Saturday, April 16, 2011

Atlas Shrugged: The Movie Is Worth Seeing Despite Its Obvious Failures

15 April 2011

OK. Just caught the premiere of Atlas Shrugged: Part I this evening. I read the book in high school (at which time it was still fairly new - it was published in 1957). The movie is only on 200 screens.

In my view, Ayn Rand, the controversial and celebrated author, was not a great novelist. She used the form of the novel to express ideas about her personal philosophy ("objectivism") that had been formed by her personal survival of Russian collectivism and a genocide twice the scale of Hitler's. This woman definitely has something to say. As to the film, I was most struck by the conflicting and deeply compromised premises at its core.

Rather than seeing the film set in historical context, we find that it opens in the year 2016. Gas is $36 a gallon, everybody is unemployed, and evil politicians scheme to loot the last few of the country's wealthy and successful people.

Sound like Russia? You've got it. And we are also taken back to the original story of railroading, iron, steel and coal – and ballroom cocktail receptions. That is quite a disconnect, and at least for me, I couldn't set the railroad story in our present decade.

There are other problems. I was bugged by the characters' inability to construct grammatical sentences (“we/us,” “is/are,” basic stuff). The dialogue itself was probably taken from the book, but honestly, that is not an inspired source. Rand's characters can speak for 50 pages without taking a breath. So a lot of the pieces of the story didn't work together.

I also have the impression that the screenwriters (John Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O'Toole) don't know much about modern business. For example, and most tellingly, they stayed with Rand's notion that individuals would be outlawed from owning more than one company.

Hey, individuals don't own any major companies anymore – and don't want to! Everything has been floated on the market to exploit shareholders! Why do it yourself, when you can suck the shareholders dry?

This problem is in fact one of the contemporary manifestations of exactly the problem that Ms. Rand was trying to illustrate from the middle of another century.

That is, the evils of our age are different than those of the mid-20th century. So if we're going to set this story in 2016, then let's see the collective thinkers mired in political correctness and tortured compromises, trying to rescue the economy by destroying the currency. Hey! That is actually happening – and it would make the same point in a contemporary setting, as I think the screenwriters intended.

So, at least for me, this WAS still worth watching. I guess the producers didn't have much money or time. I understand. This is not a big budget film, and that's OK. Give them a break.

I think what everyone involved in this shoestring effort was trying to get across is that individual initiative is the only thing that can save us (as opposed, say, to organizing various factions into groups and going at each others' throats – as seems to occur on Fox News nightly!).

So yes, this film is trying to be about courageous people believing in something and doing it, not unlike trying to produce this film with no money! Good for them. It's probably still the right answer.... I commend them for trying!

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