Thursday, April 21, 2011

Movie Review--Guest Post

Atlas Shrugged, Part I
Ronald G. Pittenger

            Yesterday, at long last, I was able to see Part I of Atlas Shrugged.  I’ve been waiting for it since I first read the book in 1961.  The running time of 102 minutes flashed by in what seemed only half an hour or so.
            It is unfortunate Rand chose railroading as her vehicle for the story, as this may make it more difficult for younger people to suspend belief.  Even when I read the novel, railroads were already in deep decline from their heyday in the 40s.  The movie solves this by making the fairly reasonable assumption that oil prices will continue to rise, at one point mentioning a pump price of $37+ per gallon of gasoline.  At prices like that, railroads would be a reasonable alternative to automobiles, trucks, and a small fraction of the cost of air travel.
            Having the benefit of being familiar with the novel, I was neither put off nor disappointed with the focus on humans, especially business people, being portrayed as capable of heroism.  This is the natural, everyday condition of every person engaged in business, whether as an employee or as an entrepreneur.  Overcoming obstacles is just an everyday occurrence.  It is visible to anyone (who pays attention) visiting a local convenience store and realizing only four or five employees are running a 24/7/365 business.  Their wisdom may be questionable, but not their determination or courage.  The locals quickly come to depend on that store to be there—and open—when they need it with the necessities they require, toilet paper, diapers, food and drink, etc.  In other businesses, it may be more difficult to see, but it is there, just the same.
            While the movie isn’t “politically partisan,” it is, like the novel, in praise of individual accomplishment.  It proposes that the most valuable members of society, the producers, be treated as the great value that they are, rather than demonized; set as free as possible instead of being hemmed in and hobbled by every regulation that can be thought up by control-seeking beancounters.  It is a logically justifiable philosophy raised to art.
            The story-line is, as the novel dictates, that the most creative people are disappearing, vanishing without a trace, and taking with them their intellect and ability that had made the world better for everyone else.  It is hinted that they simply won’t put up with being everyone else’s whipping boy anymore. 
            The casting seemed excellent with only two exceptions, Dr. Stadtler and Dr. Akston both seemed much too young for their characters’ implied ages and authority (heads of departments at a university).  The acting was good, faithful to the characters in the novel, neither over-the-top nor underplayed.  Costuming and sets were excellent, as were the frequent outdoor background shots, most of which could be seen any clear, cold day in today’s New York City or Colorado.
            The only thing that struck me as odd was the jazz band at a party scene seemed anachronistic—but, I don’t attend many parties of the super-rich, so maybe that’s the norm.  The music was pleasant, just unexpected.
            I suppose my only real complaint is the movie was too short.  I really hope the other parts, I’m assuming two, get made.  I can hardly wait to see them.


  1. I'm not much of a reader but from what I gather it would make sense to read The Fountainhead before reading (or seeing) Atlas Shrugged. My library has both unabridged on audio and I'm hoping to get them both soon.

  2. It can't possibly hurt you to read Fountainhead first, but Fountainhead and Atlas are very different works, both in style and content. Fountainhead was truly a novel. Its story "shows" some of the aspects of Rand's philosophy without giving detailed explanations (except once, at the very end). This may be because she hadn't fully developed it yet, though she clearly knew where she wanted to go.

    Atlas is more like a very interesting textbook that throws you another seminar every few hundred pages. Atlas is an integrated look at philosophy, ethics, and economics that explains/justifies every step along the way, so nothing has to be taken "on faith." The weakest parts of the story are when Rand tries to explain inter-personal relationships (especially sexual attraction). Incidentally, a lot of insight on how Atlas was written, who helped (there were a lot of them), what their relationships were, and what happened to them is shown in Judgement Day by Nathaniel Brandon, published in 1989.

    If the "real questions" behind the one you asked are: is it helpful to read the story first and then see the movie (yes!), and can you read a different work and get the same background? then the answer is not really. Nothing really prepares you for the sweep of Atlas except Atlas. However, Rand also wrote a very short novel called Anthem. I haven't read it in decades, but it "implies" most of what she "shouts" in Atlas. Anthem is VERY readable, only around 140 pages long (as opposed to 1100 pages of Atlas). If you'll permit a church-going metaphor, Fountainhead would be the processional hymn and prayers, Anthem would be just that, sung during the collection of gifts, and Atlas would be the sermon.

    I hope this helps.

    Ron Pittenger