Review of Atlas Shrugged Part III

2014_08_08_Wallpaper_WIJG**SOME PLOT SPOILERS BELOW**

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.

Atlas Shrugged and Government Regulation by Val Muller

I saw Atlas Shrugged Part 2 this weekend. For a limited-government fan like me, it’s a must-see.

You don’t have to have seen the first part to appreciate the second. Part 1 established the world in which the characters live—a world dominated by an energy crisis that has “forced” the government to take tighter control of business and production. In this world—a world not dissimilar to ours—masses of people began hating businesses for being greedy and refusing to share the wealth. All the while, a man named John Galt is claiming all the intelligent and competent members of society—people like our Andrew Carnegie and Steve Jobs. People who create products and resources and opportunities that benefit everyone else. These productive members of society have been disappearing—giving up their hard-earned businesses (often by destroying them) to a world that doesn’t appreciate their contribution.

In the midst of this world lives Dagny Taggart, member of the Taggart family that now owns the nation’s largest railroad chain. With the energy crisis, railroad is the primary mode of travel (note that the filmmaker has slightly modernized the book from which the movie is derived, as Rand wrote in a time when even computers didn’t exist). With increasing government regulations, though, it’s becoming more difficult to be productive, and at the end of Part 1, business owners are forced to sell all but one business—because it isn’t fair that one person should own and operate more than one.

Part 2 follows Dagny’s efforts to continue her family’s railroad business despite a brother who is controlled by politicians (and is the incompetent head of the railroad company). She is also thwarted by increasing government regulation (the Fair Share Act) that forces companies to produce and provide equally to all consumers, not to mention the fact that the major suppliers for the railroad’s raw materials have been disappearing with John Galt.

Despite these disappearances, Dagny has not given up on helping her world and saving her business, and her one partner in this is Hank Rearden of Rearden Steel. Even with increasing government regulations (under a state of emergency, the federal government has seized the ownership of all copyrights), Dagny will not give up, and she struggles to discover who John Galt actually is (if he exists at all) and why everyone competent is disappearing. In the meantime, the more the government tries to fix the economy, the more the country falls apart. At the end of Part 2, even the people are realizing that the government is nothing more than a masked thief, taking what belongs to individuals under the guise of law.

While the film is a hyperbole of our current society, it isn’t that far from our reality. The film’s premise is that capitalism isn’t the problem—government-regulated crony capitalism is the problem. As a result of the government’s regulations, Dagny’s company is forced to shut down some of its rail lines. As a result of the government’s regulations, important producers are unable to secure the raw materials needed to run their businesses. A coal mining company, for example, is unable to buy enough steel to reinforce its mines, resulting in a coal shortage, resulting in a further energy crisis, resulting in lower production across the board. The point is, government regulation that claims to be fairly dividing up resources for everyone just ends up hurting a supply-and-demand system that, if left unregulated, would find its own natural balance and create a better world for all involved.

We can see this problem even today—thankfully on a smaller scale (at least, for now). I even have an anecdotal example from my own HOA experience. Our HOA hires a lawn management company to manage common areas—including mowing, aerating, and fertilizing the common grassy areas. A few times per year, the company sprays pesticide on the lawns. When I walk the dogs, I sometimes walk for the equivalent of two city blocks without seeing a single pesticide application notice sticking in the ground. By the time I see one, I’ve already let the dogs run through the grass, and during this time of year I’m usually wearing sandals as well.

When I contacted the lawn company about placing more signs to inform residents with children and pets of the dangerous pesticide, I was told that the company placed the exact number of signs as required by law, so they were already complying and were not required to place any additional signs. It struck me that in this case, government regulation had failed. Some probably well-meaning politician had at some point created legislation mandating the requirements for placing pesticide application warnings. Companies, being held to the law, now fulfill the minimum requirement and then wipe their hands clean of responsibility.

The mistake here is in thinking government regulation is necessary in the first place. In a truly free market, consumers pressure companies into having good ethics. If a consumer is not happy, he votes with his wallet. If a lawn company was not placing signs for pesticide applications, customers would become angry, and the company would either have to start putting up more signs or look for new customers.

Government regulation makes business lazy and makes people stop thinking. Without government regulation, people would have to be much more aware of business and legal procedures. Businesses shipping labor overseas, for example, would have to balance the potential cost-savings with the potential anger (and quality issues) experienced by its customers. Standards for cars and vehicles—gas mileage, safety ratings, etc.—would not disappear if the government were to step down from regulating. Customers would have to become more informed. Private rating companies (they already exist!) would be used to inform customers of the dangers and benefits of each vehicle. Without aiming for the lowest common denominator—government’s gas standards—companies’ brains would start working on their own, innovating to create even more industrious cars. And to take a shot at the Chevy Volt, without government subsidies, this inefficient vehicle would never have left the drawing room. What customer, in a free market, would want a vehicle that is not cost effective, even factoring in gas savings?

Remember when you were a kid, and you did your chores just well enough that your parents wouldn’t make you redo them? Think about things you actually enjoyed doing. Didn’t you do them with much more ardor and investment than something you were forced to do? Probably didn’t even seem like work, did it? It’s how humans operate. When we’re told to do something, we figure out the minimum standards and make sure we tick all the boxes. When we do something we’re passionate about, we’re much more innovative.

This country was not founded on government regulations. It was founded on the belief that individuals are competent enough to make smart decisions. At some point along the way, we’ve “checked out,” as Dagny notes, turning over our brains to government bureaucrats. I say, it’s time we start thinking for ourselves and shrink bureaucracy back to the molecular size it ought to be.

VAL MULLER is a fiction writer and teacher living in Virginia.  Her mystery series, Corgi Capers, is available with DWB Publishing. You can keep track of her at www.valmuller.com

Atlas Shrugged II Premieres Friday 10/12

Whether you believe Atlas Shrugged is hyperbolic, cautionary, or even prophetic, it’s an important story to read to remind us of the freedom America offers—and to remind us how quickly that freedom can be taken.

Since Ayn Rand is not the most concise author, we’re fortunate that the book is being made into a film. Part One of the trilogy was released on tax day last year, and Part Two will be released on Friday.

To understand the genius of Rand’s work, it’s important to understand a bit about her life. Born in Russia in 1905, Ayn Rand was subjected to the culture of collectivism in Russia. Almost immediately after teaching herself to read, Rand discovered European fiction, which introduced her to the idea of the hero—the individual—something lacking in Russian culture. She saw two revolutions, and a resulting Communist victory forced her father’s pharmacy to be confiscated, causing her family to nearly starve to death. It wasn’t until her last year of high school that she was introduced to American history. The principles she learned led her to hold America as the paragon of freedom.

She continued her studies through college in Russia, but communists continued to take away students’ rights to freedom of thought. Rand took solace in Western films, once again holding Western culture as the paragon of free men. In 1926, she arrived in New York after telling Soviet authorities she planned only a short visit to America to visit family. Her intention was never to return, and indeed she remained in the United States for the rest of her life.

She moved to Hollywood to become a screenwriter, meeting Cecil B. DeMille and Frank O’Connor, her future husband and Hollywood actor, during her first two weeks there. She continued her writing career, creating characters and stories that illustrate the potential of the ideal man. Atlas Shrugged pits the government collective against individual businessmen.

Here is a synopsis from the producers—hope to “see” you at the show!

In Atlas Shrugged II, the global economy is on the brink of collapse. Unemployment has risen to 24%. Gas is now $42 per gallon. Brilliant creators, from artists to industrialists, continue to mysteriously disappear at the hands of the unknown.

Dagny Taggart, Vice President in Charge of Operations for Taggart Transcontinental, has discovered what may very well be the answer to a mounting energy crisis – found abandoned amongst the ruins of a once productive factory, a revolutionary motor that could seemingly power the World.But, the motor is dead… there is no one left to decipher its secret… and, someone is watching.

But, the motor is dead… there is no one left to decipher its secret… and, someone is watching.

It’s a race against the clock to find the inventor before the motor of the World is stopped for good.

Who is John Galt?