Why The Handmaid’s Tale’s Use Of Shallow Focus Is So Effective

Image: Hulu

The most iconic image to come out of Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is just a face. Offred’s (Elizabeth Moss), to be exact, shot just inches from her face, the world a blur around her. Her bonnet like a shroud.

It’s an image that shares almost everything a viewer needs to know about the series in a single frame. The entire world of Gilead’s sexist dystopia is there, in that shot, subtly wedged in the details.

Over on YouTube, video essayist Nerdwriter does a short dive into the technique that produces shots like that and the effect they have on the series as a whole. These moments, like a lot of moments in The Handmaid’s Tale, are shot with a shallow focus, producing a crisp image in the immediate center of the frame and blurring everything else. It’s a trendy technique, a way to lend film an artsy look, but Nerdwriter argues that in this case it achieves a more important, deliberate purpose.

We’ve featured Nerdwriter’s work on io9 before, and for good reason. His analysis is sharp, insightful, and to the point. I’ve always known that this show was well crafted, but his work is immensely helpful in letting me articulate why. You can watch it below.

The Handmaid’s Tale, meanwhile, has been renewed for a second season, possibly airing as soon as next year. You can stream the entirety of the first season on Hulu.