
IMG_1979One of the 5 star films of 2015 and one of my favourites. It’s hard to talk about Queen of Earth without giving away the ending, even though some will still bark “nothing happens”. To them I say, go watch something else. Lots happens, it’s just not full of big sequences where a ton of characters are jumping about, each spewing expository dialogue to further the story. Instead, Alex Ross Perry’s latest film is a deeply unnerving and raw snapshot of the nervous breakdown of one woman, as well as the breakdown of a long relationship between two old friends, accompanied by an astounding score composed by Keegan DeWitt and the lush visuals of Sean Price Williams.
If you’re not into slowly paced pieces of film with all its focus centred on character and emotionality, then I suggest to not even bother. Really. Because if not, you’re only going to find yourself bored. However, if you can handle a slower pace for 90 minutes, and you’re able to sit through the brutish reality of two friends falling to pieces, one far worse than the other, then this is for you! It can get tough to watch at times if you let the plot and story sink into you, but the rewards are well worth the effort. This film brought me back to some of Bergman’s work, even one of my favourite movies of all time Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, and yet it’s a completely separate and unique masterpiece all on its own.
The ending has stuck with me. Even the entire final half hour is UNBELIEVABLE and at times intensely creepy, as well; that whole party sequence calls back to Polanski in a way which left me jaw dropped for a second or two. The last two shots, switching between an astounded Virginia and a scarily ecstatic, laughing Catherine, they’ve still not washed off me. I watched Queen of Earth, after picking it up through iTunes, twice in the matter of about 12 hours. Each time I was floored beyond belief and those final moments will not find their way out of my head.