Atlas at Last

 | 

The John Galt Line has finally pulled out of the station, and is barreling across the country picking up hitchhikers who may be wondering what all the fuss is about. After a spectacular pre-release advertising campaign that included multiple premieres in major cities and pre-purchased ticket sales that encouraged nearly 300 screen owners to give the film a chance, Atlas Shrugged Part 1 opened on April 15 (Tax Day) as the third-grossing film of the weekend (looking only at screen averages, not total sales).

"Mixed" is an understatement when describing the reviews. Professional critics on RottenTomatoes give it a 6% approval rating, perhaps the lowest rating I have ever seen for a film. Meanwhile, audiences gave it an unbelievable 85%.

In fact, the film doesn’t deserve either rating. It belongs somewhere in the low middle.

It is not as good as the 85% would indicate; audiences who saw it on opening weekend are rabid fans, bent on a mission to have everyone in America see the film and learn Ayn Rand's philosophy: free markets, free thinking, and self-reliance.

But it doesn't deserve the godawful 6% usually reserved for low-budget slasher flicks, either. It is not as bad as its low budget and relatively unknown cast of actors and producers would cause one to expect. It is respectable.

The cinematic quality is quite good, especially the outdoor scenes of Colorado and the special effects used to create the train and the bridge. The acting isn't bad, but it isn't great. Often I was painfully aware of Taylor Schilling being painfully aware of where Dagny should place her arm, or how Dagny should turn her head; I never felt that she embodied Dagny. Similarly, the background cast at the Reardens' anniversary party appeared to be made up of friends and family of the cast and crew (someone needed to teach them how NOT to mug for the camera).

For fans of Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged Part 1, the brightest compliment for this film is that it stays true to first third of the book. (Parts 2 and 3 are expected to follow.) For fans of filmmaking, however, the biggest problem is that it stays true to the book. The film is dialogue heavy, with very little action.

I’m not a Hollywood film reviewer; but I’m a watcher and a reader. I know that books and films are two different genres, and their stories have to be presented in two different ways. Books are primarily cerebral; films are primarily visual. Books can focus on philosophy and conversation; films must focus on action. Books can take days or weeks to read; films must tell their story in a couple of hours. When adapting a book to film, streamlining is essential. Unfortunately, the words in this film are so dense that the ideas become lost.

Atlas Shrugged Part 1 contains some great quotations, but it is not a film that will convince anyone but the Rand faithful of the supremacy of the free market. It makes the same mistake that most libertarians do when espousing philosophy: it assumes that everyone already sees the problems in the way libertarians do. It does not sufficiently engage the non-business person in seeing the long-term effects for everyone when government intervenes in the market. I can hear my middle-class neighbors and colleagues saying "So what?" when Rearden (Grant Bowler) is forced to sell all but one of his businesses. "How is that going to hurt me?" they might wonder.

Even the conflict between Dagny's pure free-market economics and her brother James's (Matthew Marsden) collusion with government is insufficiently portrayed; Dagny seems to be simply getting around the stockholders when she takes over the John Galt Line. Moreover, she and Rearden can hardly be seen as icons of virtue when they violate a freely made and morally binding contract (his marriage vows) by jumping into bed together. Even more damning is Ellis Wyatt's decision to burn his oil fields rather than let anyone else enjoy the fruits of his labor. My middle-class neighbors would howl with outrage at this decision. In short, I don't see how this film will convince anyone that returning to free-market principles will improve our economy and our way of life. It seems like everyone in the film is cutting moral corners somewhere.

"Not bad" is faint praise for a movie that has been 50 years in the waiting. Unfortunately, business pressures caused it to be rushed through with only five weeks in the writing, and another five weeks in the filming. Business is often an exercise in compromise, and this film's production is a classic example. I think, however, that if The Fountainhead's Howard Roark had been the architect of this film, it would have been burned along with Ellis Wyatt's oil fields. It's good, but not good enough.


Editor's Note: Review of "Atlas Shrugged Part 1" (2011), directed by Paul Johannson. The Strike Productions, 2011, 97 minutes.



Share This

Comments

IStoryteller

This is not one part of a trilogy like the Godfather or The Lord of the Ring. These movies stand individually with a beginning, middle and end, (i.e., at least two major reversals). It is instead one long act with almost no character development and little attention to detail.

The movie is set in 2016 when gas at the pump is $32 a gallon and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is inexplicably $4000. The oil and gas companies that help make up the Dow alone would be worth $4000, not to mention the steel companies, which with the shortages that are supposed to exist, would be at all time highs. The screenwriter just figured that if important people are going on strike the stock price of large corporations would be falling. In real terms, yes, but not nominally.

A had a difficult time swallowing that a CEO of a banking company is one of the unappreciated drivers of the economy that we're all supposed to be thankful to. The screenwriter should have realized right away the character of Midas needed to be cut. The novel was written when the dollar was still backed by gold and banks were not leveraged as they are now.

The way that Atlas Shrugged could have been made into one feature film would have been to tell the story from John Galt's point of view. If I were adapting the novel I would have cut it down to the scenes that John Galt is a part of.

I can say two good things about the movie. First, the settings are stellar, especially given the low budget. I especially like Dagny's apartment. Second, the actor who play's Francisco gives a convincing performance. All I'll say about the ending is that it will leave you laughing. I don't think that's what the writer had in mind.

Visitor

Quote:
"Moreover, she and Rearden can hardly be seen as icons of virtue when they violate a freely made and morally binding contract (his marriage vows) by jumping into bed together."

Like Foster, I picked up on that issue as well, but Objectivist theory does provide the explanation. Terming marriage and family law as a contract is a corruption of the concept "contract". In fact it is an improper intrusion by the state into the moral lives of its citizens.

Even though the movie does not address the affair in that way (I have not read the book), most Libertarians and Objectivists probably saw the it in the spirit it was intended. But to outsiders it may well have come across as Foster described.

Rodney C.

I am the "visitor" who left the message above, and I'm afraid I need to elaborate more on my opinions, even though the points I made above are, I believe, quite true.

When it comes to personal relationships, esp. sexual relationships, Objectivist and Libertarian thinkers have not made much more progress than society at large, in my opinion. Relationships can be one of the more complex endeavors human beings pursue. Defining a "contract" as anything someone signs without a gun being held to his head is a woefully inadequate concept of "contract". State marriage and family law (and its administration) is NOT a contract in the moral definition of that term. People have needs and spouses defraud each other regularly in many ways.

I offer the reader who is troubled by the "adultery" of our heroes the following exercise: Imagine how you might have portrayed the matter - 1) Would you have left personal relationships out of the movie completely? 2) Would you have portrayed the Rearden's relationship as splendid, or at least acceptible?, 3) Would you have portrayed the Rearden relationship as it was, and showed Hank just living with it? (what a hero!), or 4) Would you have made the movie into a "Perry Mason" like flick along the lines of "Henry Rearden looses ass in divorce from frigid moocher", to be shown on LMN (the lousy man network)?

I understand that outsiders will interpret the way the affair was handled in the story the way that they will interpret it, and condemn Objectivism roundly. But members of the Objectivist-Libertarian family must remember that there is much more to the issue than simply Rearden cheating on his louse wife. And again, in my opinion, Objectivist and libertarian thinkers have barely touched on the ethics and politics of sexual relationships between men and women. Almost no one is ready for the truth in this matter - especially not most females as they see little reason to want change.

J Eyon

i agree with 95% of your review - you make some very good points - except for the list of things that you say wouldn't connect with your middle-class neighbors - i suggest polling them after they've seen the movie - eg - even tho the motivation for Wyatt's pryo protest isn't revealed until later in the story - i suspect that enuf hints are there for open-minded middle-class people to be affected positively

during the movie - i kept wondering why the development felt so skimpy - other movies on business tactics - eg - EXECUTIVE SUITE - or political maneuvering - eg ADVISE AND CONSENT - seemed to detail the processes more fully - and keep me deeply involved

yet this film's story and dialog seemed only to skim the surface of the essential plot of PART 1 - Dagny Taggart's struggles to keep her company alive - this focus might have avoided wasted screen seconds - such as those devoted to Reardon's divestitures

one thing the movie deperately needed was more than 2 hours - after seeing this - i wish the tv mini series idea had worked out

Jim Henshaw

"Moreover, she and Rearden can hardly be seen as icons of virtue when they violate a freely made and morally binding contract (his marriage vows) by jumping into bed together."

I'm guessing you haven't read Rand's "The Virtue of Selfishness" very carefully, or perhaps at all. Rearden's wife does not value Rearden, she treats him disdainfully and contemptuously, while Dagny "gets" Rearden. Rearden's wife shows who deserves to be with him in the scene where she trades the Rearden Metal bracelet (which is a proxy for Rearden himself) for Dagny's pricy-looking necklace. Staying with his wife under those conditions is an immoral sacrifice under Objectivist standards. Being with Dagny is the correct moral act for Rearden under Objectivism.

Yes, most of the general public won't get that, but it's not like Ayn Rand would have compromised or sugar-coated her work to try to be popular with the public, since that would have been an immoral and evil sacrifice according to her philosophy.

Re this: "Even more damning is Ellis Wyatt's decision to burn his oil fields rather than let anyone else enjoy the fruits of his labor."

Wyatt is removing the improvements he has made to the oil fields, leaving the oil fields in the undeveloped condition he found it in, as the sign says. It's his stuff -- he can do what he wants with it -- why should he turn it over to a bunch of looters, who were clearly on the verge of stealing it from him, just as they looted Rearden's companies and left him with just one?

If someone is pointing a gun at you and demanding your wallet, would it be morally "damning" to toss the wallet into a fire rather than let the thief "enjoy the fruits of your labor"?

Jeannette Jaquish

I am very much a libertarian free marketer, but much of Atlas Shrugged book and movie made me mad. Ayn Rand's market concepts are excellent but she is self-deluding on a personal level.

As for Wyatt's torching his oil field: The oil came from the earth. He had no right to destroy it. He was right to destroy his equipment, and even bury the oil. To be completely moral he should have restored the mountain, trees, squirrels and all. Right? Then let the others see if they can create what he did.

I took the family to the movie. When Dagny and Rearden were "doing it" I leaned over to my daughter and said, "That's wrong. He should divorce his wife first."

Jane S. Shaw

As they say on Amazon, this review was helpful. Thanks for specifying the problems, Annabelle. The biggest seems to be that the libertarian message never gets fully articulated. How sad! In any case, I'm eager to see the movie.

Courtney Allen

During the anniversary party scene, there was a scene near the bar and prominently displayed was a bottle of Templeton Rye! I am sure that the producers of the movie knew that this liquour was made during the depression against the will of the government and continues to be distilled to this day. The present entrepreneurs maintained the quality and now ration the sales largely in the Midwest. I wonder how many of these subtle products I missed. Loved the movie and its timelyness.

© Copyright 2013 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.



Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.