Watching author Margaret Atwood walk a hallway at a book event in the 21st century trailed by helpers dressed as red-cloaked handmaids provides a satisfying tableau of a writer whose fame and influence coalesced around her 1985 dystopian novel, The Handmaid's Tale, which famously imagined a society codified by religious intolerance and misogyny. The scene comes in the latter half of a biopic documentary about the author that comes close but does not quite stitch up the parts of Atwood's story.
Atwood says in the documentary she never envisioned becoming a popular writer, she just wanted "to be a good one." She became both, a "cultural and literary rock star," as one of many people interviewed for the film notes, who will "be read forever." The film travels with Atwood and her partner and fellow Canadian writer Graeme Gibson—who died last year—as they traveled the world attending literary events and speaking engagements, while also visiting the set of the television production of The Handmaid's Tale. Throughout, the film interweaves Atwood's life trajectory, from a childhood in the Canadian wilderness to her education at Harvard and her career as a writer. Her love of nature, cathected at a young age, combined with her natural and uncanny intelligence shape the narrative of a singular mind and sensibility fixed on the destruction wrought by the human tendency to seek and abuse power.
Atwood has said many times—including to SFR in a 2009 interview—that she's not a prophet. But her prescience, particularly in the novel that catapulted her to fame, has only deepened over time. The film—which offers a taste of biography, hagiography and craft observations—is at its most engaging during its dissection of that book, its filmic adaptations, cultural influence and, as we learn in the movie, Trump-inspired sequel. It runs shy of delving deeply into the massive critical and academic canon Atwood's work has inspired, but fully captures the arch and inspiring human whose work has meant so much to so many of us.
+ excellent primer and tribute
-Doesn't delve deeply into critical analysis
Margaret Atwood: A Word after a Word after a Word is Power
Directed by Nancy Lang and Peter Raymont
Santa Fe Independent Film Festival, NR, 92 min.