I’m not a movie critic and I read Atlas Shrugged decades ago when I was in the Army. So it wasn’t exactly fresh in my mind when I attended a special screening in Washington this week of the film version of the novel by Ayn Rand. I had low expectations. But it turns out to be a terrific movie.
Pauline Kael used to write about "good bad" movies. Atlas Shrugged may qualify as that. It’s not great drama, nor, as best I can tell, great filmmaking. But I’ve seen movies that were hailed as achievements in filmmaking and won awards. And I was bored.
Atlas Shrugged is definitely not boring. I think it’s going to be memorable. It gets Rand’s point across forcefully without too much pounding. Being memorable counts for a lot. The book is 1,200 pages, a tough read; the movie, in contrast, is fast-paced.
The story is at least as relevant today as it was when the novel was published in 1957. It plays up the virtues of free market economics. Its heroes are capitalists and entrepreneurs and innovators who pursue wealth for its own sake and, as a result, produce a society that is better, richer, and more creative. That may be counterintuitive, but it’s the way Adam Smith’s invisible hand works. The pursuit of self-interest boosts everyone.
This is important. The villains in movies and television shows are often businessmen or anyone involved in making money. It’s a giveaway when these folks appear on screen. You know right away who the bad guy is. The role reversal in Atlas Shrugged may shock viewers. Unless they’ve read the book, they won’t be expecting a businessman and a businesswoman whose for-profit endeavors benefit society. In movies and TV, that role is usually played by the altruist, the liberal, the government employee, the inspector, the high-minded professor--the do-gooder, as we used to refer to them.
In Atlas Shrugged, those folks are the villains. They regulate. Rather than generate wealth, they redistribute it. They’re the crony capitalists, corrupt scientists, well-connected lobbyists, and union officials who seek special privileges while demanding “fairness.” How often have you seen such a group of characters cast as this in a movie or television show? Probably never. But we see them in real life. And in that sense, Atlas Shrugged is realistic. It’s closer to the way the world works than almost any movie you might see.
For what it’s worth, it lacks stars. I didn’t recognize the actors--though my wife said she’d see one of them on the TV show Ugly Betty. Most of the actors attended the Washington screening, held at Union Station. I didn’t stay around to talk to any of them; I wouldn’t have known what to say.
But at the reception beforehand, I did chat with John Aglialoro, the entrepreneur who bought the film rights to Atlas Shrugged in 1992. As producer, he began shooting in June 2010, just before the rights were to expire. He put up the money. Like Rand, he’s a libertarian and not shy about expressing his views. Ayn Rand was an atheist, as are many libertarians. Agliario believes that, to save the country from economic decline, libertarians and Christians must get together. They can worry about their differences on things like abortion and gay rights later.
Aglialoro is justly proud of his movie. The book has sold seven or eight million copies. If that many people see the movie version, it will not only be a commercial success, it will also have an enormous impact--and deserves both.
Atlas Shrugged opens nationally on Friday, April 15--tax day.