I watched Atlas Shrugged, Part I last night. Although the movie got bad reviews, and there is talk that Atlas Shrugged, Part II will get a new cast, I decided to watch the movie for three reasons.
First, I absolutely love the trailer for the movie—-its music, its drama, its powerful characters, its sense of mystery, and its reference to Ayn Rand. Second, I watched some clips of the movie on YouTube (see, for example, here and here), some of which accompanied comments by a consultant to the movie about how the scenes illustrate Rand’s philosophy (see here, here, and here). What I saw wasn’t that bad. The acting was all right, I guess, or at least it was on the same level as the acting in other movies that I have seen. Plus, the actress playing Dagny was nice to look at. Third, I loved the book, Atlas Shrugged, which I read over a decade ago.
But when I actually watched the movie, I did not care for it that much, for a variety of reasons. For one, the acting appeared to me to be stiff, and the characters struck me as cold. I had a hard time feeling anything for them. Whereas I could tolerate watching scenes in isolation, sitting through the entire movie was quite an ordeal.
Second, parts of the movie seemed to me to be unrealistic. I find it hard to believe that James Taggart could meet with a handful of political cronies and get legislation passed as fast as he did. Moreover, some of the legislation struck me as contradictory and as arbitrary: the antagonists wanted to stop or prevent monopolies, yet they passed an “anti-dog-eat-dog” rule to suppress competition and to force people to use the services of Taggart Transcontinental. The movie was trying to show that these antagonists preached equality and the common good, but I wish that they spent more time demonstrating why they thought that their policies would promote the common good. And my critique on this point extends to the book as well: Ayn Rand tended to present the proponents of views with which she disagreed as caricatures rather than as people who supported their viewpoints, as mistaken as those viewpoints were. Reading the book, that was not a problem for me. Watching it on my TV, it was.
Third, I thought that the movie took away the sense of mystery that propelled me to keep on reading the book. When I was reading the book, I was wondering who John Galt was, and I kept on reading in order to find out. But Part I of the movie has already strongly hinted at who John Galt is: John Galt is taking the wealthy industrialists of the world to a utopia where they can achieve with minimal government interference standing in their way. Plus, the movie strongly hints that Galt was the one who invented a motor that would stop the motors of the world. If my memory is correct, this stuff appeared later in the book, which was why I kept on reading. But Part I, by including this stuff early on in the story, takes away that sense of mystery.
There was one part of the movie that moved me: When Dagny at the end shows up at Wyatt’s oil fields, which he has burned up in protest against collectivism. Dagny screams “No!” The reason I found this scene poignant is that Dagny and Hank Rearden are being left behind to make the best of a bad situation—-to achieve and to stimulate the economy in a world where the government is stifling that.