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Saturday, 13 October 2012 21:00

Movie Review: Atlas Shrugged Part 2

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Part 2 of the movie trilogy of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged is, by turns, eerie, chilling, disappointing, and affirming. With twice the budget of Part 1, Atlas Shrugged Part 2 is broader in scope and adheres more closely to the original book. It also has a new cast. Many had high expectations. In some respects it succeeded; in others it didn't.

Opening like a James Bond thriller, Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis) is driving her private jet at maximum velocity in an attempt to follow another pilot over the Colorado mountains. She cries out in exasperation the theme that appears throughout the movie: “Who is John Galt?” The implication is that the other pilot has the answer.

The film flashes back to her frustration nine months earlier when she is unable to learn who invented, and how to make work, an energy generator that operates on static electricity, yielding essentially free energy with no pollution. The story line is simplicity itself: Creative entrepreneurs are deemed to be enemies of the state and their capital (including their patents, ideas, and inventions) must be forcibly relinquished — “gifted,” as government officials put it — to the state, all in the name of egalitarianism.

But why should these entrepreneurs continue to create and produce? Why not simply disappear? One by one that's exactly what they do — leaving behind the message “Who is John Galt?” Without their hard work and creative juices, the economy, already weakened by government intervention in the marketplace, can only get worse. How could it be otherwise when Atlas, battered and bleeding while still straining under the burden of the world on his shoulders, finally shrugs?

With six protagonists and five antagonists, the film could have been simple to produce. But with 56 other secondary characters, some assuming major but brief roles in the film, the story line is interrupted frequently, sometimes unforgivably so.

The film was eerie as it showed gasoline selling for $42.50 a gallon, costing Taggart nearly $865 to put 20 gallons into her truck. The film also managed to show downtown streets nearly deserted except for some on bicycles.

It had chilling moments, such as the “star chamber” scene where Hank Rearden (Jason Beghe) is being charged at a Unification Board Meeting — essentially a Star Chamber — with violating the latest of draconian regulations: doing business with a friend. His penalty: a $50 million fine and 10 years in jail.

And another when incompetence meets politics: the head-on collision between two trains deep inside the Taggart Tunnel in Colorado, killing all aboard.

It was disappointing in that Rand’s stiff dialogue, carefully softened in Part 1, was allowed to control the conversations in Part 2, leaving the characters flat and bland and largely uninteresting. Lillian (Kim Rhodes), Rearden’s jilted and jealous wife is evil incarnate but is not allowed to develop fully in the film. In general, the film seemed to be put together in a rush, in an attempt to meet some deadline. (The producer said that investors in the project were hoping to have an impact on the upcoming election, and that obviously hurried the project, to its detriment.)

There were great moments of clarity and affirmation for the Randian faithful. In his Star Chamber rebuttal, Rearden challenged the judges with having no authority to charge him with doing anything wrong. He accused them of being in the employ of looters – of “stealing their power from our freedom.” This brought huzzahs from the court’s audience. But even in that moment of challenge by an individual to the power of the state to steal under the guise of law, the film fails to present the real agony Rearden is suffering: How can such vermin have such influence?  What has happened to morality in a world gone mad? He asks, as he leaves the courtroom: “How can such small people do so much damage?”

Another moment of affirmation about how the free market works to solve problems that government cannot, while providing for the needs and wants of unknown participants in that market, came when Taggart confronts Ken Danagger (Arye Gross), the owner of Danagger Coal in Pennsylvania. She urges him not to give up but to stay and fight the tentacles of overweening government. Danagger's coal is purchased by Rearden, who uses it to make his special metal rails, which is purchased by Taggart to build her railroad, which hauls Danagger’s coal. Danagger says that it’s a “perfect balance.” But it's a balance that is thrown inevitably into disarray by government bureaucrats — the looters and moochers and cheaters, as Rand calls them.

Two characters especially stand out: the perfect arrogant government bureaucrat with too much authority, Wesley Mouch (Paul McCrane), and Francisco d’Anconia (Esai Morales), the poor little rich kid playboy who destroyed his family’s copper mines to keep them from being looted by the government. Each brought life and breath and color to an otherwise staid and cold and uninteresting series of characters.

To make a fine point: In an attempt to make the film appear to be relevant and current to today, two current idioms were jarringly inserted into the dialogue: “catchy,” when Rearden learned that the government was going to rename his Rearden Metal into “Miracle Metal”; and "How's that workin' for ya?" when d’Anconia confronted James Taggart.

The faithful will applaud the message in Atlas Shrugged Part 2 and will want to see the final installment when it comes out. But how about the uninitiated? Regular moviegoers who just happened to buy a ticket for an evening of entertainment will likely be bewildered and disappointed — and left wondering what all the fuss was about. Any impact on the election in November is dubious at best.

Related article:

Atlas Shrugged: The Book

4 comments

  • Comment Link Thom Sheridan Monday, 15 October 2012 01:58 posted by Thom Sheridan

    Thank you so much for your thoughts, well written and to some degree sincere, if not judgmental. It is difficult for a liberal to hide, even when doing so behind a Bible.

    Christ did rampage through the tables of the money changers, and if I were defending that class of person or more precisely if my article was a review of that action by Christ, I would agree in some way with both of you. But Atlas Shrugged is not a statement in any way about the Bible. The fact that Ayn Rand was a staunch egoist and atheist is totally unrelated to the underlying story behind Atlas Shrugged. Timothy Geithner is a thieving tax cheat, but I still spend money with his signature on it, worth a lot less today than before Mr. G came along, but I don’t refuse to accrue what money I can from my efforts, regardless of the signature. As for explaining things to Saint Peter, if this is my worst offense I’m doing well, especially as a recovering Catholic…oh, sorry, you have your own set of conflicts with the right to life argument.

    I’m certain it was an effort for you to search the web Jonathan, for that interview, but you need only read “The Virtue of Selfishness” to know Ms. Rand was as she described herself in the Playboy article…you would gain greater insights to her thinking in the book. Finally, you do make me smile with the Old Testament references, again with the tip off of your own spiritual conflicts.

    Joe, I think you had the more difficult task in your assessment of my introspective expression. You were forced to do something you probably found shameful if your peer group were to find out, you opened a Bible. Heck you had to hunt down a passage that supported your misdirected argument. Jesus was not offended by success, it is individual achievement that allows a tithe to be collected for his church to operate, and thru the support of successful individuals that goes beyond the church, the hungry man can be taught to fish. It was Christ who said “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars’”, a difficult thing to do without a source of income.

    The real problem I have with your responses is this; Atlas Shrugged is not just about making money. It is about the incredible heights that are achievable in those individuals who strive for quality in every aspect of their life and work. It is the story of human individualism and exceptionalism when those qualities are supported and rewarded.

    If there is a Harlequin Romance novel, as described by Joe, that has succeeded in multimillion print editions over a 55 year period, I would be pleased to see if he wasn’t as mistaken about the quality of that book as he is of Rand’s work.

    In closing, I thank you for your recognition and responses, a bad critic is better than none at all. It says someone is paying attention.
    God Bless

  • Comment Link Jonathan Somerset Sunday, 14 October 2012 14:54 posted by Jonathan Somerset

    Thomas, it is ironic that you adhere so devoutly to two contradictory principles ... and as an adherent to Rand, you know what she says: there are no paradoxes, one of the precepts is wrong.

    Rand was a devout atheist. She abhorred religion; her point of view was that it was the fundamental vice that caused altruism. Faith was a destructive narcotic, a reason-killer, she said in Playboy interview.

    For you to pray to God for people to follow her ego-centered philosophy is not only contradictory, I hope for soul's sake He isn't listening: he may not care for more idolators at the golden calf. One more thing to explain at Peter's Gate.

    Have a blessed Sunday.

  • Comment Link Joe Sunday, 14 October 2012 04:48 posted by Joe

    The previous commenter seems confused. I'm not sure which God he is referring to but it's not the Christian God. Maybe he obeys another.. Jesus kicked over the money-changers tables Matthew 21:12.

    Ayn Rand's books are romantic fiction, harlequin pulp fiction romance, nothing more. yes they have appealing themes and valid values but on the whole they are filled with wistful implausible.. wishes. That the wealthy and powerful are able to rise above their low motivations and instincts to create wonderful things which offset the damage which her characters create.

    In some instances this may be true but as a rule it's fools gold, used to justify fools actions. Implementing her fiction as political policy is criminal as history clearly teaches.

    If the commenter wishes to follow the Word, he should read it first and learn to value mercy for the poor, to teach a man to fish and love his brother by doing good works, giving of his mind, soul and body.

  • Comment Link Thom Sheridan Sunday, 14 October 2012 00:15 posted by Thom Sheridan

    I just left the movie version of Ayn Rands’ “Atlas Shrugged”…part ll; it was obvious that there was more money available for this production than in the case of Part l. But in both productions I saw an opportunity for the author to reach out from the grave and carry her message to a generation that has little or no knowledge of her work.
    As I looked around the almost empty theater I was saddened by the lack of attendance. It was my only hope that those watching had seen part 1, and had not read the book. I prayed as I watched the movie, asking God to help instill the message of this production in those attending across the country. I asked my Lord to give the viewers the power of empathy that they may feel in their hearts the pain portrayed on the screen. I wanted the audience to experience something that could only come from witnessing the deterioration of something so great that its demise would bring a pain that demanded a call to action in all those watching. I was tempted to address the small crowd, to give voice to my own thoughts, and to beg that they raise their own voices in a call to arms. I wanted to say something that would be carried out of that theatre and shared by everyone in attendance. But I am no orator, no wordsmith that could ever inspire the kind of response I was praying for. My impotence had me leaving the theatre in tears I could not stop, with a feeling that I had failed my great country at a time when every voice of opposition to our current state should take wings and spread the word that our own future was on display in the movie I had just watched. I felt like a coward for not giving flight to my thoughts, for not shouting at the top of my lungs that our future had been written in 1957!
    For those who are unfamiliar with Ayn Rand, she escaped the Russian revolutions that seemed to occur back to back in the early 20th century. Before leaving Russia she experienced the violence, the hunger, the confusion, homelessness, and brutality that were the hallmark of the birth of the Soviet Union. Ayn Rand bore witness to the ravages of war, depersonalization, and the loss of individuality that is Communism. Her flight from Hell, as she might put it, landed her in America finding herself ensconced in Hollywood Society where she did script rewrites, and whatever she could to contribute and earn her way with people that included Cecil B DeMille. Ayn Rand found her utopia; it was in the United States, fueled by capitalism, and driven by American individualism and exceptionalism. Rand’s first major writing success came in her 1943 book “The Fountainhead”, but what is considered her greatest literary achievement came in her 1957 tome “Atlas Shrugged”, which brings us back to the subject at hand.
    “Atlas Shrugged Part ll” successfully conveys the failure of all that is part of the Obama Agenda. It is a clear display of the internal rot that is the core of socialism and government control of anything beyond the limits so clearly defined in the American Constitution and Bill of Rights. It paints a clear picture of all that is wrong with large government, crony capitalism, and the failure that is always the end result of government control of the marketplace. The dichotomy that is total government control of the marketplace at one end and pure capitalism at the other is presented clearly and concisely by Rand, and is taken to heights others haven’t imagined, or were too frightened to express before. When Obama told every entrepreneur in America that “They didn’t build this!” he was playing a part that Rand had written in more than one book. There is nothing the government can do that can’t be done better and more economically by an entrepreneur that “Didn’t build this!” Anyone with a lifetime experience that is limited to working in government is also limited in the ability to create an entity that is efficient, functional, and profitable. In government there is no need for efficiency, functionality, or ever profitability. When working with money that is taken from the masses there is no concern for those elements in anything that is created. When the money runs out, the government functionary simple applies for more taxes and his shortage is made up. This is the fundamental truth of government, and it is why people stood in line for hours just to purchase a roll of toilet paper during the heady days of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. It is what Ayn Rand witnessed before her escape to America, and it is the underlying truth in all her writing.
    Every voter in America should see “Atlas Shrugged” parts 1 and 2, and then they need to read the book. If they did, there would never be another socialist elected in the United States of America again, in fact it could well spell the demise of the Democrat Party as we know it today.

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