A few notes before I begin my review. I am a huge fan of the ideas and ideals of Ayn Rand, yet I always had issues with her long-winded method of storytelling. I realize she wanted to maintain complete artistic control and kept detailed journals, but I argue that her ideas could be more effectively spread through a more conscious awareness of her audience. In fact, before we even knew it was being made into a film trilogy, my father and I discussed the fact that it would be great for a talented filmmaker—who truly understood the unique language of cinema and the ways it differs from a novel, and who also understood the true points Rand wanted to make—could bring Rand’s ideas to the big screen.
I mentioned in a previous post that I donated to the Kickstarter campaign for Atlas Shrugged Part III and was anticipating the film. I showed Part I to my high school students one year, and they seemed to enjoy it, and although I saw flaws from the transition into the book, I was pleased overall. So it pains me to admit that Part III was a disappointment. Rand, in her books, harshly criticizes those who applaud effort or intent—instead, she emphasizes the importance of judging results. The result of this film is that people who already love Ayn Rand were given a film to watch; those who don’t already embrace her ideals were not given anything to help them do so.
First, the film only seemed to cater to those who were already fans. I do appreciate the filmmakers getting Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck for guest appearances, but I’m not sure what this does to open Rand’s ideas to the general population. Nothing screams crazy to a liberal like either of those two. (Of course, I did enjoy seeing Ron Paul in there, as he was dedicated enough to name his own son Rand). But in general, the film did little to show characters’ motivations. As an example, the pirate Ragnar’s actions barely seemed justified. In the book, it is clear that Ragnar was only taking goods that the government—or private companies with government intervention—essentially stole from those who produced the goods. He would not touch a private ship doing private business. The movie did not communicate this clearly.
Second, the film ineffectively used the language of cinema—when it attempted to use it at all. There was too much “telling”—direct narration—rather than showing. I enjoyed how in previous films, background information was communicated to the viewer through media clips (news reporters). In this case, the narrator simply used voice over to directly tell us things that had happened not only in society, but among characters as well. It felt lazy—as if the filmmaker simply wouldn’t or couldn’t be bothered to find a more effective way to communicate that information. It made the whole story flat. Dagny, to me, was too passive—not strong enough as a character. I also felt no chemistry between Dagny and John Galt. There could have been a few inexpensive scenes inserted in the film to show how harmful the government policies were. Instead, the filmmaker assumed the viewers all hated government policies and understood how they could harm the economy.
For instance: how about having a little boy sitting at dinner in a working-class home and asking for a second helping of his paltry meal. His mother, in tatters, could tell the boy there was no more food for seconds. She could then glance at his father in the corner, who is sitting, ashamed. The little boy, tearful, could ask “why?” And the mother could explain, “Your daddy can’t work at the factory anymore. The metal broke down and there’s no way to fix it. Until the metal’s fixed, all the workers have to stay home.” Something like that to show how government policies directly impacted the common man.
Third, the acting was lackluster, compounded by the fact that the cast is ever-changing. These actors have not worked with each other in the other two parts, so there was no background, no chemistry. D’Anconia’s actor was far too old and overweight for the character in the book. Rand’s “hero” characters are always fit, a physical representation of their abilities. This to me was a terrible casting decision. The characters seemed like empty shells that recited important parts of Rand’s ideas. With no soul beneath, they were unconvincing to an unconvinced.
Finally, it seemed that the way this movie was created—even more so than the first two—was a string of major points from the novel without heart. Yes, Rand said use your head and not your heart, but in the language of cinema, we must consider the audience’s emotions if we are to be effective. If not, then why make a film in the first place. The torture scene was ineffective and “small” compared to how magnificent it seemed in the book. The radio address, too, seemed out of place because things weren’t established as “bad enough” in society to warrant it. In the book, people are literally starving and freezing to death. A few cutaways could have helped establish this. At the end of the book, the country is in desperation for someone to lead them—someone like John Galt. This film made it seem like things were just a little bad. Without preparing the viewer, the ending was ineffective. When New York went dark, there wasn’t anything to it.
I understand that the people working on the film faced many challenges, but there are plenty of independent films that are done effectively. My biggest complaint is in the film’s failure to use the language of cinema to communicate Rand’s ideas in a new way—a way that would appeal to visual learners who would otherwise be fearful of tackling the huge tome. But it seems the only people to enjoy the film were already fans. With disappointment, I encourage you to read the book instead of seeing the film. It’ll be much more rewarding.