Thanks to Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan, America’s curiosity about philosopher-novelist Ayn Rand has peaked – just in time for the recent release of the second installment of a trilogy of films based on one of her gargantuan novels of ideas, Atlas Shrugged.
“The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person,” Ryan once said, “it would be Ayn Rand.” A potential vice-president inspired by Rand’s unequivocal, hyper-capitalist, hyper-individualist positions has galvanized the right about Romney’s campaign and terrified the collectivist left.
When Atlas Shrugged, Part I opened last year bearing its unapologetically right-leaning message, it unsurprisingly took a hammering from left-leaning mainstream movie critics, who either eagerly pounced on the flick or gave it the silent treatment so as not to bring any attention to it, even the negative sort. These are the same critics from whom seldom is heard a discouraging word about movies with heavy-handed progressive messages, such as Matt Damon’s action flop The Green Zone or Sean Penn’s preachy, sanctimonious Fair Game, both of which were made only to push the tired leftist propaganda that we went to war in Iraq on the basis of a Bush lie.
The New York Times called Atlas Shrugged, Part I “comically tasteless” in its delivery of “simplistic nostrums with smug self-satisfaction.” Rolling Stone said, in an inexplicably macabre comparison, that the “novel gets the low-budget, no-talent treatment and sits there flapping on screen like a bludgeoned seal.” Raking in a domestic gross of less than $5 million, Part I underwhelmed, and in the wake of this onslaught of negative reviews, the entire planned trilogy was left for dead.
But the determined producers scraped up the money for a reportedly even bigger budget for the next round. Part II underwent a complete recasting, with Samantha Mathis (probably best-known for American Psycho and Broken Arrow) as Rand’s steel-willed heroine Dagny Taggert and Jason Beghe as her male counterpart, steel man Henry Reardon.
This time around those same critics are largely ignoring it – there are fewer than half as many reviews counted on the review site RottenTomatoes.com as there were for Part I, and they are almost universally negative (and yet the audience ratings on the site for Part II are 80% positive, because in this day and age, self-important newspaper critics are no longer necessary or relevant). “There is almost no media interest in the movie, and that is no surprise given how the first part was treated. Hollywood wants it to go away – quickly,” said Dan Gainor, VP of Business and Culture for Media Research Center. So far the film has pulled in an estimated nearly $3 million.
[Very mild SPOILERS ahead]
The setting of Atlas Shrugged, Part II is like an extension of the current economic disaster wrought by President Barack Obama. The global economy is verging on collapse. Unemployment has skyrocketed to 24%. Gas is $42 per gallon. Occupy movement-types mill about on the sidewalks, protesting the 1%ers, and an oppressively bureaucratic government is stifling major industrialists like Taggert and Reardon, who employ thousands. The country’s most talented creators and brilliant minds are mysteriously disappearing. Taggart, COO of the family railroad business, has discovered the prototype of a revolutionary motor that could provide unlimited energy for the world, but its inventor too has disappeared. The race is on to find him before her business goes under.
Meanwhile Henry Rearden is brought before a government tribunal for defying the newly-enacted “Fair Share” law by refusing to sell his premium-quality steel to the government. Giving voice to Ayn Rand’s own philosophy, Rearden shocks the tribunal by forcefully and articulately defending his belief in the value of pursuing profit for purely personal reward. Much to the chagrin of these petty government officials, the people in the vast courtroom loudly support Rearden, and they’re forced to let him off with a slap on the wrist. However, the government then initiates martial law, freezes all employment and production, and seizes all patent rights (“The government takes what it wants and taxes the rest,” one businessman complains).
All the while, the mystery question “Who is John Galt?” is on everyone’s lips. Galt is an almost mythic, Promethean figure who symbolizes the power and glory of the human mind, standing in contrast to a society that has embraced the stultifying mediocrity and enforced egalitarianism which author Rand associated with socialism. Dagny Taggert is about to discover that Galt may be more than just a mere symbol after all.
As polarizing as Atlas Shrugged Part II is (it’s unlikely that any Democrats will fill the seats for it), and with a miniscule advertising budget, the film may not convert any leftists, but with luck it may sway some undecideds. It will certainly empower Rand fans and conservative audiences, however, especially as part of a whole raft of anti-Obama films available now, particularly the astonishingly successful Dinesh D’Souza’s 2016: Obama’s America, which has become the second-biggest money-maker in documentary history. There are also the Citizens United documentaries Occupy Unmasked and The Hope and the Change, and of course Hating Breitbart, which doesn’t specifically target Obama so much as his Praetorian Guard, the mainstream media whom the late counterculture conservative Andrew Breitbart worked tirelessly to expose as a fifth column for Obama.
But Atlas Shrugged Part II is the only fictional film of the bunch, and as Ayn Rand herself declared, “Fiction is a much more powerful weapon to sell ideas than nonfiction.” The filmmakers of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy are hoping that her fiction brought to the big screen will help sell her ideas and put a positive, conservative influence on what is arguably the most important election in American history.
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