Atlas Shrugged II: A review

The idea that this movie—and the previous movie Atlas Shrugged I—were kind of boring haunts me a little.  I have this idea that the next time I mention to someone that Atlas Shrugged is my favorite book, someone will say:  “Really?  I saw the movie, and I thought it was kind of boring…sorry.”  And that ‘sorry’ will be laced with compassion and condescension.  Sorry you wasted your time reading all that, sorry I don’t agree, and sorry, but it just didn’t appeal to me.

As a long-time fan of Ayn Rand, and in particular the book Atlas Shrugged, I felt like I was a member of a very select community.  National politicians, and world leaders, have spoken about the influence this book, and this author, have had on their lives.  Some of them have spoken about the manner in which the premise of the book’s philosophy had a great deal to do with their advancement in life, but most of the people in my inner circle have never heard of Rand or the book.  I longed for a movie for decades, so that my non-literary friends could know the joys of leading a life based on philosophy.  That is now a reality, but most of my friends haven’t seen the movies, and I don’t encourage them to do so, because they’re kind of boring.

Unfortunately, part II was not much better than part I.  You will see a new cast, and you will see greater production, but if you’re like me you’ll walk out of the theater as disappointed as you were after the first one.  I’ve watched the first movie two and a half times.  (I was so disappointed that I couldn’t make it through the movie a third time.)  I bought the first one to support the cause, and to give producer John Aglialoro the compliment of my money just for having the fortitude to see this project to fruition.  I went into part II with lowered (extremely low) expectations, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The production was decent, the cinematography was well done, and the acting was somewhat improved, but it was boring.  It was painfully and disappointingly boring.

The inevitable question arises, how could you do it better?  The answer is I couldn’t.  The answer may also be the reason that this project fell through the cracks so many times.  No one else thought they could do any better either.

The sad thing is, as this culture moves further and further away from literature and into the more immediate mediums of entertainment, a novel of Atlas Shrugged’s girth will fall further and further into obscurity.  Now that there’s a movie, people will be more apt to want to invest three to four hours watching that production than spending months reading the book.  When I tell them of the deep philosophical influence it had on me, they may shrug.  When I tell them that its influence has affected generations of readers profoundly, they’ll probably say that it didn’t affect them in that manner.  When I tell them that it has routinely been classified as the second most influential book of all time, behind The Bible, they’ll probably say, “Sorry, I found it a little boring.”

Atlas Shrugged: A Review

Atlas Shrugged. It’s a warning not a newspaper. It’s a story about man’s struggle against collectivism. It’s a story about the beauty of individual achievement. It’s a story from a Russian immigrant who saw warnings signs of the horrors she saw in her home country happening in her new country of choice the United States of America. It’s a story about the beauty of individual achievement, or the attempt to achieve great things in the face of government influence. Barack Obama fans save your money. You will be disgusted and frustrated by this movie, unless you’re only fans of the celebrity that is Barack Obama. If you are well versed in the politics of Barack Obama, and you are still a fan of his, you will want to save your money. This will NOT be your cup of tea. Trust me.

An arrogant business man wants to achieve the compliment of dollars for his services? And he doesn’t want to share his wealth, or give back to his community? And he’s the good guy? It’s from the perspective of the businessman and the businesswoman? A woman attempts to achieve excellence in her industry, and she attempts to do so in a movie? Without consulting a government official? Excuse me but what kind of movie is that is that? I would love it if this movie started a new vocabulary in this country. A vocabulary that turned to these Obama types and said, “you know what, this guy loves what he does. He’s great at it, and he loves it, and we all benefit from his passion. Why don’t you leave him alone? Why do we have to regulate every aspect of his business, tax every dollar of his profit, legislate every industry he’s in, and then turn him over and legislate, regulate and tax him again?

The movie was fantastic. A reply to one of my reviews of another, unrelated product instructed me to limit my reviews to whether I liked a product or not. “Can’t you just say whether it was good on not,” were his exact words. Implicit in such a statement is the idea that I tend to get a little wordy, and that I tend to add unnecessary creativity to my reviews.

Before I continue, let me hurry up and tell you that I am an Ayn Rand fan. I add this quickly for those who wish to dismiss my opinion of the movie based on that fact. Her philosophies have joined the soup of the philosophies, ideas, and theories I have in my head, and they have remained in there no matter how many critics have told me, over the many years it’s been since I read the book, that her ideas are sophomoric and simplistic.

The book Atlas Shrugged was written in 1957. The book had 1957 dialogue. Supporters say the dialogue is timeless and shouldn’t be tampered with. Detractors say the book’s dialogue was stilted, and that it didn’t round the characters out well. I ask these detractors if they understood the book at all. The characters weren’t supposed to be “well-rounded” in the manner critics believe every human on Earth should be well-rounded. No males cry in the book or the movie, there are no discussions of hallucinogenic substances, and the main characters are in complete control of their facilities throughout the entire movie. Critics hate that. They desire more definition in their characters.

These were archetype characters that Ayn Rand believed should exist in every society and every walk of life. These were the characters that spelled out every characteristic of the individual in her idealistic vision.

The dialogue of the movie was updated to, presumably, attract today’s viewers. Some won’t like that. Purists will say that it took Ayn Rand 10 years to write the book, and that she and her assistant Nathaniel Branden poured over every detail, every word, period and comma. They will say that nothing should be changed, edited to time constraints, or altered and updated to fit the times. Others will say that updating the dialogue was essential to introduce Ayn Rand’s objectivist ideas and ideals to a new group of people who have never heard of her or Atlas Shrugged. They will say that the book reading public has so dwindled in certain age groups that Ayn Rand’s objectivist ideas and ideals would be lost on a generation of people who say: “If I wanted to be that bored, I would’ve read a book.” If the latter was the case, I say bravo. I should note that the script is not so updated that they have people saying bra and dude and the choice swear word of the day. They simply changed some of the verbiage to match that of today’s viewing public. I went in with a careful eye on the dialogue. I left realizing that it wasn’t a distraction. It was, in fact, seemless.

The woman who plays Dagny Taggart, Taylor Schilling, is a stunning actress. I found her subtle and in charge, the way Dagny was throughout the book. I didn’t like the actor who played Hank Rearden, Grant Bowler, at first. I had pictured Rearden as a character with unbridled charisma, but that wasn’t Hank Rearden. That was my personal portrayal of Rand’s Rearden character. Throughout the movie, I remembered that Rearden was friendless, quiet, and the type of guy his wife described as one that would sit in the corner all night in the middle of a party. With that in mind, the actor played Rearden spot on.

This is a movie without big name stars, an enormous budget ($5 million), or high flying action scenes with massive explosions. It’s a simple movie with grandiose ideas, like those in the book. It’s a movie without big name stars, but in my opinion that allows the story (Screenplay written by Brian O’Toole) to breathe like a fine wine as opposed to most great stories getting crushed under the weight of the screen presence of the big time star. The five million was put up by one man, director John Aglialoro, which means that it was not funded by Hollywood, which means that it’s not weighted down with the Hollywood demands that execs make on moviemakers to draw audiences, and to me that means that movie buffs should love it all the more. I will also tell you, as an Ayn Rand fan, that Randians around the world should go nutso over this thing. I had chills in many scenes. I nearly cried in one. Not because it was sad, but because Aglialoro and O’Toole got it right. I tried to view the movie from the perspective of someone who never heard of Ayn Rand. I couldn’t. I love the story and the ideas way too much for that to be possible. They got it right.