Much as I hate to admit it, I have to say I’ve never read Ayn Rand. But if this modern rendition is any indication, I need to remedy that — and soon. While many disagree with its message and have slammed Atlas Shrugged, I have to say I really enjoyed it.
It was great to be alive, once, but the world was perishing. Factories were shutting down, transportation was grinding to a halt, granaries were empty–and key people who had once kept it running were disappearing all over the country. As the lights winked out and the cities went cold, nothing was left to anyone but misery. No one knew how to stop it, no one understood why it was happening – except one woman, the operating executive of a once mighty transcontinental railroad, who suspects the answer may rest with a remarkable invention and the man who created it – a man who once said he would stop the motor of the world. Everything now depends on finding him and discovering the answer to the question on the lips of everyone as they whisper it in fear: Who is John Galt?
I’m more familiar with Rand’s Objectivism from Terry Goodkind. The Sword of Truth, as bad as some of the later books are, follows many of her ideas, particularly in Faith of the Fallen (one of my favorite in the series). The basic idea is that the socialist tenet of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” is unsustainable and ultimately counterproductive. As Margaret Thatcher put it: “Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money.”
That’s a message Atlas Shrugged, Part I sticks to very faithfully. And it’s not shy about it. The film just manages to avoid being ham-fisted about it, and isn’t quite as brutal as Goodkind’s series. I happen to agree with much of what they say, which may be why I enjoyed it as much as I did. But even without all that, the acting is, for the most part, first rate (even if the cast is mostly B-list and lower). The production values are wonderful — much better than I expected given that it’s a more or less straight-to-video film.
That’s not to say there aren’t problems aside from the heavy-handed moral. Atlas Shrugged is a doorstopper of a novel. This movie only covers about a third of it, and the ending is a bit abrupt. It feels more like an intermission; another half hour or so to wrap things up and improve the cliffhanger would have been nice (take a lesson from The Fellowship of the Rings movie). Dagny Taggart comes across as a calculating ice princess at first, but somehow develops emotion without any plot lines that indicate thawing.
Still, I think most of this will be helped by Parts II and III, and I, for one, will eagerly await their arrival.