'Atlas Shrugged' Bores the Audience Into Submission

OBJECTION: Director Paul Johansson’s cobbled-together, low-budget adaptation of Objectivism inventor Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged makes Rand’s dumb ideas seem even dumber.

OBJECTION: Director Paul Johansson’s cobbled-together, low-budget adaptation of Objectivism inventor Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged makes Rand’s dumb ideas seem even dumber.

Text messages sent by me while watching Atlas Shrugged Part I. (Things in quotes are actual dialogue from the movie. Really.)

I am watching Atlas Shrugged.

It is ... not good.

It is like watching a Bizarro world movie.

“What happened to you, Francisco? Where is the man that I used to love?”

Sooooo bored.

Please show me more shots of railroad tracks! Please!

“Why all these stupid altruistic urges? What is it with people today?”

“The secret you’re trying to solve is greater—and I mean much greater—than an engine that runs on atmospheric electricity.”

Why does anyone take Ayn Rand seriously? She was a mean-spirited crackpot who served as something close to a cult leader for her followers, and what little of her prose I’ve managed to force myself through is ludicrous potboiler stuff mixed with a juvenile worldview as shallow as it is endlessly verbose. She was a lousy writer and a lousy thinker. Even her fellow right-wing ideologues shunned her—Whittaker Chambers, writing for National Review, famously called Atlas Shrugged “remarkably silly” on its release in 1957. (He went on to accuse Rand of fascist tendencies: “From almost any page of Atlas Shrugged, a voice can be heard, from painful necessity, commanding: ‘To a gas chamber—go!’”)

But she sold, and still sells, a lot of books. That in itself is not hard to understand. Few writers have ever been more flattering of their readers. To embrace her Objectivist philosophy is to accept, with a weary sigh, that you are one of the Great People of the World, surrounded by lesser beings whose petty demands for your time, money, or affection can do nothing but interfere with your achievement of grand and lofty goals. And in Rand-world, those goals mostly amount to having as much wealth and power as possible—not so you can do anything in particular with it, just so you can have it. Charity, philanthropy, or in fact caring at all about other people, are all signs of sniveling weakness. Not for nothing did she title one book The Virtue of Selfishness.

Her way of thinking will sound familiar to anyone who was ever a teenager, or who happens to have one around the house. It boils down to a monotonous, non-stop shriek of “You’re not the boss of me!” The good thing about teenagers is that most of them grow out of it. The ones who don’t, I guess, become Ayn Rand fans. (That includes Congressman Paul Ryan, the weasely Wisconsinite being touted as the new brains of the GOP. He has credited Rand with inspiring his political career, and he reportedly makes all of his staff members read Atlas Shrugged. His recent budget proposal, in Randian fashion, would give heaps of money to the wealthiest Americans and trash the Medicare program. How he squares all this Great Man evangelizing with accepting a paycheck from taxpayers, I have no idea.)

Anyway. I’ve written half this movie review without saying much about the movie. That’s because, as dumb as Rand’s ideas are, this laughable, low-budget snoozefest makes them seem even dumber. The movie was a rush job—producer Harmon Kaslow’s rights to the novel were going to expire if he didn’t start making it by last summer—and it feels like it. With just $10 million to spend (most of it, apparently, on industrial footage of freight trains chugging through generic Western vistas), Kaslow and director Paul Johansson (there’s a reason you haven’t heard of him) cobbled together a film that consists mostly of a handful of blandly attractive people sitting around well-appointed offices and upscale restaurants, arguing about the physical properties of different kinds of metal.

There is a sort-of thriller aspect to the plot. Assorted industrialists and high-paid executives keep disappearing, leaving behind only the question, “Who is John Galt?” Meanwhile, evil forces in Washington are conspiring to do various bad things—which, for Rand, means trying to help “the less privileged” (a phrase that in this film is spoken with the kind of distaste reserved in other films for, say, “the child molesters”). As anyone who’s read or even heard of the book probably knows, the Galtians are actually quitting society, taking their Greatness and going to some far-away place where the government will leave them alone and they won’t have to trouble themselves with the weak and the needy (or, in the case of one character, the wife who expects sex to last more than five minutes). The timing of the film makes this notion even more hilarious than it no doubt was in the Eisenhower era—yes, what would we poor plebes do if our titans of Wall Street and Walmart packed up their credit default swaps and cheap Chinese trinkets and moved to Machu Picchu? How would we ever cope?

Really, by rendering Rand’s ideas so nakedly and ineptly, the filmmakers have done everyone a favor. Stripped of her floridity and melodrama, the notions underlying Atlas Shrugged are left to wriggle around like beached minnows, tiny and helpless and gasping for air. For someone so enamored of Big Thinking, Rand was a fundamentally small-minded person, driven by resentment and vanity. This hack job of a movie would not have pleased her, but it is hard to argue that she deserves anything better.

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Comments » 22

Raincrow writes:

I still say this should have been called "Throw Everybody's Mama from the Train."

lobbygow writes:

"stripped of her floridity and melodrama, the notions underlying Atlas Shrugged are left to wriggle around like beached minnows." I think you managed to top Ebert with that one.

tannin writes:

I enjoyed the movie. I am looking forward to the next segment of the story.

ozzy43 writes:

Wow - the author of this review certainly seems to have very strong opinions about Rand and her work, considering the admission regarding "what little of her prose I’ve managed to force myself through." S/He's barely read Rand - but the expressed opinions about Rand's writing and thinking are certainly more definite than such a glancing acquaintanceship would suggest possible.

Clearly, an agenda is at work in this review which has little to do with the movie. In fact, as this reviewer admits "I’ve written half this movie review without saying much about the movie" - indeed, s/he spends the first half demonizing Rand, and then continues to do so in the second half.

There review also clearly misunderstands the entire premise of 'The Virtue of Selfishness' (we'll kindly assume this was one of her works s/he failed to, err, force his or her way through which is no surprise - I've read it and it is very dense, intellectually).

Whatever Rand's foibles (and they were many - I am NOT a big fan of hers), she was by all accounts a remarkably intelligent woman, spoke and read several languages, etc, so to see some writer for an obscure website castigate her as 'shallow' and a 'lousy thinker' with 'dumb ideas' is amusing.

Here's an example - the reviewer asks, sarcastically: "what would we poor plebes do if our titans of Wall Street and Walmart packed up their credit default swaps and cheap Chinese trinkets and moved to Machu Picchu?"

In fact, in the Randian worldview, the titans of Wall St and Walmart would be classified among the moochers and looters (those who use the government's levers of power to gain unearned benefits) - that is, they would be among those left behind when the productive members of society vanished into Galt's Gulch. So the reviewer is completely befuddled and does not even grasp the most basic premise of the work. Rand would never in a million years claim that corporations who lobbied for bailouts were the Galt type! It's exactly opposite her thinking! It's hard to get this much more wrong than this reviewer has - and this seems to be due to blinders going in. After all, we humans do tend to see that which we expect to see, whether it is there or not. My guess is that the reviewer already had most of this review written inside his or her head before viewing the movie - and went in looking for evidence to support his or her views - and, not surprisingly, found it.

Maybe the reviewer should have put a little more effort into his/her past attempts to force their way through that 'potboiler' stuff - at least to the point where s/he grasped the arguments Rand was actually making - because the misunderstanding on public display here is absolutely fundamental.

When I come across such an attack/agenda masquerading as a review, it always seems to me that it says more about the reviewer than it does about the film. That's pretty clearly the case here.

jfm writes:

"Rand would never in a million years claim that corporations who lobbied for bailouts were the Galt type! It's exactly opposite her thinking!"

And illustrates exactly why her "thinking" was so wrong-headed in so many ways. Her heroes here are people who run train lines and oil companies, among other things -- industries that, in the United States and everywhere else, have always, always been highly dependent on and intertwined with "the government's levers of power." That she supposes there's such a thing as a tycoon who is not so intertwined -- that there is such a thing as a "self-made man," much less that they are legion in the "productive industries" -- shows how little she knew or experienced of either business or government. Like most utopians, her view of the world is almost entirely detached from reality. But hers is a much meaner and angrier utopia than most. For what it's worth, I've read "The Objectivist Ethics" (you can read it here: http://www.aynrand.org/site/PageServe...). It's a whole lot of gobbledygook in which Rand takes it on herself to divide the human race into "human beings" and "parasites, moochers, looters, brutes and thugs." Leaving aside her dubious credentials to serve as judge and jury here, the use of language alone is borderline sociopathic. It's hard to read her and not get a sense that she really detested a whole lot of people. It sounds just this side of the rantings of your average paranoid schizophrenic. And has about as much to do with the real world.

But of course, thanks for reading.

tannin writes:

The power of Ayn Rand devotees has impressed some Hollywood distribution executives, who took note of the hefty $5,640 per-theater average scored by “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1” during its opening weekend.

“People are hungry for what these characters are saying,” he said. “They’re telling the government, ‘Don’t entitle me with your gifts and your involvement in my life, because there’s a price I’ll pay for that. Just leave me alone. Let me hang onto my life and pursue my passions and rational self-interest. That’s what will benefit society.’ ”

...business has been brisk enough for producers Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro to expand from 299 theaters to 425 this weekend and to 1,000 by the end of the month. They don’t have enough film prints to fill all the orders.

http://www.suntimes.com/entertainment...

lobbygow writes:

"I've read it and it is very dense, intellectually"

I'm sure many that have actually read Rand's work would concur.

I agree that Jesse was predisposed to despise the movie based on his "incomplete" understanding of the source material.

It will happen again when he trashes "Transformers 3" without ever having successfully produced a robot from one of his kid's cars.

jfm (staff) writes:

There are two different issues here, worth separating: The awfulness of Rand's ideas, and the awfulness of the movie. It would have been possible for a talented and interesting filmmaker to make a much better movie presenting Rand's characters and ideology. That movie would still run up against the central misconceptions of human nature and fundamental misanthropy of Rand's work -- it would be hard to make a sympathetic, engaging film of such basically unsympathetic material. But it would certainly be possible to make a much better movie than this. Adam Sandler has made much better movies than this. This movie starts with the bad ideas at the heart of Rand's whole enterprise, and then constructs a flimsy, dull, nearly incoherent facade around them. It doesn't even provide a very good foundation for discussing or debating Rand's work, because it is so poorly made. And the fact that some Rand fans are trying to pretend otherwise -- trying to argue that the film has some redeeming qualities as a film -- just makes them seem ever more cult-like, to anyone not already initiated into the Objectivist faith.

tannin writes:

This is 9 more comments than he usually gets when he writes.

johndominicphoto#204720 writes:

Boredom can be explained with fascinating detail and amusing well thought out challenges to the less than meets the eye and ears movie. Making your points, you save us all a lot of bother, but it would have been really fun to read your review of the movie with a deeper twist of wordplay and artistic challenge. Maybe next time.

SwimMan writes:

"You're not the boss of me!"

I apologize. Being a teenager, I had to get that off my chest. Hopefully I'll grow out of it before I start understanding complex ideas. Ideas that cannot be fully grasped by those unable to force themselves through books without pictures.

I believe the last time I called someone a "mean-spirited crackpot" I was either talking about Billy Bob Thornton or Charlie Sheen, although I cannot remember exactly.

But I digress..

It is clear that the reviewer does not understand Ayn Rand's philosophy, as Rand was cleverly able to categorize Mayshark years before he even thought about texting during a movie. His article resembles something that would be published in "The Banner," a fictional paper run by a Mr. Gail Wynand in The Fountainhead. The paper, filled with articles written by "journalists" who know nothing about their subject matter, symbolizes the poor taste of society for biased and inaccurate media. How could a writer of "ludicrous potboiler stuff" accurately portray her critic? Obviously it must have been the crack.

Whittaker Chambers, while I deeply admire his early endeavors in espionage and the communist underground movement, had a perfect reason for "shunning" Ayn Rand's ideals. He, like Mayshark, did not understand her message. And he actually read the book! Or so he said...

Jason Lee Steorts, writer for "The Harvard Crimson" says it best about Chambers's comments:
"The basic error is to say that Rand wants her own species of Big Brother to “solve and supervise” the problems of complexity and instability. This simply is not so. It is true that her “prime movers” withdraw from society in order to effectuate the collapse of the “looters”; in this sense they “do battle” with the “socializing elite.” But they fight precisely against the idea that any person or persons should be granted Big Brotherly responsibilities. They oppose, precisely, the “suprevis[ion]” of a “managerial political bureau.” Their message throughout, to borrow Rand’s formulation, is: 'Hands off!'."

SwimMan writes:

(Continued...)

If Mayshark had taken the time to delve into any of Rand's novels, he would understand that the goal is not to "have as much wealth and power as possible." Take for instance Rand's novel, The Fountainhead. Howard Roark, the "hero" as the reviewer would call him, is quite the opposite of wealth and power. As the epitome of Rand's ideology, Roark strays from the path of conformity to further the architectural profession. He shies away from the limelight, and insists that "you have to love the doing, not the secondary consequences." Wealth and power would be "objects of charity" that Roark would no doubt despise.

In her novel The Virtue of Selfishness, which the reviewer also could not force his way through, Rand writes her own definition of selfishness. She says that if an individual wants to live his or her own life to their liking, it's their prerogative. Society will adapt and follow suit.

Wait, wasn't this a movie review? Oh well...

To quote Mayshark, "As anyone who’s read or even heard of the book probably knows, the Galtians are actually quitting society, taking their Greatness and going to some far-away place where the government will leave them alone and they won’t have to trouble themselves with the weak and the needy."

I'm guessing that in between texting "soooo bored" and "please show me more shots of railroad tracks," the reviewer missed out on a key aspect of the plot. He then quickly rushed to Rotten Tomatoes for what he thought would be an accurate synopsis. The Galtians leave in order to escape oppression from the government, who is keeping them from further innovation and progression. The government tries to cover up their own wrongdoings by claiming to be helping the "less priveleged." Obviously, had the reviewer been a character in Atlas Shrugged, he would have fallen for their little trick.

Finally, I must admit I attempted to keep track of each and every logic fallacy present in this article. Unfortunately, God only gave me ten fingers and toes.

Phew, that was unnecessary, seeing as anyone who has put the time into reading Rand's novels would feel the same way. But what do I know? I'm merely a teenager. My teacher asked me to write a letter to the editor, but I would have none of that! "You're not the boss of me!" I shouted. And somewhere off in the distance, I heard a journalist sigh in frustration. "He must be an Ayn Rand fan." Now how's that for assonance?

VanderbiltJournalismMajor writes:

Wow, SwimMan should have written this review. At the very least send someone with an elementary knowledge of Rand's philosophy and the self-control to resist non-sequitor political rants to write a review. This is why I tend to steer away from local publications.

lovetoteach writes:

As the teacher of SwimMan and several other interested students, I would like to invite Mr. Mayshark to our class. Let me know via blog if you're interested, Mr. Mayshark.

Also, I applaud Mr. Cagle for his article today about Mayshark's "review." Maybe Mayshark should either attend journalism school or return to school to brush up on how to critique a movie.

UTjournalmajor writes:

I agree with Vandy

dprince writes:

in response to lovetoteach:

As the teacher of SwimMan and several other interested students, I would like to invite Mr. Mayshark to our class. Let me know via blog if you're interested, Mr. Mayshark.

Also, I applaud Mr. Cagle for his article today about Mayshark's "review." Maybe Mayshark should either attend journalism school or return to school to brush up on how to critique a movie.

Disregarding the hamfisted attempt to slight jfm's skillset that constitutes the second paragraph of this comment, I'm curious - what class, and where?

lovetoteach writes:

It is an AP class in Knox County.

lovetoteach writes:

in response to lovetoteach:

It is an AP class in Knox County.

I admit it was ham-fisted, but I get so frustrated with yellow journalism. I really want to get my students thinking and Rand's writing does this. They don't have to agree with her philosophy but they need to be exposed to deeper thinking. Mr. Mayshark's rant has really got my class excited.

dprince writes:

The last Knox County AP English teacher I knew called me a son of a (lol profanity filter) in front of a roomful of students for betting her I could get back into her class after making a B in it the first time and then lying to my school's guidance counselor to make it happen.

dprince writes:

...and even then, I came to expect better from Knox County AP-level instructors than hyperbolic public ad hominem attacks, especially ones who know their students are reading.

lovetoteach writes:

Wow...I'm sorry you had that experience in class.

SwimMan writes:

Let me guess, dprince... after your teacher challenged your narcissism, you yelled "You aren't the boss of me!" and then trudged to the guidance office, lied to your guidance counselor, and felt a sense of pride in the fact that you had undermined the school system, not to mention your integrity.

Arguing with a school teacher online is not going to settle your lingering teenage angst. I'm curious to see how you respond to this article, a topic you seem to be avoiding.

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