Who is Dagny Taggart? Atlas Shrugged Part 1, the Movie, is Coming to Theatres April 15th

Atlas Shrugged Part 1, the movie (which depicts the first third of Ayn Rand’s famous novel of ideas) comes into general release on April 15th, and I must say that the following YouTube teaser clip posted by the film’s producers is super-promising:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             .

And philosopher David Kelley (a Princeton graduate and author of a widely used textbookhas seen the film and is impressed:

The completed film was shown today for the first time in a private screening. It is simply beautiful. With a screenplay faithful to the narrative and message of the novel, the adaptation is lushly produced. The acting, cinematography, and score create a powerful experience of the story.

Taylor Schilling is riveting as Dagny Taggart, the woman who manages the Taggart Transcontinental rail system with intelligence and courage while fighting interference from the president of the company, her incompetent brother James (Matthew Marsden), and his political cronies. Schilling is well-matched with Grant Bowler as steel-maker Hank Rearden. As the story opens, Rearden has just started producing a new alloy he invented; and Dagny is his first customer. . . .

For over half a century, Rand’s novel has been a lightning rod for controversy. It has attracted millions of devoted fans—and legions of hostile critics. A poor adaptation could be ignored by both sides. This adaptation can’t be ignored. It is way too good. It is going to turbocharge the debate over Rand’s vision of capitalism as a moral ideal. Whether you love the novel or hate it, Atlas Shrugged Part I is a must-see film.

Blogger and Rand enthusiast, Hans Schantz, also attended an invitation-only screening. He was preparing for a big disappointment, but was more-than-pleasantly surprised:

When I heard my favorite novel was being made into a movie, all the available omens boded ill: a “low-budget” production, with “no-name” stars, made independently – without the adult supervision of a real Hollywood studio, and rushed into production at the last minute to avoid loss of rights. It sounded like a recipe for disaster. . . .  

I began to understand – as I should have from the start – that independence is a virtue. Ayn Rand’s challenging prose would never have made it through the filter of a major studio without having been seriously blunted and adulterated. The resulting film would have been a caricature, not a capturing of the novel.

Further, a modest budget enforces an austere simplicity that enhances, rather than dilutes the message. A film with the “big-name” stars variously associated with the project over the years would have been more about the stars than the story. I admit that, in my mind’s eye, I always envisioned an Atlas Shrugged movie as an elaborately stylized visual blending of 1930’s vintage art-deco technology and film noir set in a pseudo-1950’s world with hardboiled, chain-smoking heroes. The film I foolishly thought I wanted would have been a tragic mistake – a mistake that would have transformed Atlas Shrugged into fantasy and undercut the dramatic relevance of Ayn Rand’s ideas to a modern setting. The Spartan, contemporary production is set in the near future, but that quality only serves to make the message more relevant and the story the star.

And of the Rearden YouTube scene posted above, Hans Schantz writes the following:

The released scene is NOT a fluke. It is not an accident. It is a representative sample. The rest of the film really is that good – better actually, because the individual scenes compliment and reinforce each other to create a harmonious whole, true to Rand’s story, superbly executed, and well done. The casting was outstanding, with no weak links.

Barbara Branden also saw the film and is enthusiastic about it:

I am delighted, overwhelmed, and stunned.

Yesterday, I saw Atlas Shrugged Part I, the movie. In advance, I was tense and worried. What if it was terrible? In that case, no one would consider a remake for years, if ever. I didn’t think it would be terrible, especially after I saw a clip from the film : the scene where Rearden comes home to his family after the first pouring of Rearden Metal. The scene was very good indeed. But….

The movie is not so-so, it is not OK, it is not rather good — it is spectacularly good.

This is all great news. Though not a Randian myself, I have always liked Ayn Rand (her blunt, unapologetic, and self-confident atheism and Apollonian-Promethean vision of what human beings can be are an intoxicating draw for me), and I’ve been hoping to see a successful contemporary screen adaptation of one of her novels. It looks like we’ll have one on April 15th.

And I can’t help but wonder whether the first of the three novel adaptations will make for a feminist film. The first third of Ayn Rand’s novel, after all, focuses on Dagny Taggart, a female Promethean fighting for her place in the public realm (a realm traditionally dominated by men). Instead of asking who John Galt is, this first film in the trilogy might inadvertently ask and answer a very different question (though Randians might cringe):

Who is Hillary Clinton?

I’ll be going to the film asking whether I’d want my daughters, when they reach their teens, seeing it, and whether it might prove empowering for them. Dagny Taggart, in the novel, is a refreshing alternative sexual persona: neither the compliant angel nor empty-headed whore, but the intellectual woman; the business woman; the public woman. (The woman weak and stupid men fear.)

Dagny Taggart, the castrating warrior princess?

We’ll see.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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9 Responses to Who is Dagny Taggart? Atlas Shrugged Part 1, the Movie, is Coming to Theatres April 15th

  1. IzaakMak says:

    Thank you for an excellent post. I can’t wait to see this movie!

    • IzaakMak says:

      I meant to add that the bit about the bracelet has always been a big point for me from the novel, especially after Henry’s wife rejects it as junk and Dagny accepts it for the amazing achievement it actually represents!

      • santitafarella says:

        Well, the trope is also a biblical one, isn’t it? Don’t throw your pearls to the swine.

        —Santi

  2. Color me somewhat skeptical. I think Rand makes a few interesting points: the individual vs the mob; be wary of public motives; and maybe some others. However, I’ve found her characters wooden and preachy of a philosophy that is in the end heartless.

    I’ve seen the Fountainhead, and would call it OK but not great, again the characters seemed wooden, and too much just mouthpieces for long winded Ayn Rand rants.

    I’d like to see this even all that said.

    • santitafarella says:

      Bruce,

      In the clip above, in any other film a character who completely gives no shit whatsoever about the plight of his fellow men would signal a bad character. Here it seems to be a gloss that the audience is supposed to absorb as rational and heroic—Rearden as a person properly focused on his own business.

      But would you really want to be friends or lovers with someone who (for example) showed zero interest in whether or not the Lybians were slaughtered by the truckload—or yawned at news of the Japanese earthquake as beneath his attention or contemplation? Might you be just a tad worried that you’re dealing with a psychopath?

      It will be interesting to see whether this film proves to be “The Revenge of Potter” (as in the Potter character in “It’s a Wonderful Life”).

      —Santi

  3. Pingback: Who is Dagny Taggart? Atlas Shrugged Part 1, the Movie, is Coming to Theatres April 15th | Brucetheeconomist's Blog

  4. Ellsworth Toohey says:

    I think the government should subsidize the movie or nationalise it so we can watch it for free.

  5. Toohey, that is hilarious!!!

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