Atlas Shrugged and So did I

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The title is from my Twiterry response to the movie [tweet]. I doubt any Randian hero would ever consider Tweeting, so here is a longer review.

I am not really fan of Rand’s supersized novel. I am certainly not an obsessive fanboy. Unlike many, the novel did not cause some Saint Paul like moment of conversion. This was not because I rejected religion as mysticism (as Rand would) but because I already held pro-market views when I read it; it was the prompting of many like minded thinkers that brought me to Atlas Shrugged.

While disposed to the thesis, I found the book hard going. Its great strength is its didactic clarity; its great weakness is that didactic energy soon becomes wearing. As a reader I feel like screaming: “OK, I get it, I really get it. Now please stop!”

I never quite developed a taste for Rand’s reason-above-all-else philosophy; it seems too brutally stark for my taste. I did however love the depiction of the passion for creation, ownership, and greatness. The division of the world into the heroic-great and mundane-others seems harsh (to this, no doubt, mundane being), but it is hard not to admire the Randian heroes of talent, courage, drive, and ambition: men (and women) willing to forge their own paths.

I did make it through the book, and I am glad I did. I could not say I wholeheartedly enjoyed it (too much work), but I am glad that I read it. I would describe it was wordy but worthy.

The book has an epic scope. Many of those numerous words describe a cinematic landscape of some grandeur. The rest of the words end up in impassioned speeches or describing the thoughts of its heroes. If ever a book could make a great movie, it is Atlas Shrugged. While not a complete fan of the book, I was looking forward to a cinematic version. I had visions of those page-long speeches delivered with the raw passion of talented actors. I wanted to see those yards of text turned from something taxing to the brain, into something stirring to the heart. That said, I had modest aspirations for the movie. It had a modest budget, unknown actors, unseasoned writers, and had been rushed to screen (to maintain screen rights that would soon expire).

The result was something that is far better than my worst fears, but a good bit less than my fondest hopes. It is a Cecil B. DeMille epic made on a Sam Raimi budget. In all fairness to the filmmakers, it does not look cheap. It is not exactly Avatar, but thankfully it is not meant to be Avatar. I doubt any of the actors could have satisfied all the fans with their depiction of characters, but I was satisfied with their presentation. While casting Atlas Shrugged is a fun exercise many have indulged in, the movie did better without the distraction of big name stars. If I had a complaint it would be that they (or at least Dagny and Rearden) seemed a little flat for Randian superheroes.

I understand the danger of hamming it up (the novel is pretty “hammy” in its own way) with scene shredding antics, but feel they may have erred in the opposite direction. I understood that the characters were talented, driven, and determined, but did not get that feeling of overarching passion for achievement that I remember from the book.

At times, it seemed more a battle of business intrigue than a fight over deeper values. It seemed more the standard venal corruption rather than the spiritual corruption of the book. To those not familiar with the book, it might seem like a fight over corporate assets and not the ownership of your own work. At one point Taggart acknowledges, with a wry smile, that he is only out to make profit. Such a line raises a laugh, and no doubt plays well to the beltway-right types who likely block-booked many tickets. However it also plays to the “greed is good” critics of capitalism; I always felt that the message of Atlas Shrugged was about ownership of your work, not just ownership of the accounting profits (the penniless artist owns his work as much as the corporate titan).

I suspect that the movie will satisfy most Rand fans. Most fans understand that no movie could really do the novel justice, that no matter how well done, some fans would feel something missing. The problem for the producers is that while preaching to the choir, it will probably not convert many heathens. For viewers lacking familiarity with the source material, the movie is not that entertaining and probably not very satisfying. For those familiar with the source the movie is, in a so unRandian manner, just good enough.

I certainly hope they go on to make the subsequent parts; I will certainly see them if they do.


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7 Responses to “Atlas Shrugged and So did I”

  1. David Foster Says:

    Roger Simon, himself a screenwriter, has a critique here.
    [DU: I think many on the right wanted to like it. Unlike the writer, I would like to see the next two parts, not because it was brilliant because it was interesting. He is correct that it will likely fade fast at the box-office, but will probably do well on DVD (unless the moochers download it from the Internet :/ ). ]

  2. maurice Says:

    The way to understand Rand is through her biography. Her father was a wealthy Jewish pharmacist in St Petersburg, and she was about 12 when the Bolsheviks came in and started confiscating and nationalizing property- and destroying her childhood/family world. That’s the source of her hatred of “looters”, “moochers”, government regulation or collectivization, etc.- not some logical or disinterested philosophic inquiry. It also explains the otherwise odd paradox that she expressed (especially in “Atlas Shrugged”) violently anti-Stalinist ideas in pure Stalinist form- propaganda, caricature, heroes-of-capitalist-labor, etc.

    If true, this also explains another reason (other than the cardboard characters who exist only as figments of agitprop) why her novels ring false- there’s really nothing American about her, or her way of thinking. So her descriptions of American society and business are also a bit off. It’s all just her act of mental revenge against the Communists.

    I think the point of “Atlas Shrugged” is one worth making, and I don’t disagree with the basically capitalist point of view. But it should have been a 10-page pamphlet, not a 1200-page epic novel. I read about 2/3 of it then stopped, well short of John Galt’s 20-page monologue.

    I won’t seek the movie out, but I might watch it if it ever comes on cable.
    [DU: Your description makes sense. Perhaps, as others have pointed out, it also explains her fascination with somewhat Nordic characters that appear antibiographical to the short, dark-haired, Jewish Rand.
    Yes, cable TV is probably the movie’s most natural home. What a fall for Randian heroes; from movers of the World to the midnight slot on TBS. Atlas shudders.]

  3. David Foster Says:

    I think there are a whole range of potential movies that would be best done in the form of a TV mini-series, because there is a lot of character and story development that can be done with more total time than is available in a 2-hour movie, or even in a movie-and-sequels format as envisaged for Atlas Shrugged.

    Also, I think that the best of Rand’s novels from a strictly literary standpoint is “We the Living”…the character development is more real, the book clearly drew on Rand’s own experiences in Russia, and philosophy/ideology, while still important, was not as heavy-handed. This book was also made into a very good film–remarkably enough, in Mussolini’s Italy, where the censors were evidently too dumb to realize that not all anti-Communist works were automatically pro-Fascist. (They later realized their error)
    [DU: I have neither read the book nor seen the movie. I will look out for both, thanks]

  4. maurice Says:

    “The Fountainhead” was not a bad movie either- Gary Cooper was such a great leading man, and with the right laconic quality, that he carried it off.
    [DU: Saw the movie a long time ago, not long after I read the book. Certainly better as both book and movie than Shrugged]

  5. Bhetti Says:

    I’ve been meaning to read Rand ever since I read Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series (awesome fantasy epic, with a heavy dose of Objectivism. Also has a fun Legend of the Seeker TV series based on it, which unfortunately got cancelled after second season.)

    So, what do I read first? Fountainhead/Atlas Shrugged? Or watch the movies since I do like to manage my time well?

  6. Linkage is Good for You: Christ Has Risen, Glorify Him Edition Says:

    […] User – “Atlas Shrugged and So Did I“, “HBD: White People“, “HBD: Last Words“, “HBD: […]

  7. Default User Says:

    @Bhetti
    Perhaps, The Fountainhead movie might be your best start. The Atlas Shrugged movie is only part one. The love story element of Fountainhead might be more to your taste, but I am not enough of a fan to make a good call. Maurice suggested We the Living, which I have not read.

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