I finally got around to watching the third film in the “Atlas Shrugged” trilogy. It’s awful.
I can’t think of anything good to say about this movie, just as I haven’t had anything good to say about its two predecessors. (Here are my thoughts about Part 1 and Part 2.) There’s a reason it lost lots of money and there’s a reason that reviewers trashed it. As a film, everything about it is bad.
As with the first two films, the core problem is that the producer was intent on translating Ayn Rand’s book to the screen faithfully, without having any real understanding of the differences between books and films as art. He also doesn’t seem to have any understanding of the book’s weaknesses.
The result is a film that manages to misunderstand the medium of film — by giving awkward speeches that work acceptably in print but are laughable in a film — yet retains all the dramatic weaknesses of a book in which no character ever undergoes real change. Good people are always good and heroic. Bad people are always bad and despicable. Nobody has a real character arc in which he learns and grows and changes.
Since the script essentially transfers as much of the book as possible to a screenplay — and does it in a way that violates film’s “show, don’t tell” ethos — I assume better directors weren’t willing to touch these three films. The result of the awkward production and slavish faithfulness to the book is a result that feels as though there was no director. It’s as though actors were given scripts and a cinematographer simply shot them saying their lines — with no film professional bringing cohesion to the whole.
I could go on and on about how bad specific things are. The casting and acting are dreadful. The casting of John Galt seems especially terrible. (See photo below.) At times, he looks a bit like a dull lumberjack. At other times, he looks as though he could star in a beer commercial. Nothing about him conveys the genius supposedly behind Rand’s strike of the world’s producers, much less the great philosopher who’s also a brilliant technologist.
I’m not going to go on about the specific problems of the movie, but I have to at least point out the irony of the vehicles in Galt’s Gulch all having Colorado state license plates on them. A bunch of anarcho-capitalists living in a place where air travel is the only way in or out all took the time to go down to the local county license office and register their vehicles? Yeah, right.
But as much as I hated the film — and as much as I know it’s really bad art — I couldn’t help but feel something else. Despite cringing at the horrible production at every turn, there were times when I still felt the same sense of idealism and excitement that I felt when I first read the book when I was about 14.
That’s not a testament to the power of the movie, but rather to the idea that brilliant and productive people motivated by the self-interest of doing well in a free market are the keys to leading the entire human race forward in the material sense.
Rand’s characters are cartoon characters, but they serve a purpose. Could the book be a better novel in the hand’s of a more skilled writer? Of course. But since few writers — maybe no other writers — have even attempted to seriously express these ideas in a way that’s gotten traction, I’ve been willing to overlook her shortcomings as a novelist, because part of me yells, “Yes!” at the bold assertion that mutually voluntary interactions are the only moral interactions.
Even though the movie was horrible (in ways I’m not taking the time to catalog) and the book is flawed, I’m still left feeling some things I have needed to feel lately.
First, I’m reminded of how desperately I need to feel the friendship and fellowship of people who are like me. I feel like an alien in this world and I desperately miss the times when I have had someone in my life who seemed like one of my kind. If you’ve been part of a tight-knit group of like-minded people — a church, a club, a close group of friends — you probably know what that feels like.
I’m starving for people who make me like that — for friends like that, for a woman like that — and the singleness of principles among the friends at Galt’s Gulch reminds me of that.
Second, I’m in a world where it’s accepted that one form or another of coercive state control is moral. There are many different brands of that idea but they all come back to the notion that, “Our idea is so good and right that we are willing to force other people to live this way, too.”
As I have thrown off the last vestiges of belief in any form of such coercion, it seems obvious that voluntary relationships and voluntary transactions are the only moral ones, but very few people are ready to see that. Most are so intent on achieving the results they want that they’re wiling to overlook the force that must be used to control others along the way.
I rarely hear people openly pointing out that the coercive do-gooders are evil. I rarely hear people who understand that the real motives of the do-gooder political class are irrelevant, but even if motives mattered, their systems never achieve what they claim to be trying to do. I rarely see people pointing fingers at the corrupt elite who grow rich and powerful behind a system which claims to be doing altruistic good. And it’s a relief to hear those things said clearly, even if they’re in a terrible movie.
Third, I lose hope in the possibility of finding an escape in the world for those like me who don’t want to obey that coercive system. I’ve dreamed of an island or some other refuge for like-minded people. Rand’s book located them in an undiscovered valley in Colorado with a force field over them to avoid being spotted. Is that realistic? No, but the point is that someone is saying that there should be such a place — and that maybe idealistic, smart people could voluntarily cooperate to make it come true.
So despite the fact that it was a terrible movie, I probably needed to watch it anyway because of what it reminded me to feel — things I’ve felt before but somehow lose touch with, simply because I lose hope in them.
Do I recommend you watch the movie? Not really.
If you’re a big enough fan of the book and the ideas — and you’re willing to overlook really bad filmmaking — you might like it anyway. For the other 99.9 percent of the world, the artistic awfulness is reason enough to stay away.
But in the midst of the awfulness of the art, I needed to be reminded that there are other people who think in ways somewhat like me — that maybe I’m not as completely alone as I feel.