Different Decade, Different Dagny

Posted on February 13, 2011 by


On Friday afternoon, I attended the roll-out of the Atlas Shrugged Part I trailer. Surprisingly, the film is set in the modern day—partly because of budget constraints, producer Harmon Kaslow admitted. When I asked Mr. Kaslow how the different time setting would affect the gender politics of the story, he seemed unconcerned.

But it seems like something he should be concerned about. In the 1957 Atlas Shrugged novel, Dagny is a businesswoman in a man’s world—and she’s earned the respect and admiration of all of her worthy male peers and employees.  She is man’s equal and superior; but she hasn’t relinquished her femininity or sexuality. In the American literary canon, Dagny is unique: she’s a heroine who’s an entrepreneur, a lover, and an individualist. Like John Galt, Dagny’s character is larger than life, out of time, liberated from the burden of social constructs.

In a modern context, Dagny simply won’t be as impressive a character as she was in the 1957 setting. That doesn’t mean the film won’t work, necessarily—but I find it a bit disconcerting that the producers and writers didn’t seriously consider the ramifications of transporting the story to the present. It’s as if they believe that the status of women hasn’t changed over the last fifty years—that a brilliant, powerful businesswoman is just as strange and unearthly a creature now as it was in 1957.

(Also: Railroads? Steel? Not exactly symbols of cutting-edge industrial progress in 2011 . . .)

Here’s the trailer: