It was a time uncannily like this time. A time of rising poverty and unemployment, of a disappearing middle class, and a growing government class. Things were breaking down. The government always had a new “solution” — never mind that solution followed solution and matters got steadily worse. It was a time when the best finally quit pushing against the barriers erected against them and withdrew their talents, a time when the worst prospered through their connections to government.
The man on the street, not understanding why life was falling apart around him, shrugged and uttered that ultimate expression of cynicism and defeat, “Who is John Galt?”
I’ts mind-boggling to think that Ayn Rand envisioned this world in the 1950s, a era that, in retrospect, we like to imagine as the height of sunny, can-do, all-American prosperity.
In the new film Atlas Shrugged, Part I John Aglialoro, Harmon Kaslow, Paul Johansson, Brian Patrick O’Toole, and their actors and crew members have brought Rand’s vision into the twenty-first century. They even quite cleverly (and in the first five minutes yet), make those quaint and antiquated railroads at the center of Rand’s story relevant again.
Above all, they create a movie whose one hour and 42 minutes zoom by, a movie that should make any fan of the book hungry for parts II and III. Most professional critics probably hope that parts II and III never get made. They sure seem to be doing their best to ensure that outcome.
This isn’t a review. Since I wrote my mini-take immediately after returning from a six-hour round trip to see the film, a couple of writers have spoken up to say exactly what I would have said or exactly what I’d like to have said. Oliver Del Signore did it first. Then Vin Suprynowicz added a reporter’s insight and noted some details that also struck me as I watched the movie. (As Vin says, the music is surprisingly good. And while I’m not sure Taylor Schilling is destined for stardom, she definitely owned the role of Dagny even when her actual emoting wasn’t quite up to the big screen.)
They’ve already said it all. So this isn’t a review, but is more of a review of the reviewers.
A few minutes before heading off on the long drive to see Atlas Shrugged on opening day, I quick-checked RottenTomatoes.com. I noticed the same thing Oliver reported. At that moment, there were 16 professional reviews and just under 6,000 audience evaluations: Critics, 6% favorable; audience 86% favorable. And even the one critic who had weighed in with a plus didn’t really like the movie that much. He only thought it raised important issues and stimulated us to think.
I didn’t have time to read many reviews before heading into Civilization. But with that critical 6% in mind, I figured I was making that Dreaded Drive into Civilization (with its 40-mile mid-afternoon traffic jams) to see a crappy film.
Sure, I knew there were going to be film critics — just as there have been book critics for the last 50+ years — who loathe everything Randian on general principles. We already saw right here at this blog how the mere mention of anything-Atlas is enough to evoke rage (here and here).
But generally, when it comes to evaluating movies, I’m closer to critics than to audience. (I’m no fangirl; when somebody makes a mediocre movie from well-loved material, I don’t like it.) I figured most negative critics would be as as honest as Kurt Loder was.
Then — despite its many low-budget flaws — I loved the film. It was disgusting to come home, read the reviews, and find out just how dishonest or snidely dismissive most critics were.
Let’s admit right out that Atlas Shrugged, Part I is very much what Ben Kenigsberg called it: a “DIY megaproduction, whose ambition vastly exceeds its technical command.”
But I submit that if this had been any story other than Atlas Shrugged — particularly had it been some tale beloved of the intelligentsia — critics would have celebrated its achievements while recognizing its flaws. They would have extolled the producers for achieving so much with so little. They would have commented on its lush, expensive look. In hushed tones, they would have related the decades-long struggle to make the book into a film. They would have marveled at how one “little guy” (yes, John Aglialoro is rich, but he’s no more than a gnat in Hollywood) struggled for 20 years against an intransigent Hollywood establishment to get his movie made. They would have crowned him as this year’s king of indies for striking out on his own, against great odds, to get Atlas made. They’d have told breathlessly of the fan support that got this movie booked into 300 theaters, including the giant AMC chain.
“Sure,” they’d have said. “It has problems. But wow — what an achievement. What a David and Goliath story.”
A few did that.
But for the most part comments ran to “bastardized in the name of a quick buck” (odd that Aglialoro would suddenly be motivated by a “quick buck” after 20 years of struggle) and Ayn Rand will roll in her grave (from people who are clearly delighted at the prospect of Rand, or anyone who holds anything in common with her, suffering).
Even the biggest professionals simply had fun being snide.
Even nominally neutral sites felt the need to put the most negative spin on news about the film that some might have seen as encouraging.
And how did so many media folk, including movie reviewers, get the notion that Ayn Rand and the Tea Party are in bed with each other? Probably 1/3 of the negative reviews make that connection. Yegads. Rand? and the Tea Party? That’s so shallow and simplistic it’s more like a cartoon than an actual thought.
But of course that mind-bending mis-identification is a sign of what’s really going on. The folks who hope (either openly or otherwise) that parts II and III never get made really do see the vast and varied rebellion against big, intrusive government — and the faux-altruistic attitudes government has cultivated to grant itself more power — as being a monolithic movement of morons. Very threatening morons. Like thee and me. Label us all “teabaggers” and call this movie “tea-soaked” and you can make yourself safe, having walled us all behind a fringeoid stereotype.
Of course, Rand is partly responsible for the extreme reaction against her works. She wasn’t exactly into nuanced differences of opinion, herself. And she opposed altruism, when the real problem isn’t the altruistic impulses of individuals but the hijacking of altruism by powermongers who use it to guilt-trip us into surrendering to them.
Still, Rand aside, and this movie aside — the reviewers who feel such a need to sneer, dismiss, and misrepresent do appear to have one thing in common: they’re running scared from the rebellious rabble. The rebellious rabble — that would be us — are ascendant. And there are a lot of people whose bread is buttered on the government side who would like to see us shuffle back to our proper places on the fringes.
So, long live Atlas Shrugged! Despite all its problems, if it scares the folk who want others kept in their compliant, regulated, tax-paying, don’t-question-authority, whatever-we-do-is-for-your-own-good place, it’s a great thing.