Saturday, April 16, 2011

Atlas Shrugged, But You Shouldn't

by Michael Shermer

Huffington Post

April 15, 2011

After decades of fruitless efforts to bring Ayn Rand's epic novel Atlas Shrugged to the silver screen, the project has finally come to fruition with the first of three installments set to open on tax day 2011, a symbolic date for libertarians and assorted other champions of liberty. With a mere fraction of a Hollywood blockbuster budget of only $10 million, the producers who gambled their own money and time, John Aglialoro and Harmon Kaslow respectively, have produced a film that even the most ardent Randian would agree was true to both the author's words and ideas. But is it a film that will drive the uninitiated to Rand's novel and philosophy? Hard to say, although the million plus downloads of the film's trailer on YouTube and the 700+ self-made videos by fans proclaiming "I am John Galt" are indicators that, blockbuster or not, Atlas -- the Greek god who bore the weight of the world on his shoulders -- is not yet shrugging.

The release of the film is also timely with Rand's resurgence of influence driven in part by Tea Party firebrands who at their rallies have posterized memorable Randenalia, such as "Atlas is Shrugging", "Who is John Galt?", and the über-Bondish "The Name is Galt. John Galt." Stimulated in part by the recession and subsequent government bailout -- which Rand watchers are quick to point out was predicted in Atlas Shrugged half a century earlier--sales of the novel skyrocketed in 2009, with its 300,000 copies putting it in competition for sales with the top 20 new novels that year. That is saying something about a half-century old 1,183-page novel chock-a-block full of lengthy speeches about philosophy, metaphysics, economics, politics, sex and money.

Featuring no-name actors well cast to suit Rand's black-and-white portraitratures of good and evil in business and government both (she was as critical of businessmen who use government pull as Adam Smith was), viewers are free to follow the narrative arc of the story and soak in the ideas delivered through verbatim quotes from the novel without being distracted by the stardom of an Angelina Jolie or Charlize Theron, purportedly vieing for the role of Rand's heroine Dagny Taggert, Operating Vice President of Taggert Transcontinental -- the literal and metaphorical vehicle for the novel's ideological message, delivered through a plot best described by the novel's original working title: The Strike.

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