A real stinker of a bland-looking generic 1980’s movie, starring Natasha Richardson (Mary Shelley in Gothic) as a “handmaid” in the future whose job is to get pregnant for rich barren women (Faye Dunaway, two years before Arizona Dream) by their husbands (Robert Duvall, between Colors and Newsies). But of course she falls for house servant Aidan Quinn (who’d play evil twins the following year in an Isabella Rossellini movie) and gets involved with a troublemaking friend (Elizabeth McGovern, the mom of Downton Abbey). So it’s surprising that with all this star power around, the only good scene was with a doctor played by Rawhead Rex star David Dukes.
Based on the bestest-selling novel which everyone in the world has now read. I’d heard it would be relentlessly bleak, and so that’s what it was. Hillcoat and Nick Cave and Viggo Mortensen and Javier Aguirresarobe (also cinematographer of Talk To Her, The Dream of Light, the Twilight saga) and Charlize Theron and the boy all did terrific jobs, first-rate, award-deserving and everything else.
But it’s kinda like Polanski’s The Pianist… a perfectly-made film in service of the most depressing story ever. One person survives a (nuclear/nazi) holocaust, and while that’s somewhat encouraging, the movie spends its runtime rubbing your nose in the terrible enormity of said holocaust making for a mega-bummer experience. If a great movie makes you feel crappy for having seen it, is it still a great movie?
I suppose Theron is only alive in flashback. She doesn’t have the survival instinct of her husband, just wants to kill her son and herself peacefully before cannibals catch them or they starve to death. Viggo won’t agree, so she wanders out into the cold alone. Viggo goes from being the only honest man in the world, protective and generous to his son, ruthless in his survival, to seeming slightly savage, giving a thief a death sentence, unable to ever trust anyone. When he dies from cold & sickness, the son is immediately picked up by Guy Pearce and family, and you get the feeling that he’s better off. Robert Duvall is unrecognizable as a decrepit man who may not be as feeble as he lets on. Viggo gets shot by an arrow, discovers a hidden food bunker, avoids cannibal camps, shoots a guy in the head – it’s hardly Children of Men as far as slam-bang action but it’s creepier as far as apocalyptic atmosphere.