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Learn How The Handmaid’s Tale Uses Shallow Focus to Create Its World of Intimate, Claustrophobic Oppression

In this video, YouTube critic and filmmaker The Nerdwriter (Evan Puschak) looks at how Emmy-nominated director Reed Morano and her cinematographer Colin Watkinson “created an extremely concentrated aesthetic, one that is beautiful and terrifying at the same time” for The Handmaid’s Tale. Specifically, Puschak looks at how they use a technique known as shallow focus to help us identify with Offred and her life in an authoritarian state and to heighten the story’s underlying message.

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“Super shallow depth of field has become something of a cliche in indie filmmaking,” says Puschak. “…It’s a fashion, more than a technique. So it’s really, really cool to see an episodic show like The Handmaid’s Tale incorporate the effect in a systematic way, as a motif of its visual language.”

Puschak argues that the super shallow depth of field in The Handmaid’s Tale accomplishes a few things at once. For example, these close-ups are “an effective way to get the audience to identify with Offred, but they also point to an important theme: that, as a slave in an authoritarian state, where your physical being is effectively controlled by someone else, your only agency is mental.”

In another example, Puschak argues that the cinematic, beautiful look of these shots suits the specific nature of Gilead’s dystopia. Rather than a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it’s “a meticulously manicured New England full of sunlight and green foliage.” This place is a nightmare, but it’s one with a pretty facade – so the cinematography and direction should reflect that.

Puschak also reviews a number of other ways that this technique enhances the message and themes of the show. Since I’m not a cinematographer or director myself, I love how this video helped me understand why and how the show’s visuals could get so deep under my skin.

Director Reed Morano, who shot the first three episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, was nominated for two Emmy Awards for her work, and this video helps to illustrate why it was so buzzworthy. “It’s just rare that you see this device used so effectively,” Puschak concludes.

It’s almost like women directors are skillful artists who deserve to be hired…Am I right, Hollywood?

(Via io9 and The Nerdwriter; featured image via Hulu)

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