What a pity. Despite the relevance of Ayn Rand’s ideas to today’s increasing government involvement in the economy and political favoritism, "Atlas Shrugged, Part 1" doesn’t quite deliver the goods.
Writing more than one-half century ago, Rand portrays a United States turning from capitalism to socialism, from one that rewards those who produce the goods and services that drive our society forward to one that redistributes wealth, punishes success, and rewards friends of corrupt politicians — a society that turns achievers into servants of the less capable.
The film’s heroine, Dagny Taggart (played by Taylor Schilling), comes off even more robotic than she is portrayed in the book. It’s one thing to be a lean, efficient, profit-maximizing capitalist; quite another to be a monotone, expressionless caricature of one.
Even when she’s being abused by the creeping socialism infecting the country, it’s hard to feel sorry for her and her cause. Even in terms of just plain likability, Dagny’s brother Jim Taggart (played by Matthew Marsden) is more likable, even though, as a corrupt hack who lives off the supertalent of his sister, he’s one of the “bad guys.”
Atlas in popular imagery supports the world on his shoulders. Similarly, according to Rand, the few true innovators among us — the Einsteins, Beethovens, Galilleos, and Edisons — move the rest of us forward with the power of their ideas and devotion to their work.
These exceptional people are aware that the world is tremendously benefited by their efforts, but this is merely a happy result of their achievements, and not what motivates them. Their driving force in Rand’s view is love of the work to which they dedicate themselves. They achieve because it pleases them. Ultimately they serve themselves.
When Atlas shrugs, the world falls. So too when the giants of humankind withdraw from their creativity, the world, and everyone and everything in it, fails.
Unfortunately for the film’s viewers, however, they don’t discover (except from the film’s final voice-over that is largely lost in the shuffle) that the great talent of the world has gone on strike.
Viewers assume that the leaders of industry continually disappearing throughout the movie are being kidnapped or killed. This would be OK if the true point were made forcefully at the end of the movie, leaving viewers leaving the theater with something big to think about. Instead the critical point is made sort of as an afterthought, and its impact is terribly weakened.
On a positive note, one item that keeps the viewer at least somewhat intrigued is the recurring question, "Who is John Galt?"
This question is posed by various characters throughout the film (as throughout the book) who’ve abandoned all economic hope. That the answer will provide insight into what’s really going on in the film gives the viewer a glimmer of hope. But this question too remains unanswered (at least until Parts 2 and 3 come out).
Despite its PG-13 rating, the film deals with “mature” economic themes and won’t be enjoyed by younger audiences.
If Rand’s ideas interest you, you’re better off reading the book. Shrug.
Film critics Sarah and Michelle Katz are twin sisters attending high school in New York. They comment frequently on film, entertainment, and celebrities.
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