Like many a natural-born fiscal conservative, I have claimed Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged as my favorite book since long before I understood that doing so constitutes an overt political statement. I first read it in junior high, and will now admit to the likelihood that I skimmed over significant parts of the infamously long John Galt soliloquy that constitutes the heart of the book. I read it again in high school, this time under happy compulsion, and then again in college – by which time I was fully aware of the aforementioned political statement and may have been known to brandish the book in situations where it was sure to provoke comment.
The last time I plowed through Rand’s lengthy tome was two years ago, prompted by renewed rumors of an effort to bring the epic tale to the silver screen As is so often the case when we try to re-capture youthful fascinations (try to watch an episode of the Dukes of Hazzard, for example; or scamper to the top of that “huge” rock in your childhood best friend’s back yard), the reality of the book differs somewhat from my memory of it. For one thing, I remembered the characters – the noble, incorruptible Hank Reardon; the equally noble and preternaturally determined and competent Dagny Taggart; her brother and primary antagonist, the simpering, execrable James Taggart; John Galt, the mysterious savior of capitalism – as people. It turns out they are archetypes – grossly exaggerated ones at that.
As a result, the characters do not talk to each other like real people talk to each other. Every statement is a declaration, every observation an insight. Every character, in short, is a raging drama queen. This realization did not lessen my fondness for or appreciation of the book; it did, however, cause me to reevaluate the previously-dismissed opinions of Rand critics who have long held that she was a brilliant political philosopher, and a pretty mediocre writer (or at least a pretty mediocre writer of characters).
Fast forward to present day, and that aforementioned effort to bring Atlas Shrugged to the movie-going masses has come to fruition. Two years ago I was excited at that prospect. Now… I am still excited, but nervously so. As much as I still love the book for the message it conveys on every page, and as much as I want to love the movie just as much, I fear I am going to hate it.
Ponder these quotes, highlighted in my dog-eared personal copy by a much younger version of myself. First, Dagny Taggart:
I cannot bring myself to abandon to destruction all the greatness of the world, all that which was mine and yours, which was made by us and is still ours by right – because I cannot believe that men can refuse to see….So long as men desire to live, I cannot lose my battle.
Now Hank Reardon:
When one acts on pity against justice, it is the good whom one punishes for the sake of the evil; when one saves the guilty from suffering, it is the innocent whom one forces to suffer. There is no escape from justice, nothing can be unearned and unpaid for in the universe, neither in matter nor in spirit – and if the guilty do not pay, then the innocent have to pay it.
And finally, John Galt:
I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.
Now try to picture an actor reciting those lines without overacting. Egregiously. I can’t do it.
For a time I have contented myself with the assumption that the movie makers – who surely are at least as dedicated as I would be to preserving Rand’s message without making a mockery of it – would compensate for the necessarily inauthentic grandeur of the dialogue by exaggerating all aspects of the production. I pictured a capitalist’s comic book turned movie – something in the style of 300 or Sin City.
But now a few early clips are out, and that is not where the filmmakers went. They appear to be playing it straight… READ THE REST at CriticalMASS