Saturday, April 16, 2011

Atlas Shrugged - A review

I went to see Atlas Shrugged - Part I this morning (day after opening and only $5.00, woo-hoo!). I have read the book, but it was several years ago.

The movie has been panned by several critics, including at least one libertarian. I will go into my thoughts on that in a minute. The story is based on Ayn Rand's novel, published in 1957. The movie dates the action in the year 2016, but because of an extended recession, the period curiously has a look and feel like that of the 1950s. To be sure, we still had cell phones and computers, but the persistent oil shortage has made railroads the most feasible way to move people and materials.

The story begins with the takeover of the Taggart Transcontinental Railroad by Dagny Taggart, who finds her brother incompetent and a bit weasely toward Washington, which has become a full-blown fascist state with heavy-handed controls over industry. She finds the way to save her railroad is through innovation, so she forms a strategic alliance with Hank Reardon, of Reardon Steel. Using new technology, they plan to upgrade old railroad tracks in Colorado. However, at the same time, something odd is going on. Several major corporate executives have vanished suddenly. The only hint is the question, "Who is John Galt?"

The film has been panned by many critics, because the actors appear to lack emotional range. The film is not badly written, nor is it badly acted. The problem is with Ayn Rand (1905-1982). She wrote Atlas Shrugged to convey a definite point of view, and she chained her characters to her philosophy. Not that the actors could not have done a little better, particularly during a beautifully filmed and very tasteful sex scene involving Dagny and Hank. But the film, done in the style of a 1930s film noir, is a heavy drama, like the book itself. Miss Rand wanted to convey the idea that prosperity for the masses is only possible when individuals are free to carry out their dreams, without any hindrance either from government or from social pressure.

While I am a libertarian, I have some disagreements with Ayn Rand's philosophy. For one thing, Miss Rand was an atheist; which explains why her characters lack spiritual depth. She elevates selfishness into a moral virtue; rather than saying, for example, that building enterprises and acquiring wealth can provide the successful entrepreneur with the financial and personal freedom to give to those causes they find most beneficial. When Hank Reardon's brother asks for a $100,000 donation to a favored charity, Hank acts as though he were flushing money down the commode.

On the other hand, she correctly portrays government as an incompetent interloper that can only gum up the economy in ways that are corrupt and unfair. In Atlas Shrugged, the government is used to favor some business interests over others. Also on the positive side, she stresses the importance of personal integrity to success. She almost overdoes the comparison between the rock-solid integrity of a Hank Reardon, with the conniving corruption of Congressmen and federal bureaucrats.

This is the first film in a series of three. The answer to the question, "who is John Galt?" is reserved for a later segment. It is a good, but not great, movie. It will introduce younger viewers to the kind of world the libertarians want to build (with the caveat that most libertarians have more heart than the characters), and will suggest the values that will help build it. It is entertaining and instructive; but the film would have helped itself if it were a bit more entertaining, and less heavy-handed with the instruction.

With all those caveats, it is still well worth seeing, and I encourage you to do so.


Tom said...

I agree with Rand - selfishness is a virtue. Of course "selfishness" in Rand's world means "pursuing ones rational self interest" which means being an honest, upright individual who identifies their values and works to achieve them. Those values could be family, or sports, or writing, or fishing, or just making money for the sake of making money. So long as a person doesn't achieve their values in a dishonest way, such as robbing, looting, cheating, defrauding, etc, then they are virtuous, and indeed selfish.

As to Rearden and his brother's charity, I wouldn't have given that bastard a cent myself. Especially after he said it would be embarrassing to have Rearden's name on the check! Are you kidding me!!

I don't believe in charity. Charity is an enabler. I think Jesus said something like that as well. "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime."

Harold Thomas said...


You make a valid point about the incident between Hank Reardon and his brother. I had forgotten the part about bro finding Hank's name on the check to be embarrassing.

Charity can be an enabler, but in the most desperate circumstances, may be the leg up. Obviously it is not just throwing money at a person (either individually or governmentally); but having the patience, discernment, and Christian love to understand and address person's real needs (which are not always the ones that are verbalized)

"Give a man a fish..." is a Chinese proverb of unknown origin. Jesus never said it, though it would be consistent with his teaching.