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There’s a later moment that’s not fun at all, where Rand’s message about the dire effects that arise from seemingly innocent or merely “philosophical” beliefs, which is bizarrely powerful in the novel, is blunted in the movie, even though the scene is the movie's dramatic climax. The film simply cannot manage to show you in one scene the damaging philosophies of all the passengers on a doomed train; an arrogant and supercilious politician bears all the weight. The train wreck then feels like just a train wreck, not the inevitable culmination of centuries of bad philosophy.
The movie has one quiet touch that tries to reach across the class divide between superman industrialists and doomed proletarians and their slimy, mealy-mouthed liberal supposed protectors. The person carving a plaintive gravestone for America upon the passage of a law giving the government total control over the economy is a Manson-looka-like bum, one we are meant to understand was likely a good-thinking working man before the economy was strangled. Rand walked a complicated line in Atlas about who we were supposed to hate: the restrictions on the Reardens and Taggarts did not harm only them, but harmed everyone who depends on the wealth thrown off and distributed by free-market capitalism. In the film, this idea is touched upon by about-to-defect coal magnate Ken Danagger to Dagny. But Rand also believed that those with wrong ideas (government should strive for equality, for example) deserved whatever came to them because of it.
The film adds a bit to the end of the novel’s Part Two that, for those who have been paying attention and figured out the central plot gimmick, almost works as a “happy ending” of sorts that doesn’t necessarily leave the viewer hungry in a cliffhanger sense for the next installment.
This film is a labor of love for its makers—not many films that lose money as Part I did get sequels at all—and probably for its core audience as well. Rand lovers will likely want to see the movie, and want to like it, and it offers them a fair amount to like. Atlas Shrugged Part II is professional and it does what it sets out to do, within the limits of its form. But it will likely not change any minds or lives the way Rand’s source material can and does.
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