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Margaret Atwood once became so enraptured watching Captain Underpants her manuscript was almost stolen

The Handmaid's Tale author says her close attention to the movie during a flight almost resulted in a thief making off with her laptop

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Margaret Atwood and Captain Underpants
Margaret Atwood and Captain Underpants
Photo: Jeremy Chan/Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images (Getty Images)

Even for Margaret Atwood, whose body of dystopian work has often been referenced as a strangely prescient vision of the state of abortion rights in America, life has some real surprises in store. Case in point: her compellingly complicated relationship with the 2018 movie Captain Underpants, which she shared in a recent interview mesmerized her so intensely that a thief posing as an agent almost made off with one of her manuscripts.

As Atwood tells The Guardian, while she was in the process of writing The Handmaid’s Tale’s 2019 sequel The Testaments, someone posing as an agent on a flight almost made off with her laptop (where The Testaments manuscript was stored). Although Atwood has long been accustomed to fitting in writing time with “whatever else I’m doing,” her attention during the plane ride was commandeered by Captain Underpants, which The Guardian reports she “became absorbed in watching.” Ostensibly, the film was so mesmerizing it led Atwood to leave her open laptop on the flight after disembarking, only recovering it later with the help of the “heroes” working for the airline.


The bittersweet and somewhat serendipitous relationship between Atwood and Captain Underpants may not be illustrative of some grand truth about the human attention span, or privacy rights, or America, but it does reflect two very elemental truths about the human experience: there’s nothing like a larger project at hand to beget serious focus on a random side quest, and some movies just hit different in-flight. Invoke the “big screen experience” as you wish, but this writer proudly credits an overseas flight with finally making Inception a legible and enjoyable film after three prior watch attempts. Sometimes, quite literally strapping in for a film is key to a viewing experience so immersive that a precious manuscript becomes a little irrelevant for a second.