Ayn Rand

Atlas Shrugged Part II: Election Edition

Rand's timeless novel is recast as a Tea Party fable.

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Atlas Shrugged Part II: The Strike, the second installment of a film adaptation of Ayn Rand's classic novel, was released splat in the middle of election season. And the onscreen tale of an overweening and desperate government stealing from and hobbling productive industrialists certainly felt timely. The movie's TV ad campaign even explicitly asked whether it would sway the outcome of the election.

But at a Los Angeles screening of the film, one of its producers and lead financiers, John Aglialoro, stressed in his pre-film remarks that neither side of the left-right divide can uncomplicatedly embrace Rand's philosophy. Both the conventional left and right, Aglialoro said, espouse altruism, which Rand saw as a great moral evil. (Rand used the word "altruism" not in its colloquial sense of behaving benevolently but to mean, in her words, the notion that "man has no right to exist for his own sake…that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty.") Still, the filmmaker understood his movie's potential for ginning up anti-government (and likely anti-Obama) emotions and he urged the right to make room for Randians in their coalition, despite their atheism, which often alarms religious conservatives.

Atlas II is tonally aimed at a right-wing audience, the sort of people who thought Mitt Romney was right-on when he dismissed nearly half the country—those who are "dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it." Romney didn't use the Randian term "looters and moochers" for that now-famous 47 percent, but he might as well have.

The film features Fox News' Sean Hannity in an as-himself cameo arguing Atlas' theme, as the government tries to confiscate metal magnate Henry Rearden's amazing alloy, Rearden metal. Rearden, Hannity insists, is "a hero, an innovator, a job creator" and the "Fair Share" law hobbling him "is more big government" and "will result in failure." But as he rose to national prominence, Mitt Romney's vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan still chose to retreat from his reputation as a Rand fan.

Given the care with which Rand raveled her tale, it's surprising that Part II is fully understandable with zero explicit recapping; some smooth bits of dialog early set up the world in which railroad chieftain Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis) and metal master Hank Rearden (Jason Beghe) are very nearly the last competent industrialists in a world rendered dysfunctional by a government-caused sclerosis, with economic policy decisions based on cronyism and justified in the name of fairness. People of ability—musicians, scientists, other industrialists—are mysteriously disappearing, to the immense frustration of Taggart and Rearden. Still, they feel bound to keep doing their best no matter how much their government or culture disrespects them.

Rand's heady, nightmarish fantasy of a world run according to the principles of state-enforced equality doesn't lend itself to naturalistic or colloquial humor. Rand's characters are archetypes of ideas, and the more the actors try to make them seem like real people the less powerful the themes and actions feel. When Rearden mutters an ironic "catchy" after he's told the government will rename his alloy Miracle Metal, it weakens the steely core of the character. Fans of the novel will similarly be discomfited when Francisco D'Anconia (Esai Morales, in the movie's most consistently delightful performance) offers Rearden the too of-the-moment quip, "How's that working out for you?"

Beghe gives Rearden a gravelly imperturbability, like an industrial crime boss, which works pretty well when he defies a government kangaroo court with a brave declaration of his rights as a creator. But Beghe fails to convey that this man is not just angry but tortured by his misunderstanding of what true morality means in a world where creators are abused. The Atlas filmmakers have gone out of their way to talk up Taggart as one of the great iconic heroines of 20th century literature, but Mathis isn't given much of a chance to sell super competence or steely heroism. She is by turns peeved, annoyed, or surprised by events around her. Her big action moments are grabbing a map to re-route a train line in an emergency and crashing a plane. 

The movie reduces Rand's message to the Tea Party–friendly one: government economic management and stealing from the productive are bad. There is one hat tip to Rand's deeper defense of reason and rationality, which underlay her hatred for altruism and statism: A smarty-pants young liberal is lecturing Rearden about how one mustn't get trapped in rigid principles, and Rearden snaps back that you can't pour steel without rigid principles.

But the entire novel, in its way, is about the terrors that can arise from seemingly innocent or merely "philosophical" beliefs. Atlas II features Rand's most wild and vivid dramatization of this point—a spectacular train crash—as its climax. In the novel, the scene derives its power from brief glimpses into the heads of many different passengers to show how their irrational or altruistic or statist beliefs snowball into the series of mistakes that cause the wreck of their own train. A film simply can't duplicate that breathtaking patchwork. Onscreen, a single arrogant and supercilious politician bears all the weight of the scene. The train wreck feels like an ordinary crash caused by a single mistake, not the inevitable culmination of centuries of bad philosophy.

No one expected Atlas to make it to the big screen totally intact. But this film is a labor of love for its makers regardless. Atlas Part II had double the budget and debuted in more than twice the theaters of 2011's critically drubbed Part I. It also has an entirely new cast and a beefed up screenwriting team. Its core audience will probably forgive its flaws in their eagerness to love it as well. The film is professionally polished and does what it sets out to do, within the unavoidable 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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  1. Atlas II features Rand’s most wild and vivid dramatization of this point?a spectacular train crash?as its climax.

    Just like Under Siege 2! (Spoiler alert.) I can’t wait for Atlas Shrugged III: The Bureaucracy Strikes Back.

    1. Or the hijinx that will ensue in Atlas Shrugged IV: Seventh Inning Fetch.

  2. Atlas Part II had double the budget and debuted in more than twice the theaters of 2011’s critically drubbed Part I.

    I thought it had half the budget, not twice the budget.

  3. When Obama said he had read Ayn Rand I always figured he meant he had read Atlas Shrugged and just viewed the type of government depicted as a moral good and Wesley Mouch as the hero.

    1. I always figured he was full of shit and had, at most, skimmed the book or read other people’s criticisms of it.

      1. I concede that that scenario is much more likely, but come on, how can he not be running the country straight out of Rand’s dystopian playbook given the shit he’s done and said over the last 4 years?

        1. He read the Cliff’s Notes.

        2. IT’S A COOKBOOK!!!!!!!!!!!

      2. “I don’t read novels. I prefer good literary criticism. That way you get both the novelists’ ideas as well as the critics’ thinking.”

        1. WTF ever happened to Edward Clements???

    2. He saw it as an instruction manual — how to nationalize everything and make people think it was for their own good, and how to rise to the top in a hierarchy based on “pull” instead of productivity.

  4. The film features Fox News’ Sean Hannity in an as-himself cameo arguing Atlas’ theme, as the government tries to confiscate metal magnate Henry Rearden’s amazing alloy, Rearden metal.

    That explains a lot. Hannity has been plugging this movie on his radio show for months, which surprised me, as his politics are as far from Objectivism as is possible.

  5. Sounds as shitty as part I.

    Maybe someday, someone will do it right. Maybe Pete Jackson will be looking to do another epic trilogy…

    1. Christopher Nolan would nail it. But it needs to be a miniseries.

      1. the book is in 3 parts. It’s made to be a trilogy.

  6. Wasn’t Ayn Rand that bitch who wanted a government-enforced monopoly on ideas? Oh, yeah. Fuck Rand.

    1. Wasn’t Ayn Rand that bitch who wanted a government-enforced monopoly on ideas?

      Umm…no.

      1. It’s fucking amazing the shit people think Rand said. But what I find even more incredible is that these same people gladly come to a libertarian and website and expect us to believe it.

      2. Would you anything different coming from “Rick Santorum”?

    2. Rick Santorum| 12.23.12 @ 3:04PM |#
      “Wasn’t Ayn Rand that bitch who wanted a government-enforced monopoly on ideas? Oh, yeah. Fuck Rand.”

      One more shitstain who got drunk and listened to a classmate give a third-hand account of the book.
      You’re hitting your weight, you moron.

      1. You know the rules. You’re supposed to attack Rand for everything except what she actually wrote.

    3. If by “ideas” you mean “force,” you start to approach something she might have said (it’s been years since I read her work).

    4. Wasn’t Ayn Rand that bitch who wanted a government-enforced monopoly on ideas?

      You’re welcome to try and post a quote from her asserting that. Otherwise, STFU about that which you don’t know anything about.

  7. Wasn’t Ayn Rand that bitch who wanted a government-enforced monopoly on ideas?

    No. Maybe you’re thinking of Randi Weingarten.

  8. It’d funny how she’s a hero on this site despite her successor’s opposition to mass third world immigration.

    1. Patriot| 12.23.12 @ 4:27PM |#
      “It’d funny how she’s a hero on this site despite her successor’s opposition to mass third world immigration.”

      Yeah, it’s amazing that no one here blames her for a position she didn’t hold.
      Is that what you’re saying, bozo?

    2. Her successor?
      For Queen of Polemic Novel Land?

    3. Re: Patriot,

      It’d funny how she’s a hero on this site despite her successor’s opposition to mass third world immigration.

      Are you in the mood to write a book on clumsy non sequiturs? You would certainly be a hit among those that need reading material for their number twos.

  9. I was hoping we’d get a bunch posts from some nativist ignoramus.

    1. You should check the threads from yesterday. Brutal.

    2. We are the left. We will brainwash you to hate yourself, your freedom and your country. We will indoctrinate your children with collectivism, egailitarianism, statism, environmentalism and anticapitalism. We will take your gold and leave you a pile of paper.

      We will steal your production and use it to buy the votes of third world trash, made possible by the welfare state and open borders nihilism, protected under the threat of racism, nativism or *fill in blank*, in order to rot your civilization from the inside out.

      We will rot your mind and deprive you of self-esteem, so you will see no problem in being a milch cow for the parasites who come here to spit in your face and vote your country into destruction.

      We will turn your men into women, because women are easily collectivized and the desire for freedom is positively masculine. We will make you feel guilty for being a man, and we will destroy your image in women’s eyes, so they will submit to the state instead of you.

      You will be assimilated into the neo-liberalism matrix. Resistance is racist.

      1. “We will steal your production and use it to buy the votes of third world trash, made possible by the welfare state and open borders nihilism,”

        Well you weren’t really doing all that well, and then your racism becomes obvious.
        ————————
        “We will turn your men into women, because women are easily collectivized and the desire for freedom is positively masculine. We will make you feel guilty for being a man, and we will destroy your image in women’s eyes, so they will submit to the state instead of you.”

        As does your stupidity.
        Don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

        1. You are a sore little bitch.

          1. Libertarius| 12.23.12 @ 10:27PM |#
            “You are a sore little bitch.”

            So your racism and stupidity are admitted? Not surprising for an ignorant little sleaze bag.

  10. Question for the author: Did you dislike the book as well?

    With Ayn Rand, her philosophy is what it is – and in this liberal-leaning world, critics are easy to find. Atlas part un was not an epic film, so what can we expect from the same creative people in Atlas part deux?

    Dystopian universes do not translate well unless they are observed much as Shakespeare saw the Muses.

    Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long
    To speak of that which gives thee all thy might?
    Spend’st thou thy fury on some worthless song,
    Darkening thy power to lend base subjects light?
    Return, forgetful Muse, and straight redeem
    In gentle numbers time so idly spent;
    Sing to the ear that doth thy lays esteem
    And gives thy pen both skill and argument.
    Rise, resty Muse, my love’s sweet face survey,
    If Time have any wrinkle graven there;
    If any, be a satire to decay,
    And make Time’s spoils despised every where.
    Give my love fame faster than Time wastes life;
    So thou prevent’st his scythe and crooked knife.

  11. I think the best bet for a libertarian movie is something from F. Paul Wilson, particularly his Repairman Jack series.

  12. Is there some reason this review is being posted now, so long after the film’s theatrical release but so long before it’s release on DVD/Blu-Ray? Slow news day the weekend before Christmas?

    I confess I recently tried to read the book but found Rand’s character development particularly lacking. I think it’s generous to call them “archetypes” – they struck me more as “cardboard”.

    1. …”found Rand’s character development particularly lacking. I think it’s generous to call them “archetypes” – they struck me more as “cardboard”.”

      Can’t disagree; her writing isn’t what sells the book. And it continues to sell, since there are portions which turn out to be prophetic. Including the cardboard characters.

    2. When your character is already fully formed from living in accord with a consistent philosophy, it doesn’t need to “develop”.

  13. Too bad Atlas 2 wasn’t even the best movie of the year with the word “Atlas” in the title….

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