Many films need a hook to get you to see them, and reasons to keep your interest once you’re there. The producers of Atlas Shrugged: Part I forgot that idiom.
This is not a movie. This is an anti-movie. It is the antithesis of cinematic entertainment. The whole movie is nothing but two people talking at a time, in offices, desks and restaurants. And this can be fine: I just described the plot of the excellent Dinner for Andre. But when you’re movie is nothing but talking heads, you need to make up for that through dialogue, character development, and pathos. This would mean the film would need heart and soul, which is impossible when you’re adapting an Ayn Rand novel.
Now, an important component to understanding the popularity of Atlas Shrugged, is to be acquainted with Rand’s philosophy of “Objectivism”. Now, I’m going to be honest, besides what I’ve gleaned from internet forums and a cursory glance on Wikipedia, I don’t know much about Objectivism and Ayn Rand. So I’m just going to take my views of Objectivism and Rand’s from the film itself. And if the film is anything to go by, it’s just really hard to take this philosophy seriously at all – although, that’s not surprising when one of Rand’s greatest advocates are Tea Partyers.
You see, the whole movie is about how rich, powerful people should be allowed to create monopolies and not share their wealth with anyone else. Now, if you were to just say that sentence – despite my own left-leaning bias – I could see that being defended, I guess. It supports the right to individual achievements and intellectual property and all that.
But then the film goes off the crazy end of the pool when they cast characters who are trying to use business to help the unfortunate as the villains of the film. And not the way you’d think. It’s not that the main characters are cold pragmatists who use ruthless tactics to keep everything in order and the villains are well-meaning but ultimately naïve waifs.
No, the people who want to help poor people are cast as silent movie era villains. A perfect example is a scene where our heroine Dagney Taggart (played by an actress you’ve never heard of, I guarantee it) closes a business deal that will effectively cause millions of people to go homeless and broke, and her brother story yells out with an evil grimace, menacing tone, and DARK MUSIC in the background (because he’s the bad guy) “But what about all those less fortunate people! Who will help them?” With no sense of irony or satire. Especially since this film is set five years in the future where the economy is in shambles, Mad Max-style, and the main characters are all billionaire socialites.
There are other examples of the film desperately trying to defend Rand’s philosophy that altruism is some sort of base evil. They bend over backwards, like the aforementioned mustache-twirling evil brother who DARES to try and use company money to help poor people, or a scene later on in an abandoned factory that was destroyed because of the stupid choice of the owner to let the workers work for themselves. Without a CEO with an exuberant paycheck to overlook these “mindless children” (actual quote by one of the main characters describing working-class factory workers), the factory fell into disarray. I suppose the message is that without rich, powerful people, the world would cease to run, which is a hard thing to defend in this day and age, especially in the case of businesses like Enron and British Petroleum being the epitome of “free market run amok” the way Rand would’ve championed.
This movie is like watching someone you hate make racist jokes for an hour and a half — and you’re offended, not because you haven’t laughed at those jokes before, but because you know the person telling them actually believes what he’s saying.
The film’s philosophy is essentially: there are a few great people in and everyone else can go fuck themselves. Which I guess makes sense for people who are young to grab a hold onto. Because these people think they are one of Rand’s “special individuals,” and it’s the other 99.9 percent of the population that are expendable. Objectivism seems to be tailor made to stroke one’s ego. But this is where the film is doomed to fail. Our “special individuals” showcased in this film are boring, lifeless and insufferably unlikeable. They have no emotions beside straight-faced dead pan – they’re like an entire cast of Steven Wright’s who aren’t in on the joke. They’re like aliens who don’t understand human emotion, and are trying to fit in like the cast members of 3rd Rock from the Sun, only somehow even less funny. When you have characters championing an oil baron as some sort of hero without any sense of irony, you know your movie is beyond crazy and dwelling damn near criminally insane.
The best part is that the movie is Part I of a trilogy. Not since Eragon has there been destined not to be a part II of a would-be franchise.