Monday, April 25, 2011

The Truth About “Atlas Shrugged”


Tell a lie enough times and people will believe it. This is the case with the new film, “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” based on the first third of the classic Ayn Rand novel.

I attended the movie with wariness, having read bad review after bad review about it. It couldn’t possibly be any good, I thought. Yet the reviews turned out to be lies matching lies about the Rand novel—the most ambitious American novel ever written. They also match, curiously enough, the media lies told about Rearden Metal in the film.

“Is Rearden Metal good?” the creator of the metal asks again and again. The point is made that media judgments are made for reasons other than truth.

It’s easy, of course, to see why the movie version of “Atlas Shrugged” has been panned. There are no serial killers, no vampires, no self-mutilations, no stupidities or insanities, no sadism. Only intelligent adults involved in high-level business dealings. The lead character is a self-assertive businesswoman. In this cracked age, what kind of role model is that?

The film starts slowly, laying down Ayn Rand’s plot threads. Contrary to what literary critics like Thomas Mallon have said, that Ayn Rand had no ability whatsoever at creating characters and plot, Rand was a master at constructing a narrative formed around iconic figures. The story’s development is akin to early moves in a chess game, the moves pointing toward actions to happen much further on. They’re like the first presentation of the themes of a symphonic movement. The story melds several plot strands. Mysterious John Galt. Vanishing talents. The secret of a new kind of motor and its Tesla-like inventor. Several ambitious company owners, Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden among them, struggling to fight corrupt political forces that would shut them down. These are Rand’s heroes. She asks the question, “What makes civilization—capitalism, America—work?”

Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart are fairly liberal business owners, truth be told, because they’re idealists interested in creating better products, leaving the cronyism and political maneuvering to those who are the bad guys of the tale, including Dagny’s brother.

It’s interesting that the movie is as scorned as it is. The film presents an anachronistic, 1957 look at industry and technology that should appeal to those on the Left—high-speed trains and steel mills. I found it appealing, reminiscent of the booming Detroit industrial world of my youth, and of the railyards I once worked in. “Atlas Shrugged” posits, as the way to achieve this prosperous world, unharnessing the mind and creating better products. Better trains, better metal. Who could possibly be against this?

It’s a vision which Barack Obama and Joe Biden themselves should applaud and approve.

The movie isn’t the book, or even the first third of the book. It’s an argument for the book. The acting is fine, especially from the Dagny, Hank Rearden, and Wyatt characters. Some parts of the novel can’t be adequately depicted. In the novel the inaugural train ride testing Reardon’s new metal is one of the most compelling narrative sequences ever written—proof that Ayn Rand was a much better writer than’s been said.

The plot lines set down emerge together in the last five minutes of the movie—the story’s premise and main theme are suddenly, explosively revealed on a large sign in front of a surprisingly passionate Dagny Taggart. I was left hungry for more. Classic artistry.

Why the lies about the “Atlas Shrugged” movie found in review after review?

Was Ayn Rand right? Have people stopped thinking? Are they panicked by the presentation of ideas—contrary or not—of being asked to not follow the mob, but instead to think as citizens and moviegoers for themselves?


Anonymous said...

It's Rearden. A fan such as yourself should know this.

King said...

A fan? Not especially. An honest critic, that's all.