Posted by: theoptimisticconservative | October 13, 2012

Atlas Shrugged II: The plot thickens

Speaking for myself, I can’t wait to see John Galt’s 100-page soliloquy on screen, a pleasure that should be heading our way in, what? Twelve months? Eighteen?

Samantha Mathis as Dagny Taggart adds some gravitas to the second in the Atlas Shrugged series – Atlas Shrugged II: Either-Or – and director John Putch (the 2005 Poseidon Adventure, The Book of Love) keeps the story moving right along.  Some of the aesthetic choices are kind of weird (what were they thinking with the cut of that silver evening gown on Mathis?  And why the Boyz-in-the-Hood slow-mo with the Taggart Transcontinental board sauntering down the corridor?), but overall, the action is peppy and interest-keeping.

I had two strong impressions, however, watching the film yesterday.  One was quite simple: this should have been done as a TV miniseries.  Ending with cliffhangers is just tacky for theater fare.  (Changing out the lead actors between Parts is hard to overcome as well.  Hank Rearden was Grant Bowler but is now Jason Beghe – another change for the better, in my view, but it’s still jarring.  And where was Esai Morales when we needed him for Francisco D’Anconia in Part I?)

The writers (Duke Sandefur, Brian Patrick O’Toole, and Duncan Scott) tried to square the circle on the cliffhanger problem – Dagny pilots her plane into John Galt’s mountain redoubt, and Part II ends with his face in shadow as he pulls her out of the wreckage – by making it a story resolution previsaged in the movie’s opening sequence.  But, naahh, it’s still a cliffhanger, and it belongs in a cable miniseries.  I’m seeing six episodes and endless cult fascination.

The other problem is harder to solve.  The similarities between the US federal government of 2012 and its fictional doppelganger in Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel are – who knew this would be weird – too obvious.  The tanking economy of Atlas Shrugged hits too close to home.  What you sit there thinking is not so much that Rand wrote prophetically as that the trappings of her fictional world are outdated and a tad annoying.

It’s as if someone had made – in 1942 – a movie of the Homer Lea geopolitical classic The Valor of Ignorance, which in 1909 prophesied a war between the US and Japan, starting with a sneak attack across the Pacific.  Had such a movie been made in 1929, it would have been appreciated later on, and perhaps become a minor classic.  But in 1942, post-Pearl Harbor audiences would have seen little point in creating a fictional story to compete with the real one.

An Atlas Shrugged made – faithfully to the novel – as a 1970s miniseries would no doubt be beloved of Rand fans today, and would figure in YouTube clips as a clincher to libertarian and conservative arguments across the infosphere.

Trying to set the story in the present day, with tablet PCs and ubiquitous information screens dotting the landscape, just highlights the incongruity of plot elements like railroads and steel – and in particular, the conundrum of the “motor of the world” device, which comes off in II as laughably silly.  With all that information at their fingertips, the remaining Great Brains of Fair Share America can’t, like, do some web searches?

One scene is especially poignant.  At the Unification Board hearing on Hank Rearden’s unauthorized shipment of Rearden metal to coal magnate Ken Danagger (Arye Gross), the scene is staged much like a 1930s show-trial, with sanctimonious officials presiding and a chamber full of press and people forming judgments as they watch.

But the theater of 20th-century collectivism has never figured on the American political scene, and it doesn’t today.  The real inroads of ideological collectivism on America have been made more sedulously and incrementally, in the most banal and uninteresting ways, with some industries sued into co-dependence here, and some silent job-killing over there.  Today’s industrial titan faces less the public calumny of show-trial tribunals than the disdain of bureaucrats.  The latter never approach their real goal head-on, but instead administer death to the titan’s bottom line by a thousand tangential cuts.

Ayn Rand’s ideas were formed by Sovietism, and ultimately, it would take a lot more editing to make Atlas Shrugged stand outside of its time on screen.  Americans saw the cartoonish bluntness of Sovietism coming; it was making the rule of law available for service to ideological arbitrariness that few recognized as a great threat 40 or 50 years ago.  That’s hard to capture in film, but the difference between that reality and Rand’s more dramatic vision of the collectivist threat lurks over the Atlas Shrugged movies like an unanswered doorbell.

One acting note:  Samantha Mathis does as well with Dagny Taggart as I think anyone could.  It’s hard to stride, Taggart-style, without looking like you’re prancing or huffing, but Mathis brings it off.  One does wonder about the Taggart Central railroad control crew, which is so pathetically unable to function if she’s not there.  Who’s training these people, and what are the standards?  Kind of an unintentional Leadership 101 moment.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at Hot Air’s Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, and The Weekly Standard online.


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  1. Thanks for that riveting review

    Homer Lea, not many know about him. I was first introduced to his works while doing some supplementary research on Mahan’s naval geostrategy and the Pacific.

    You are one well informed lady Optcon. 🙂

  2. Very interesting review.

    “Today’s industrial titan faces less the public calumny of show-trial tribunals than the disdain of bureaucrats. The latter never approach their real goal head-on, but instead administer death to the titan’s bottom line by a thousand tangential cuts.”

    Ayn Rand was fully aware of this, but in the novel, Rearden forced the issue into the open by violating a criminal statute.

  3. Like I’ve said before… It was a dreadful boring ponderous novel full of cartoon character villians and beautiful people heroes..

    Rand might have been an “anti-communist” but her philosophy such as it is, is perilously close to Elitist Fascism. She cannot let go of her “matrialistic” view of the world, regardless of her superficial rejection of Dialectic Materialism.

    It’s a wonder how all the trogladite masses survive and prosper in their cartoon bad suits, cheap shoes, and unkemptness.

    I watched the “Tomorrow Show” interviews of her, back in the 1970’s. She struck me as elitist, angry, dismissive, and more than a little contradictory.

    I put the book down after the first few chapters… The book bogged down in the fundamental premise of a railroad in the middle of the aviation revolution. Which is truly ironic given the Left’s infactuation with rail travel.

    It all struck me as a late surge Art Deco piece, trying to look like it fit in a Danish Modern living room.

    Out of place, out of time, and a pale immitation of what it is supposed to be.

    Ayn Rand isn’t about capitalism… she’s about anti-communisim and that’s all I have to say about that.

    A movie without an audience is a coffee cup coaster that looks suspiciously like a DVD.


    • Railroads still move the bulk of the tonnage of goods without which those of us who live in most cities would starve in the dark, Fahvag, and we’re well into the space age. . .

      • TO: Sully

        INDEED. You are quite right. Besides, Rand’s railroad is just a setting for a thought/philosophy and it’s that thought that counts not the setting. Nit-picking this issue is kind of silly in my opinion. It’s like saying that Braveheart was a stupid movie because people don’t fingt with swords any more. Or that Mickey was a mouse and didn’t really talk or dress like that. Geez!

        Also, some can’t help themselves but to look at things with a predisposed and highly biased prisma. Can’t keep an open mind, you know…? But, alas, it’s not their fault. They have fallen prey to decades of indoctrination and their buttons have been rendered accesible to that sort of manipulation.



        • I loved “Braveheart” but the fact remains that Stirling was fought over a bridge, and not a ton is known about Wallace’s origins, or that he was pretty violent, and tended to burn every village and town in his way… BTW: Wallace is one of those combined/real-person legends that translates very well when telling the story in context…

          If I want to read a really great 1940’s novel about motives, freedom, and how one fights for it… and can be brought to fight against it.. I’ll read “The Young Lions”.

          But if Wallace had been fighting over a landing strip at a fort on Hadrian’s Wall. I’d have been disappointed.


      • but not the pipples… Except in Fascist Europe (because the Fascists actually ended up winning WWII)…

        The book was, is, and has always been awful. It only gained some sort of fame because in the mid 20th Century world of anti-communism there were so few choices.

        As to the rest of the premise.. Freight Rail is tightly controlled by several powerful conglomerates, some of which are completely “transnational”… Maersk / Sea – Land being the largest here.. Containerized shipping conglomerates are no longer just confined to parallel ribbons of steel.

        The entire premise of the book was incongruous, even for when it was written; an Anachronism as a plot device is damning.

        Then those pompous pendulous monologues just blend into a grind.

        Bad book loved by people searching for something, anything… that could be construed as literary justification.

        :-/ Yuck. maybe there is a market for gold tone coasters with holes in the middle? 😉

    • “but her philosophy such as it is, is perilously close to Elitist Fascism”

      Which probably explains why I love Ayn Rand.

      “I put the book down after the first few chapters…”

      I’ve read it at least four times. Once when I was quite young, sixteen or seventeen if I remember correctly. A rabid anti-communist, gave the book to me to read and I did. Cover to cover in a couple of days. Didn’t find it boring at all. Quite the contrary.

      “she’s about anti-communisim and that’s all I have to say about that”

      Which explains why I really, really, really love Ayn Rand.

      “A movie without an audience is a coffee cup coaster that looks suspiciously like a DVD.”

      “Transformers” had an audience. “Lion King” had an audience. “An Inconvenient Truth” had an audience. Is that what you meant…?

      Atlas should shrug. We deserve nothing less than that. And maybe then Atlas might be a little more appreciated for his efforts. And, by the way, it’s about time he was.


      • “Transformers” had an audience. “Lion King” had an audience. “An Inconvenient Truth” had an audience. Is that what you meant…?

        Actually yes… There is a market for somethings… and not for others..Taste is often beside the point. Bad books turned into bad movies turn into gold tone coasters with big holes in the middle when there is no audience for the movie, whether it be good, bad, or a Gorbasm of hideousness 😉

        • Okey Dokey, TMF.

          Enjoy your run at “An Inconvenient Truth” and “Alice in Wonderland”. Be sure to follow the herd as far as movies, philosophies and messages go. Ignore everything but the acceptance by a large audience. After all, what you are saying is that the approval of a large audience is the only thing to look for when reading, viewing or appreciating anything.

          On the other hand, “Atlas Shrugged” has been around for over six decades, it still enjoys a pretty good following, still sparks quite a bit of controversy, it seems to remain present in many home libraries and is still read by many. It doesn’t seem to go away, as the left would want it to, and its presence now is quite telling of its clear ringing of the truth bell. Talk about an inconvenient truth…


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