Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Movie and DVD Reviews: The best and not-so-best movies available on DVD, and whatever else catches my eye.

Atlas Shrugged

Jerry Stratton, April 23, 2011

John Galt’s Suburban: Seen in Hillcrest while driving my own car to the car wash.; Ayn Rand

“Ask me about my Gulch.”

The only power any government has is to crack down on crime and criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, then one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kinds of law that can neither be observed nor enforced nor objectively interpreted and you create a nation of lawbreakers—and then you can cash in on their guilt. — Ayn Rand (Atlas Shrugged)

I saw Atlas Shrugged last Friday. While I’ve heard bits and pieces of the story, and have long had that quote from the book in my quotefile, I’ve never read the book. I’ve only read one Ayn Rand book, The Fountainhead. It was very enjoyable, taking a world to extremes to make a point, but not to unreasonable extremes. And for the most part, the characters in the book were believable with human flaws, and they succumbed to human temptations. Having gone forty years only hearing about Rand rather than reading her, I was surprised by how good a book it was.

That said, my pile of books to read is huge, and I haven’t added any more to it yet.

With the exception of one Mysterious Guy wandering around at the fringes, the movie was uniformly well-acted. The politicians and other smarmy beltway hangers-on were very well-acted and frighteningly close to real life, and the two main characters were very natural, and their lines were translated well to the movie.

I hear that the Mysterious Guy is the director; I hope that he either gets a lot better or gets a better actor for part 2. He wasn’t in this movie for more than a few seconds at a time a few times, but my understanding is that he has a bigger role in the next part. I’m guessing it’s going to be important that he have believable dialogue and acting. It wasn’t just the wooden acting; the dialogue, which I suspect worked great in writing, could have been a lot smoother without changing its meaning.

Despite his acting skills, his directing was good. I don’t think you can get this natural of a delivery from actors without being a good director.

There’s a beautiful sequence with a train; very enjoyable. I could quibble with the direction a little bit—I thought the shots were more appropriate for an older, Hogwarts-style train than for the ultra-modern, sleek train they used—but it was a good bit.

Definitely worth seeing. It’s certainly a different narrative than you normally get at the movies. That might explain the extremely wide variation between professional critics and the general movie-going public: 6% vs. 85% on Rotten Tomatoes as I write this, and some of the comments by the professionals are comically obtuse. It’s definitely not a critic-friendly movie; not surprising, as Rand was not a critic-friendly author. Judging from what she wrote in The Fountainhead, I’m guessing she classes critics in the same class as politicians, as just another obstruction that enjoys afflicting the productive.

The worst of the professional critics are claiming that this is some fear-mongering right-wing vision of the future. But we live in an America where the president has said that he knows raising taxes doesn’t increase tax revenue; he wants to do it anyway to make things more fair; where the congress has passed a massive law creating a new board, the Independent Payment Advisory Board, that sounds like it came right out of a Rand novel. And it just keeps getting worse. Just this week the news hit that the Obama administration’s National Labor Relations Board1 is forbidding Boeing from opening a new plant in business-friendly South Carolina. It wouldn’t be fair to business-averse Washington.

You can’t get much more Atlas Shrugged than this, but I’m sure they’ll continue trying.

Frightening modern parallels out of the way, it is a very good movie; if the director and producers can overcome the few problems it had when they get to making the second part, it will be a great set of movies. It’s definitely inspired me to move the book higher up on my reading list. I may even see it a second time.

Oh, and it was a small theater at the AMC 20 in Mission Valley here in San Diego, but full. Then again, everything’s full at the Mission Valley AMC on a Friday night.

February 14, 2017: Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike
Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike: Movie poster for Atlas Shrugged Part 2.

Well, I finally got around to seeing the second part of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy last weekend. It has, in fact, overcome the few problems I noted from the first part. It was exciting, believable, and if it had any flaw it was that it was very much like a Hollywood movie. It vastly improved on the first movie, which I enjoyed, but mainly for memorable scenes (such as the train moving across the bridge) and the heart that the creators put into it.

Again, I still haven’t gotten around to reading the book (although I have read We the Living since then), so I can’t say how well it hews to the novel. But as a movie I highly recommend it.

If it has a flaw, it would be that it makes it look like the government’s actions are drastic and unprecedented; there’s no sense that some of them had already been put into place in the seventies by Nixon in collusion with a Democratic congress, and were maintained by Ford and Carter. We’ve already had wage freezes and price freezes in the United States; we know what a disaster it is—and how much the media will lie to maintain the resulting recession. While thrillers shouldn’t be history lessons, leaving that history out makes this movie more political than it really is.

Some demagogues on the left decry this movie as right-wing. But if, for example, the emphasis had been placed more on the cronyists like Dagny Taggart’s brother and less on the politicians that enable them, they’d be praising it. It’s all a matter of perspective: businessmen who use politicians are evil, and the movies that portray such evils are good; portraying politicians as complicit with the businessmen, even though the result is exactly the same and exactly as evil makes it right-wing from their perspective.

What it really is, is all too likely to happen again.

Atlas Shrugged III is already in my Amazon cart. If it’s half as good as part two, this will be a great trilogy, and I’m not going to wait to find out like I did with part two.

  1. Is there a non-fictional bureaucracy that sounds more like it’s from an Ayn Rand novel?

  1. <- Battle: Los Angeles
  2. Battle of Middle Britain ->