When Part I, the first installment of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy, came out in 2011, the reviews were so dismal that I decided not to bother to go and see it. Recently I saw a preview of Part II, which piqued my interest to go and rent Part I after all.
The trilogy is based on the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (Ayn rhymes with mine). Rand is considered a philosopher and has dedicated followers all over the world, with a heavy distribution in Republican circles in the United States. There is even an Atlas Society. One of Rand’s most famous followers is Congressman Paul Ryan, who says that Rand’s books are required reading in his office. Rand’s philosophy is called Objectivism. It glorifies capitalism and free markets, eschews altruism and ridicules big (or pretty much any) government. Objectivism as sometimes called the philosophy of reason, achievement, individualism, and freedom. It suggests that man’s highest calling is egoism and mankind’s highest achievements are reached by selfish pursuit of excellence at all cost.
In Part I of the trilogy, we are introduced to the heroine Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling). She is the vice president of Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company founded by her father. Her brother, the CEO, is a hapless socialist who has no idea how to run the company. She aligns herself fellow industrialist Hank Rearden (Grant Bowler), who has invented Reardon Steel, a metal much harder and at the same time much lighter than traditional steel. When other industrialists feel threatened by the alliance, they appeal to government which promptly regulates away the advantages of Reardon Steel and Taggart Transcontinental. This sets in motion powerful developments of monumental proportions, something not obvious to a movie watcher.
The producers of the movie funded it with $8 million, but the movie only brought in $5 million at the box office. Similar losses are expected for Part II and Part III.
Atlas Shrugged, the book, is one of the longest novels, by word count, written in the English language. It is an epic, with an intricate plot, a complex story, and many characters. It plays in a fictional United States of approximately the middle of the 20th century, when air travel was in its infancy, and railroads were the backbone of the American transportation infrastructure. The book is full of philosophical waxing and monologues that go on for dozens of pages sometimes. It’s a very difficult read, and frankly not too many people read it.
I venture to say that perhaps no more than 1% of American moviegoers that would see Atlas Shrugged have actually first read the book. This is just my personal guess, and I welcome to be corrected here if anyone has contrary statistics. Watching the movie, and knowing the story, I was able to follow along and make sense of it, and even enjoy some of the scenes. But I can’t imagine how a viewer would not get totally lost without this inside knowledge. There is just too much going on in the story to pack it into a movie trilogy and still make sense. It would perhaps require a 10-part miniseries to make it successful.
As a result, Atlas Shrugged, Part I, is a hopelessly confusing, boring, poorly acted and stiff narration of a story that by itself makes no sense. Since the story does not end when Part I runs out of time, there is no conclusion and unfortunately not much reason to look forward to Part II. The few questions posed, like where all the industrialists disappear to, and who is John Galt, are just not enough to engage a 2011 moviegoer to say “Oh goodie, I can’t wait for Part II to come out so I find out what happens next.”
Read the book. Forget the movie.