How triumphant was the will of producer John Aglialoro to get Atlas Shrugged made? Strong enough for him to have held the film rights to Ayn Rand’s 1957 classic book since 1992. The movie he did make and release on April 15, 2011 (now out on DVD) is not the whole thing though. Not by a longshot. Atlas Shrugged Part I is the first of a proposed tri-part series, which rivals only the Left Behind series for sheer rapturous belief.
The sleek, metallic lines of the new railroads in the film contrast nicely with the deep dark wooden tones of the various boardrooms we occasionally enter. And, as in all films, attractive people were hired for the various roles. So Atlas Shrugged Part 1 looks great. Events also move at a fairly rapid clip, giving the impression that many things are happening, and not boring the viewer in that regard.
All of this window dressing is nice enough, but Atlas Shrugged Part 1 is little more than a tract brought to celluloid, however; Ayn Rand’s belief in utterly ruthless capitalism is so absolute, that there would be no way to bring the book to the screen without it being this way. The result is as subtle as a flying mallet to the head.
A few years ago, liberals had a cliché about Bush supporters; “They drank the Kool-Aid” is how it was usually phrased. The Kool-Aid in question was brewed to perfection by Ayn Rand back in 1957 with the publication of her meisterwork Atlas Shrugged. There was a famous quote attributed to Ronald Reagan many years ago, that went; “Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem.” It was an Ayn Rand paraphrase.
There had been libertarians, social Darwinists, and capitalists long before Ayn Rand to be sure. But nobody voiced their belief in the system as loudly, and successfully as she (in book form that is). Most agree that the 1949 film of her book The Fountainhead (starring Gary Cooper) did not exactly establish her in Hollywood. “Box office poison” was more the prevailing thought, which is a big reason that getting Atlas Shrugged made proved to be such a difficult task.
Allow me to describe a fairly representational scene from the early part of the movie and judge for yourself. Industrialist Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler) has developed a revolutionary new metal, which is lighter, stronger, and cheaper than anything previously available. The “Establishment” sees this as a monumental threat and does everything they can to shut it down. A government agent is sent to offer Mr. Rearden a substantial check for the rights to the process to then quash it. When Rearden refuses, the clerk asks, “Why is it so important for you to struggle for years, squeezing out meager gains, rather than just accept a fortune for Rearden Metal?”
Rearden simply replies, “Because it is mine. Do you even understand the concept of ‘mine’ ?”
There is a delicious casting irony at play here, for the government agent is played by Armin Shimerman, previously seen as the money-worshipping Ferengi Quark on the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 TV show.
Part 1 ends with the industrial leaders of the world disappearing, voluntarily going “on strike,” to leave the governments and those dependent upon them to fend for themselves during Part 2. It’s a “We’ll show them” moment, which is a good place to leave off.
Atlas Shrugged Part 1 is so heavy handed in painting the capitalists as the white hats, and everyone else as the black hats that I actually enjoyed it. Sometimes I find charm in the ham-fisted.
For the general public, I imagine the like and dislike factors will fall pretty predictably down red and blue lines. In the end, it will really come down to whether Ayn Rand’s brand of populism is truly your cup of tea or not. She would have skewered a “have your cake and eat it to” pol such as Rick Perry for breakfast, so be careful. Atlas Shrugged Part 1 means business, and that is no mere phrase. It means for the literal abolition of government to be replaced with business interests running the nation.
This is the Kool-Aid.