by Jason Stotts
Last night I went to see the Atlas Shrugged movie for myself, to see whether it was as bad as everyone is saying. In some ways I’ve been looking forward to seeing the movie for some time and in others I’ve been dreading it. However, as an Objectivist, I basically had a duty to go and see it (irony). Realistically, my great curiosity about things would have never allowed me not so see it and so I went with low expectations, but with a glimmer of hope.
We went to a late showing and the theatre I went to could hardly be called “packed.” Indeed, we nearly had a private showing, as there were only a few other people in attendance at the showing. There was no applause at the beginning and none at the end. While it was playing, one couple even walked out about midway through. But, we persevered and watched it from beginning to end. When I left the theatre, I wasn’t sure what to think of the movie. In some ways I hated it. Absolutely, vehemently, and with unreserved passion: hated it. It was like watching your favorite book being made into a movie by high schoolers and knowing that this travesty was how many people would be introduced to the ideas of Atlas Shrugged. On the other hand, there was much to like about the movie. Not love, but like. And so, I was conflicted.
The first good thing I thought of the movie, and this is more of a meta-thought about the movie, was that it would increase sales of Atlas Shrugged the book. This is certainly happening and, as of this writing, the book is up to #4 in overall book sales on Amazon, which is amazing for a book of its complexity, length, and age. As a consequence of the increased book sales, more people will be introduced to the philosophy of Objectivism and, as that happens, it will become more mainstream and accepted.
The second thing that struck me about the movie is that they captured the tone of Atlas Shrugged well. Atlas Shrugged has a certain tone and feel throughout the book. In the first part, that tone is of desperate helplessness as society sinks further and further into crisis in servitude to its altruist ideals. The protagonists see it happening, but don’t understand it’s ultimate causes and focus only on trying to keep it alive as long as they can. The movie captures this tone well and you, as the viewer, feel this collapse and the feeling of “what can be done?”. Or, as they say in the book, “Who is John Galt?” Of course, the feeling is perhaps all the more poignant as the US economy seems be following Atlas Shrugged almost prophetically.
Third, the sets of Atlas Shrugged were very well done. The Taggart Building looked very nice and the interior sets of it were well done. The Rearden Mills very well done and the fact that they showed the steel being poured and worked on increased the reality of the set for me and it made it much more plausible for it being a place that Rearden would create for himself. Also, Rearden’s house was very well done as a manifestation of Lillian’s taste and you could tell that Rearden himself did not fit in with the style of the house, although it was obvious that he was master of the Mills.
Fourth, speaking of Rearden, I think he was the one good cast in the entire movie. I thought Grant Bowler did a good job of capturing Rearden’s subtle mixture of passion for his work and (to him) curious detachment from his personal life.
Fifth, the musical score worked well to emphasize the high and low dramatic points. Although it wasn’t of the caliber of a Hans Zimmer or John Williams, it was good for the movie.
Sixth, I thought that the movie did a good job, a very good job, of showing some of the points of Objectivist philosophy through action. The one example that I want to highlight is that Ayn Rand thought, and I agree with her, that benevolence was a characteristic only open to the independent and selfish man. She thought that altruism, by chaining everyone to everyone else in a zero sum game, destroyed the natural benevolence of men and set them against each other. The movie highlighted this by having the protagonists be exceptionally courteous to everyone, including the servants, whereas the altruists, those out to “help the people” were rude to everyone but other members of their elite.
Finally, I thought that the set up to the movie was well done. As the movie started, I saw that it was set in the future and I was immediately worried about it: it is, after all, a movie about trains! However, the writers did a good job of showing that the failing economy and rising gas prices necessitated rail transport due to its lower transport costs. This made the entire movie more plausible and set up why Taggart Transcontinental was so important.
First, the acting, or perhaps the directing, in Atlas Shrugged was atrociously bad. Not just a little bad, but “this is my first drama class and I don’t really have emotions, or know how to convey them, but I thought it might be fun to be in a movie” bad. Taylor Schilling, who played Dagny Taggart, seemed perfectly incapable of expressing emotion with her face. In fact, I think she might have overdone botox on her forehead, because I never saw it move once. I think perhaps she’s going for a modus operandi of “blank stare” as her signature acting credential. Maybe she accidentally thought the movie was about Stoicism? She certainly wasn’t the only poorly played character; Eddie was also like a robot. The seond worst cast, though, was clearly Francisco D’Anconia, played by Jsu Garcia. Francisco is supposed to be a very intelligent man who’s living life as a great charade for a very particular purpose. However, in Garcia’s eyes, you don’t see that spark of intelligence, but just the bland look of a man who doesn’t even look the part of a playboy.
Second, the dialogue was pretty bad in a lot of places. A lot of places. It felt like the actors were trying very hard to just talk like a normal person. I’m not sure if it was the writers, which I think much of it was, or another failure of the actors, but the dialogue throughout the movie absolutely grated on me. Further, the dialogue and acting leading up to the sex scene was positively…unsexy. If there’s one thing I know about Ayn Rand’s heroes and sex, they don’t ask permission to kiss the women and they don’t act like middle-schoolers approaching them.
Third, the editing was poorly done. The movie didn’t have that “polished” feel that you get from a good editing job. Or, perhaps, it was an amazing editing job on material that was horrible to make it into something decent. It’s hard to tell.
Overall, I thought the movie was worth seeing. If you don’t go in with high expectations, then you should have a pretty decent time. There is something nice about just getting to see a book as good as Atlas Shrugged being made into a movie, even if it’s made into a movie in the early 90’s way, where it was fun to see, but the book was so much better it’s hard to even compare them. I do think that some of the criticisms of the movie are overblown and given the low budget of the movie and the short time in which it was made, it actually turned out pretty well.
I give it a 3/5.
Caveat Emptor: If you purchase Atlas Shrugged via one of the Amazon links, I will make some small amount of money. So, if you’re going to purchase Atlas Shrugged through Amazon, use my link and help fund Erosophia.