Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged - Part 1
Q: What would happen if all the innovators, risk-takers, investors and entrepreneurs of the world just up and walked away?
A: Who is John Galt?
This is the question posed in the famous best-selling novel that has now seen its first section released as an independent film: Atlas Shrugged - Part 1.
Atlas Shrugged: The Book
In 1957, author Ayn Rand published a novel that was an immediate popular success, hitting the New York Times Bestseller List within three days of its release, despite being panned by critics. It also caused great uproar and controversy and grew to be a modern classic, claimed by some to be the second-most read book of our time, just behind the Bible.
Factual in nature but fictional in design, the crux of this 1,200-plus page tome boils down to a statement on the role of individual achievement in society, and what happens when that achievement is rewarded with demonization. A more direct answer to the question of what would happen if all the innovators disappeared would be that all those who suckle upon the mother’s milk of capitalism would end up going hungry.
Author Ayn (pronounced “EYE-N”) Rand came to the United States in 1926 from Soviet Russia, where the destructiveness of totalitarianism and socialism was experienced daily. Throughout her life, she fully embraced and promoted individual rights and the concept of a totally free market society, with a government run strictly within the limited bounds of the U.S. Constitution. In 1958, Rand was interviewed on the Mike Wallace show, where she gave her predictions of where the country would be headed, were the United States to continue on its path of governmental interference. Looking at this clip today, in our present climate of economic crises and reduced liberties, one would be hard-pressed to deny her foresight:
The Atlas Society, named in honor of Rand's famous opus, is an organization that promotes Rand's philosophies. In 2009, founder and Chief Intellectual Officer David Kelley said, "The older the book gets, the more timely its message," adding, "We don't need to make a movie out of the book: we are living it right now."
Atlas Shrugged: The Movie
This film adaptation of the novel is set in the near future, but it could just as likely have been set in the present day, as the very situations presented in the beginning of the book have sprung from their pages and into our real world existence. The narrative centers on Dagny Taggart (played by Taylor Schilling), daughter of a late railroad magnate who himself managed a successful and respected family business. Management of Taggart Transcontinental has inexplicably fallen to Dagny's conniving brother, James (Matthew Marsden), who quickly bungles the business and depends on his Washington cronies to pull strings to save his sinking ship.
Dagny swoops in to take control with quick, efficient and effective maneuvers. This rocks the political boat for her brother, and shakes things up with business associates who like having their puppet James run the railroad. Some are provoked by Dagny's actions, some are delighted, and others…simply disappear.
Dagny forms a working partnership with a metals innovator, Henry "Hank" Reardon (Grant Bowler), who creates a new type of metal that could change the face of industry forever. They establish a business relationship that soon grows in mutual respect and admiration for each other, and then blossoms into something a bit more personal.
Steel interests, feeling threatened by this new Rearden Metal, lobby their friends in D.C. to take steps that will thwart the success of the bluish steel. It's up to Dagny and Hank to prove to the world whether his metal and her railroad are the successes they claim them to be, or the dangerous threats the government and lobbying businesses purport them to be. Dagny and Hank reach out to trusted successful business leaders of the nation for mutual support, only to learn that, one after another, these leaders of industry are vanishing without a trace. The final scene of Atlas Shrugged Part 1 closes on a powerful statement, a theme which Rand presents repeatedly in her book.
Rounding out the cast is Dagny's right hand man, Eddie Willers (Edi Gathegi) and Graham Beckel as oil magnate Ellis Wyatt, who needs Dagny's train transportation as much as she needs Wyatt's cargo business.
In a cameo by Armen Shimerman as Dr. Potter, one almost expects to see the Ferengi counting out denominations of gold-pressed latinum on the table as he discusses business with Hank Rearden.
Rich, swarthy playboy Francisco d'Anconia (played by Jsu Garcia), pops up several times in the film, always dripping with women about him. Francisco is viewed with contempt by fellow businessmen, as he seemingly lives only for his own pleasure while recklessly ruining the d'Anconia family ore business, allowing investors in his company to lose a fortune in the process. Dagny, who had a past relationship with Francisco, is disgusted with the person he turned out to be. It's implied that there's more than meets the eye with Francisco, but that revelation comes after Part 1 of the story.
Atlas Shrugged Trailer
On its release date of April 15, 2011, "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1" was rated by RottenTomatoes.com as "rotten," scoring a paltry six on their Tomatometer scale. This rating came from the same movie review aggregator site that rated 2010s "Get Him to the Greek" as "fresh" with a Tomatometer score of 73, offering the summary, "Thanks to a suitably raunchy script and a pair of winning performances from Jonah Hill and Russell Brand, Get Him to the Greek is one of the year's funniest comedies." That is the type of film that wins nominations and awards from distinguished organizations. The filmmakers of Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 are blissfully free from categorization within the collective of such award-winning material.
As far as American cinema goes, Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 probably won't be bringing home any red-carpet statues. It's interesting that Big Hollywood, the very machine that eschewed involvement in making this movie, would be so quick to denounce the low-budget, independently-made film and dissuade people from seeing it. Even Hollywood's very role in this film's journey to the silver screen is seems mirrored in the events of the book, when steel company cronies conspire to crush the success of Hank's new and improved independent product, Rearden Metal.
But audiences don't seem to mind the collective thinking of the pundits, as public acclaim rated Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 with an approval score of 86% by its second day of release. Professional reviewers distain the work while the public embraces and praises the work…now, where have we heard that before?
Art Imitates Life, or the Other Way Around?
The headlines of today could have been lifted almost intact right out of Atlas Shrugged. With government bailouts the norm and increasing trends of redistributing money from the wealthy to those in need, it is ever more the case that incompetency in business is rewarded with handouts, while great success is penalized. Taking this ponzi scheme to its logical conclusion, eventually, the wealthy, entrepreneurial risk-takers will cease taking risks in order to benefit others, innovation will dry up and wealth right along with it. Who, then, will benefit?
Who is John Galt?
© M.S. Ross - All Rights Reserved
Read It? Seen It?
While it's usually best to read a book before seeing a movie, in this case, those who have not read the book are urged to see the movie now, while it is in a limited-time release. Those who have read the book will have an appreciation for how well the movie follows the story and for the craft of successfully truncating hundreds of book pages into this first part of the trilogy.
If you have read the book and seen the movie, share your thoughts in the comments section below on how well you feel the book was translated to cinema in this low-budget independent project.
Quotes from Author Ayn Rand
"We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality."
"Remember also that the smallest minority on Earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities."
"We are fast approaching the state of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases while the citizens may act only by permission, which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brutes."
"A government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims."
“The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by dint of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other - until one day when they are suddenly declared to be the country's official ideology.”
"Joy is the goal of existence, and joy is not to be stumbled upon, but to be achieved, and the act of treason is to let its vision drown in the swamp of the moment's torture."
"There's no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren't enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible to live without breaking laws."
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