Tag Archives: dystopian

Show vs. Book: The Handmaid’s Tale

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has gone down in history as one of the most feminist novels of all time, earning the author several literary awards in the 1980’s when it was first published. But its debut this summer as a streaming series on Hulu has made the story shockingly relative in Trump’s America. Its themes about a male-dominated misogynist society are eye-opening as every other week it seems more Harvey Weinstein’s and Kevin Spacey’s are coming out of the woodwork.

The book tells the story of Offred, a handmaid who, in a dystopian future, has been forced to serve a family as little more than a mechanism for reproduction after widespread sterility has caused the world population to drop. Essentially raped monthly in the hopes of becoming pregnant, Offred does all she can to not only stay alive but stay sane as she wonders whatever happened to her husband and daughter. The story takes us through flashbacks of her former life as she works to find a way out of this chilling world.

Haunting is the best way to describe Offred’s tale, and that is upheld in the television series. Everything from its cold lighting and cinematography to the many close-ups of Offred’s (Elizabeth Moss’s) face as she is raped, locked in her room, or given opportunities to leave her Commander’s home exemplify the bitterness of this lonely, foreign world.

Turning the 300+ page novel into ten episodes of television allows for more detail and more story, and that’s exactly what the series offers. We learn Offred’s name “from before,” which is a detail never revealed in the novel. We learn exactly what happens to some of Offred’s other handmaid friends, including Ofglen, which — because the book is written strictly from Offred’s perspective is — is also not part of the book. The series also added meetings the Offred’s Commander has with Mexican government officials about adopting the same policies to boost reproduction. There is also an entire episode that shows us where Offred’s husband from her “former life” is now and how he got there.

Where I’m normally upset with how much liberty a show or film takes with a novel, it feels okay here. Maybe it’s because the detail given in the novel is so sparse, it’s simply a given that story would have to be added. Maybe it’s because the show matches the book so well in tone that all feels right with this adaptation. Or maybe it’s because the show is just so well executed with its writing, directing and acting. Whatever the case, the show does an excellent job of using the book as a jumping off point, season one ending exactly where the novel does. The rest of the series moving forward will now be entirely new, unread story and I’m okay with that, as I’m sure Margaret Atwood would be as well.

Get The Handmaid’s Tale in paperback now for $9.99.

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Show vs. Book: 1984

19841984 on Broadway: We are Big Brother

by Samantha Holle

It was a humid, sweltering day in September, and the clocks were striking three. It was time for the Sunday matinee of 1984.

In case you evaded reading it in high school, 1984 is the story of Winston Smith, an average Joe living in a not-so-average world: after tremendous world-wide territorial battles, Earth has been split into three superstates that are perpetually at one another’s throats. Winston lives in Oceania (what used to be London) and works at a government agency called the Ministry of Truth. His job is to literally rewrite history: when a person has been “unpersoned” — erased from society for going against the government — it is Winston’s job to go back into the files of history and remove any mention of this person’s name. The goal is to keep up the idea that Big Brother, the entity which governs and controls everything in Oceania, is never wrong, is never defied, and always comes up victorious.

But when we meet Winston, he is growing tired of this life. He has seen proof in his work that people who were labeled “government enemies” were not where they were said to be nor were they doing the illegal acts for which they were vaporized. Winston hates Big Brother and the society that lives for war, destruction, and the beating down of the human spirit.

Then he meets Julia, a coworker who, on the outside, doesn’t seem to be Winston’s type: She is a diligent worker at the MiniTruth (as the Ministry of Truth is called in the new vernacular, Newspeak). She screams the loudest and with the most vigor during the Two Minutes Hate, a daily event in which everyone watches a televised murder of an enemy of the state by government officials. It comes as a complete surprise to Winston when Julia quietly reveals that she, too, hates Big Brother and wants to defy the government by feeling love and experiencing freedom.

But there are no secrets in Oceania. Television screens can watch you as you watch them. Neighbors listen at keyholes for any sounds of dissent. People throw one another to the wolves to save themselves. And Winston and Julia soon find themselves biting off far more than they can chew when they get involved in the underground resistance movement called The Brotherhood. Their relationship — and their secret opinions of Big Brother — become more than an act of rebellion. Soon they have to decide which is preferable: a difficult life of defiance and secrecy, or an easy life of love for only Big Brother.

The novel has recently gained popularity, and it’s not hard to see why: Phrases like “fake news” and “alternative facts” pervade our conversations. People communicate via screen more frequently than they communicate in person, and the concept of handheld devices monitoring one’s actions and locations is now a definitive reality. There is little room for intelligent conversation between people of differing opinions, as the ability to argue without screaming has almost entirely disappeared. In these times, it seems every day has a little bit of a Two-Minutes Hate.

It is a dark thought: are we living in the world Orwell imagined almost 70 years ago?

That is the question that Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan pose to their audiences through their stage adaptation of the novel. The two brought Orwell’s 1948 publication to life  in 2013 in the UK; the play was brought to the Big Apple for previews this past May. Just a little over a month later, it began to make serious headlines because people began to fall ill as they watched, especially during the extreme torture scenes at the end.

As an English teacher who has read the novel twice, I went into the play fully aware of this. How bad could it be if I already know that what I’m going to see is disturbing?

The answer to that question: no number of articles about the play or my understanding of the book could’ve prepared me for it. I left the theater uneasy, nauseous, and dizzy. It wasn’t the strobe lights and sound effects, or the fake blood, or the electrocution scene, or the revelation about what really happens when a dissenter is brought into room 101. It was the way some things hit close to home: the bastardization of the English language in order to reduce meaning (and thus kill meaningful conversation), the discomfort between people of varying opinions, the confusion of trying to balance what one feels is right and what everyone else is doing. Yes, 1984 takes place in a dystopian future, but there are present day elements. The lines between the fictional content and our reality blur.

Content and nausea aside, what made this play stand out from any I’d seen previously was the incorporation of media. The production utilizes overhead projectors and hand-held video cameras to capture action that the audience cannot see from their seats: Winston’s diary entries are projected onto a screen above his head as he writes; Julia and Winston’s secret trysts are recorded off stage in a secret room and played on this same screen. This allows the audience to feel like Big Brother in that we have access to people’s privacy, but it also creates sympathy for those being watched.

Ultimately, the novel comes to life in disturbing vividness on Broadway. There is no better indicator of this play’s construction of confusion than the opening scene: Winston is writing in his diary, questioning if the year is actually 1984 or if that’s just what he’s been told. He is interrupted by the sudden appearance of a group who are discussing “the book” and that the act of writing it is, in and of itself, a small act of rebellion. The group explains that without the book, we’d have no way of knowing how bad the past really was and how to avoid these mistakes in the future. It is, at first, unclear about whether or not they are talking about Winston’s diary. Later, the audience comes to understand that this group was the resistance, and they were discussing the book of Emmanuel Goldstein, public enemy number one of Big Brother and leader of the Brotherhood.

However, is it such a stretch to imagine that they might have been talking about Orwell’s book?

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Movie vs. Book: Mockingjay (Part 2)

41k66tfc43l**Spoiler Alert: Considering five years having passed since Mockingjay was published, this is your warning that if you have not read the actual book, you might not want to read the following review. Spoilers are included. 

It was the ending we’d all been waiting for — the final defeat of the Capitol, of President Snow, of all that was wrong with the country of Panem. And Katniss was the one to accomplish it all, a true heroine assisted by her fellow rebels. The movie Mockingjay Part 2 picks up where the first one ended, with Katniss recovering from an attack by Peeta, after he left the Capitol. As Katniss emotionally tries to come to grips with the new Peeta, who isn’t really Peeta anymore at all, she also works to further the rebellion and take down the Capitol.

But Coin, in charge of the rebellion, forces Katniss to remain the face of the rebellion and not one of its foremost warriors. Ultimately Katniss becomes one anyway, working with her team including Gale, Peeta, Bogs, Cressida, Finnick and others to break in to District 2 and the Capitol, so Katniss to fulfill her goal of killing President Snow herself. All that is accomplished and then some, when Katniss ultimately kills Coin as well, realizing after the death of her sister that Coin’s thirst for power was just as, if not more, dangerous and deadly than Snow’s.

The movie does a great job of closely following the book. There are the regular film changes with which fans have become familiar — including new, additional scenes with Snow and his advisors or with Coin and Plutarch, broadening the story and filling in the novel’s gaps that inevitably come from  Katniss’s first-person perspective formatting.

The biggest changes come at the movie’s end. In the novel, Katniss is misunderstood when she kills Coin. Because no one but President Snow really knew Coin’s evil, no one understands why Katniss commits such a heinous crime as murder. She is put on trial and acquitted by reason of insanity. She goes on to seemingly live a life of freedom yet sadness, married to Peeta, without any more of a relationship to Haymitch.

In the movie, however, there is no trial. There is a relationship with Haymitch. Katniss is commended by Plutarch. She is understood, and so are her actions, by the people of Panem. She is not deemed insane; she is a deemed a hero. She and Peeta are portrayed as truly in love and truly happy. The movie’s end is the storybook ending that the storybook never gave us. Of course, it’s different, and it might anger die-hard fans of the books. But after all Katniss has been through — and all we’ve been through three books and four movies later — it’s satisfying to have an ending that’s full and not one that leaves us, well, hungry.

Buy Mockingjay in paperback for $7.39.

Or on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Divergent

divergentContributed by Alison Kurtzman

One choice can transform you.

Divergent tells the story of Beatrice “Tris” Prior, a sixteen-year-old living in post-apocalyptic Chicago. In this reality, from birth until the age of sixteen, children live with their parents in one of five factions, including Amity – the peaceful; Candor – the honest; Erudite – the knowledgeable; Dauntless – the brave; and Abnegation – the selfless.  Both the story and book begin with Tris expressing trepidation about her upcoming Tris’ simulation test, which will decide what faction she belongs to. Tris is placed in Abnegation,with her parents and brother, Caleb, but feels that she is not selfless enough to belong.

Despite her concerns, she arrives at her test and drinks the serum, which brings her into mental scenarios to help place her. Tris wakes up expecting a result that will calm her, but instead is told the test didn’t work on her. She’s Divergent, meaning her mind works differently from others, and that she is in danger. Jeanne, the Erudite leader, is leading a hunt to get rid of all Divergents. In order to help her, her tester manually enters an Abnegation test result, and warns Tris to choose carefully at the choosing ceremony.

Tris chooses to join Dauntless, leaving behind her parents, and brother, who chooses Erudite. In Dauntless, Tris meets Four, the handsome, recruit trainer and a mutual crush develops quickly. Tris becomes friends with three other Dauntless transfers: Christina, Will, and Al, while making enemies with Peter, Molly, and Drew, the other transfers. With the help of Four, Tris must navigate the grueling Dauntless initiation, all while keeping her secret. When Jeanne finds out about Tris’ divergence, she’s forced into a fight to save herself and her loved ones.

The film version of Divergent was well-done. It stayed fairly close to the book’s plot and didn’t change too much. However, I believe they made a few deadly errors. Firstly, Tris’ relationship with her family was not fleshed out as much as it should have been. Her loyalty to her family and regret for leaving isn’t well explained in the movie, and I think that lessens the importance of a major plot point.

Additionally, while it is explained that Peter, Tris’ initiate rival, is mean and threatens her, he is much more evil in the book. There is an important moment in which Peter physically attacks one of the other initiates, forcing him to drop out of initiation due to his injury. This section was not in the film, and needed to be. While it is gruesome, it establishes Peter’s personality and loyalty – something very important both in the end, and, even more importantly, in the next two books.

While there were not many major plot changes in the film, I think the changes that were made, were poor decisions. It may have helped the film’s flow,  but it will impact the audience’s understanding and feelings for the characters and plot in the next two parts of the Divergent series. My recommendation would be see the movie, but read the series as well, so you get the full story.

Get Divergent in paperback for $5.49.

Or on your Kindle for $4.99.

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Movie vs. Book: Catching Fire

**Spoiler Alert: If you have only read my Hunger Games or Catching Fire reviews, and not the actual books, you might not want to read the following review. Spoilers are included.

Contributed by Gina Danza

“Tick, tock.” Time is precious to Katniss Everdeen. At the start of the movie version of the bestselling book Catching Fire, we find her doing what she loves — hunting in the woods with her only true friend, Gale. But after The Hunger Games, she’s a totally different person. She is faking her love for Peeta Mellark, the male co-victor of the Hunger Games. She is hurting, but everyone in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem is too. Districts are still angry about what Katniss and Peeta’s rebellious move in the last games, and the Capitol knows it. President Snow decides he isn’t going to let the system crash because Katniss and Peeta almost ate a few poisonous berries, in an attempt at suicide that would defy the Capitol. With President Snow watching very closely, Katniss must quickly convince the country that she is unconditionally in love with Peeta and her stunt was not an act of rebellion. If she fails, she could get herself and her loved ones killed.

During their first stop on The Victory Tour, an incident happens that scares them to the bone. They need to come up with new ideas to make the public believe in their love. Peeta truly loves Katniss and just wishes for her to feel the same but she has other plans. Gale is everything to her and she doesn’t have room to love anyone at the moment. The 75th Hunger Games approaches and there’s a wrinkle in the system. As part of the Quarter Quell, Katniss and Peeta must return to the arena to fight other previous victors. Sick and angry, they rush back to the Capitol to meet their opponents, who are experienced killers. Two tributes stick out: Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) and Finnick Odior (Sam Claflin). Johanna is a feisty beast and Sam, the Capitol sweetheart.

The victors have been through this before and they must remember who the real enemy is. As they prepare for battle, the tributes want these games stopped, especially Johanna and Peeta. Sadly, the games go on as planned. Katniss arrives in the arena to find salt water, tropical conditions, and extreme humidity. “This is no place for a girl on fire.”

Already at the edge of your seat? Well, let me hit you with this. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire was better than the book. Director Francis Lawrence turned this second installment into a beautiful, soaring monster — something that words on a page can’t do justice. It followed the book very closely, only leaving out a few chapters and scenes. The budget was doubled for graphics but the acting and writing is what stood out the most. Jennifer Lawrence turned into Katniss 2.0. Josh Hutcherson gave Peeta a strong, handsome vibe, which adds to the Peeta-Katniss storyline that is also catching fire. The elimination of the debated ‘shaky cam’ also opened us to a new look at Panem. The PG-13 rating was pushed by language, but the blood shown was toned down.

If you read the books, you will not be disappointed. If you didn’t read the books, you’ll still have the time of your life. Hold on tight, because the last 10 minutes are the best.  In the end, you’ll want more but you’ll have to wait a year for Mocking Jay Part 1. So…KEEP CALM AND WAIT ON.

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Review: Ready Player One

220px-Ready_Player_One_coverRecap: In 2044, the world is a scary place. A permanent economic downturn leaves most people living off minimal means. Instead of immersing themselves in reality, people are now spending their time in a virtual reality online. This online virtual world, called OASIS, allows people to log on and be transported into a universe where things aren’t so bad. Every person has an avatar, and the avatars can go to school online, work online, drive, shop, and travel online. Wade is one of those people; with his avatar, Parzaval, he’s able to escape from his lonely world without parents, real friends or a girlfriend and suddenly become just another person.

James Halliday is the OASIS creator, and when he dies, he leaves behind a scavenger hunt or “Egg Hunt.” Just like any other video game, the avatars must find the keys to three different levels and then pass each one. The first to win will win millions of dollars and take over Halliday’s empire. In order to win the game, players must have a vast knowledge of Halliday’s life and 1980’s pop culture and video games (which Halliday is obsessed with). Most players are also trying to beat the “Sixers” to the finish line. The “Sixers” are a group of employees who hope to take over the empire and charge usage fees for the OASIS, which had always been free.

No one can find the first key for five years. Then Wade does it. With his friend Aech and crush Artemis, Wade sets out to win. But he soon learns that knowledge isn’t the only thing that will get him through the competition.  He also needs friends, persistence, and heart.

Analysis: Part adventure, part coming-of-age, and part dystopian, Ready Player One draws similarities to already familiar stories. The search for the key and the ability to enter the First Gate is similar to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But much of the story plays homage to George Orwell’s 1984. Not only does the story revolve around movies, TV shows, music and video games from the 1980’s; and not only does author Ernest Cline flat out reference Orwell’s classic novel in the book, but like 1984, the “Sixers” in Ready Player One watch the players, much like Big Brother. Just like in 1984, the people in this dystopian society are fed up with the government and use the hunt as a way to rebel and take control of the universe in which they’re suffocating.

The story may not be the most original, but Ready Player One‘s true beauty reveals itself in its pop culture references and jokes, and in the author’s ability to create an entire online universe. It had me wonder if a universe like OASIS may not be so far off. Ready Player One is a fun, enjoyable and smart novel that makes a broader statement about our reliance on technology as way to get by in life and maintain relationships.

MVP: Wade. When reading the book, it’s hard to decide what kind of ending you want for Wade. But when the end comes, you know it’s the right one. He not only accomplishes his goals, but he also does it in an unselfish, heroic way.

Get Ready Player One in paperback for $10.89.

Or on your Kindle for $9.99.

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