Given that this was the first week the book and the movie could be so directly contrasted, the differences between literary and Hollywood conceptions of what makes a good story really struck me. My generalized conclusion: Hollywood is SO LAME!
In the book, I found the widespread tendency toward inaction especially disturbing, but also the most relevant to today. Some things Offred said â€“ 'I took too much for granted; I trusted fate, back then,' for example, or 'We lived by ignoring. Ignoring isn't the same as ignorance, you have to work at itâ€¦' â€“ struck me as very true and real (27, 53). Laziness, or apathy, or ignoring, is a pretty powerful force. It seems almost plausible that the country would allow a force to slowly gather power as the population ignored it until it was too late, when it would slip fairly quietly into control.
Laziness is not an enemy that translates very well onto the screen, though, so the movie changes it up, and destroys much of the story's power in the process. That a country as populous as the United States could be subdued purely by military force, which is what seemed implied by the movie, is so much more unlikely (and therefore distant and safe to its audience). Atwood constructs a scenario that one could see actually occurring; the movie is just a movie.
For one thing, most people do not seem too pleased with the new arrangement; the second scene in particular depicts a forced subduing. They are reminiscent of film portrayals of Nazi Germany, with soldiers corralling the undesirables into trains and trucks like cattle (as oh-so-subtle truck with the crossed-out label 'livestock' points out) and carting them off to certain death. The book distances itself from such disturbing scenes, making it easier for the reader to slip into the same apathy that Offred does.
In addition, the people fight what is happening to them â€“ they make the soldiers shove them around, they try to escape, they resist, instead of just standing around as this new totalitarian regime is built around them. Throughout the movie, there are references to the ongoing war that indicate a more widespread discontent and organized resistance than the book. Not only are the rebels powerful enough to disrupt fruit shipments from California and Florida, the handmaids know about it.
In the movie, Kate (she has a name! an independent identity!) is quite a bit more feisty, as well. She is not submissive â€“ at least any more than so many Hollywood leading ladies are. She challenges the commander, falls into an affair with Nick at an absurd speed, and even helps Moira bind and gag Aunt Lydia when Moira escapes. She is a Hollywood hero â€“ she takes risks, stands out, does what others are too cowardly to. Atwood's Offred admits she does nothing and is reduced to reveling in the power she has, '[the] power of a dog bone, passive but there' (30).
The movie gives her much more motivation to resist. For one thing, there is still a sense of community among the characters; they do not exist in their own little bubbles of fear and isolation. In the book, Offred does not trust anyone, fearing Nick to be an Eye and saying of Rita, 'Why tempt her friendship?' (15). Kate has to fear only the soldiers and the government they represent. Just as powerful, but at least she knows who they are. They don't hide as handmaids, wives, or drivers.
Additionally, the Offred of the book can describe the Ceremony scenes with an almost clinical distance. 'Below [my skirt] the Commander is fucking. What he is fucking is the lower part of my bodyâ€¦rape [doesn't] cover it: nothing is going on here that I haven't signed on for' (121). The Ceremony of the film reads much more like a rape scene, with Kate crying loudly though most of the first one, and the Commander is sort of a lecherous old man â€“ easy to hate him.
In the film, her life is bad enough, and her motivation (finding her daughter) strong enough that NOT acting seems inconceivable. The book's Offred is not in a living hell so much as in a vaguely unpleasant place, and the risks of leaving it are much too high. Inaction is much easier, and it's a pretty steep and short slope from inaction to apathy to acceptance. Atwood's world is a much scarier, and much realer, place. Hollywood cannot deal with anything less than five steps removed from reality.