Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

How The Handmaid’s Tale breathed new life into a tired cinematic trick

Photo: George Kraychyk/Hulu

With the rising ubiquity of DSLR cameras over the last decade, budding filmmakers have discovered (and subsequently exploited) the freedoms allowed by the full frame sensor. As the Nerdwriter points out in his latest video essay, creating a super shallow depth of field has become the go-to technique for giving your film “the cinematic look.” As with all overused things, however, all it took to restore the technique’s prestige was to see someone having a damn good purpose for using it.

The video essay details how Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel not only uses a super shallow depth of field to create beauty, but also to help elaborate on the show’s themes. The argument is bolstered by Nerdwriter’s knowledge of particular cameras and lenses, which are used for the specific purpose of establishing character and rounding out the show’s distinctive world. The larger concept of focus, he argues, is integral to understanding the real message of The Handmaid’s Tale, which has to do with limited perspectives in both the past and the present.


Video essays on movies are perhaps most interesting when they get into the technical minutiae of filmmaking; anyone can identify themes, but few have the language to discuss how particular lenses and camera effects impact a scene. Also, repeating this stuff at a party will make you sound super smart.

Share This Story

About the author

Randall Colburn

Randall Colburn is The A.V. Club's Internet Culture Editor. He lives in Chicago, occasionally writes plays, and was a talking head in Best Worst Movie, the documentary about Troll 2.