The close-ups of June’s face in The Handmaid’s Tale are quickly becoming an overused trope. What was originally a device to draw the viewer into the character’s emotions has now become a tired trick and prolific fodder for internet memes. This is unfortunate because The Handmaid’s Tale, both the TV series and the book, deals with themes of oppression, gender roles, fertility and rebellion in a totalitarian regime. Despite the seriousness of the series, the exaggerated close-ups threaten to push the series into parody.
There are several reasons to use the close-up of the character. In The Handmaid’s Tale, one of the most important is conveying emotions, such as June’s resignation, anger, and fear. It’s uncomfortable to be so zoomed in on a face. Empathy is inevitable. Another reason to use close-ups is to change the pace of the narration, to move the scene from an external point of view to an internal point of view. This stops the narrative for a moment and draws attention to the character. It’s also a device to help viewers reconnect with the character. The Handmaid’s Tale used this strategy often in the first three seasons, but too much of a good thing can lead to almost comedic results.
Traditionally, the close-up belonged to the film. It has been used many times with great effect. Sergio Leone was famous for his gritty, face-to-face shots. In The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, he created a three-way scene with actors Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef and Clint Eastwood. The danger is palpable with the focus shifting from man to man, the camera tightened on faces. This type of tension could not have been created if it had been filmed from a distance. Stanley Kubrick is also famous for his close-up in films such as The Shining and A Clockwork Orange with the antagonist’s madness in full force on the cinema screen. As for the films of Leone and Kubrick, The Handmaid’s Tale would have lost a lot in the translation of the close-up to the distance.
Handmaid’s Tale June Close-Ups Used To Be Impactful, But They Don’t Make Sense Anymore
The close-up has found its place on television. Shows like Better Call Saul, Breaking Bad, Hannibal and The Handmaid’s Tale use it to create discomfort and draw the viewer into the minds of the characters. As such, it achieves this goal. The Handmaid’s Tale is artistically magnificent. There is a dissonance between the charming setting of New England and the horrors committed there. June’s super-close front shots started out as a compelling example of creative cinematography, but overuse has made them cliche.
The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted from Margaret Atwood’s book, comes dangerously close to self-parody with its overuse of the close-up of June’s face. This can make the spectator insensitive to his fate, even annoyed by the repetitive device. This defeats the purpose of the show. Colin Watkinson, The Handmaid’s Tale cinematographer, said, “If you use close-ups all the time, well, do anything too much, and it becomes ordinary. How ironic that the person largely responsible for the close-ups is talking about them becoming ordinary.