I want to begin by telling you a story: I remember when I was in school and got stuck in group projects all the time. Nobody else would take charge and get the project done. No matter which class, no mater what the project, the kids in my group were always happy to sit with their arms folded, looking down at the table like, I don't wanna do anything. I was always the one who had to take charge and get the job done. It usually ended up as me doing all the work while they got the good grade I deserved. I always told the teacher that everybody else in the group did no work in the hopes that authority would deal with it later, but I took charge and got the job done! Why did I do it? Not because it was a project and it had to be done. Not because I wanted to do the pointless group project. I did it because I knew my grade depended on their performance, and if they failed, I failed, so I took charge to make sure I got a good grade. I didn't care that the others were mooching off my work. I did it for myself.
Which side do you remember being on? Were you one of those people who took command and got the job done, or were you one of the arm-folders who slouched at the table and hoped somebody else would do the work so you wouldn't get a bad grade?
by Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand's massive opus, Atlas Shrugged, is about these two groups of people. There exists a certain "class" of people among men who don't accept things as they are. They are not content to let nature stop them. They have an idea, and they are gonna move mountains to make it happen! They're going to earn their lives, achieve great things, and make a fortune in the process! These are the great leaders of industry! Let's call them ALPHA human beings for dramatic emphasis.
At the same time, there also exists another group of people. These are the people who refuse to earn their own living. They refuse to make an effort to be anything. They can't, or don't want to do work, but they still want the rewards. They look at the people who work for their fortunes and sneer at them. These parasites--these looters of society--can't survive on their own, so instead they steal from the fortunes of others and claim it as their right to have.
The story opens on one such ALPHA human named Dagny Taggart. She is Vice President of Operations at the Taggart railroad. Her brother, James, is president, and ordered new steel for the rebuilding of the Rio-Norte line. James ordered the steel from a man named Orren Boyle, and the order has been delayed over and over for more than a year. James keeps insisting they'll wait for the rail, that Boyle will deliver, that everything will be all right. Meanwhile the Rio-Norte line is in shambles and not getting any better. Dagny makes the decision to order the steel from Hank Rearden instead because he will get the job done. James doesn't like "That we always give all our business to Rearden. It seems to me we should give somebody else a chance, too. Rearden doesn't need us; he's plenty big enough. We ought to help the smaller fellows to develop. Otherwise, we're just encouraging a monopoly."
An admirable goal, giving the smaller guy a chance to prove himself. But for some reason James is unable to see that if Boyle isn't getting the job done, it's a good business decision to find someone else who will. Such is the first instance of people who mysteriously make bad decisions because of a philosophy they're trying to follow.
For much of the book, people pass laws that make it more difficult for Dagny and Hank Rearden to build the railroad. They claim it's for the public good, that someone has to protect the people from the reckless actions of big business and unbridled greed. But the ALPHA humans are in fact building something that will benefit everyone! They're taking the risk, they're laying the rail, using a new kind of steel that is untested, but Dagny and Rearden are willing to blaze the trail and use the new technology! Everyone else is trying to stop them because they fear it. Then, when the line is built, everyone changes sides and wants to use the new railroad, proclaim it as a great triumph of engineering and will usher in a new age of steel construction! How fickle the public is, and how triumphant the ALPHA human beings are, overcoming the idiots to achieve something great!
But then people sneer at them. Some get the idea that it isn't right for the Taggart Railroad to prosper while the other companies struggle, so they have laws passed that limit the speed of trains, that limit the number of cars, and freeze the rates the railroads can charge, which make it more difficult for the Taggart railroad to run at a profit. They pass laws requiring every steel manufacturer to limit their output to the same quota so as not to encourage unfair competition, and give every steel mill a fair chance to succeed. Because of these laws, they are unable to build a transcontinental railroad line out of the new kind of metal.
Stuff like this happens over and over. The ALPHAS try to do great things, build great railroads, forge great amounts of steel, but other people think they know better, and their policies to look out for public safety and keep the economy balanced hurt the ALPHAS' efforts to build the country. We learn later that the people making these policies are the arm-folders, the parasites, the people who expect to thrive without doing work. They are the people who are leeching off the success of others, and they are holding the great men and women back.
Towards the end, we learn that this is how it's worked for thousands of years. The ALPHA humans have innovated, invented and prospered, and they have elevated the rest of humanity with them. But the parasites were jealous, and conspired to steal the ALPHA human's wealth by establishing a system that made them feel guilty for being what they are. Guilty for being greedy and selfish and self-sufficient. Even though they built the world, they are made to feel guilty for it as they continue to produce and create and innovate and provide for the parasites who scorn them.
What would happen if the ALPHA humans went on strike? What if they decided not to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves anymore? What if they refused to be the willing victims?
It is an interesting idea. Think about it. If people stopped trying to steal from others and instead relied on their own devices to survive, there would be no crime. There would be no need for laws. There would be no need for any restrictions because everyone would be free to strive on his own behalf. Rand argues that the qualities we were taught to hate, such as greed and selfishness, are actually good things because they represent the human spirit to survive and innovate and strive for something better than he has now! The idea is interesting.
But the delivery is not! Oh my God this book is downright painful to read. It's a freakin soap opera! Part 1 is nothing but characters standing around and talking about doing things, talking about things happening elsewhere in the world, talking, talking, talking. Lots of talking. Stuff starts to happen after the end of part 1, but it gets no better throughout because that's what this book reads like. A long, wordy, soap opera with unnatural dialogue and painful monologues about moral principles for page after page. A chapter is not complete without at least one
Ironically, the long exchanges of soap opera dialogue are the easiest parts to read because the narrative descriptions are worse! The train ride at the end of part 1 is especially painful because it's the first time in the book some action happens, and it's not even described very well. I could barely see a thing through the whole book and I resented looking forward to more dialogue! It was like being trapped between a river of lava and a pyroclastic cloud, blissfully glad for the privilege to walk on burning ashes. Anything to save me from a monologue or narration.
The only thing that kept me reading was that the book does provide a lot of food for thought. It shoves so much idealism down your throat you can't help but take it in and try to do something with it. (Either refute it or accept it.)
It can best be summarized by Rand's own frame of reference: Robin Hood, the man who robbed from the rich to give to the poor. He is the symbol of the idea that the rich don't deserve their wealth, and the people demanded their share because it just isn't right for one person to have plenty while everyone else had so little. This mentality has been the greatest evil mankind has ever known.
To an extent, I agree with that. It's everyone's duty to make his own way in the world. Don't like being poor? Make an effort to get rich! Don't like your situation? Change it! Don't sit there arms folded at the table hoping someone else rises to the occasion. Rise to it yourself! Make your own living, and if you do earn wealth, it's yours! You shouldn't be expected to share it with people who did nothing to earn it.
Rand argues that these ALPHA human beings are actually normal people. All people are supposed to want to grab life by the horns and make something of it. The parasites are actually less than human, and have been allowed to multiply, turning the ALPHAS into the minority to be exploited. That is a keen idea. Doesn't it always seem that the competent people who get things done are surrounded by whiny idiots who just want to skate by? Doesn't it always seem that the most ignorant, useless people get promoted to management and let everybody do their work while they reap the benefits? It sure does seem that way doesn't it? What if those rich people in Robin Hood's time were themselves parasites who somehow got elevated to authority? The truly great people wouldn't do that. In a world where parasites have multiplied unchecked, it would do everyone some good to remember who actually built this country.
As a society, Rand argues, we should let these ALPHAS do their thing. We should give them unrestricted freedom to create, to build, to innovate and to make this nation great! They're the ones who took control while everyone else waited for someone else to take action! They're the ones who make great things, create jobs, and raise everyone's standard of living along the way, so we should let them do this and never ask for anything in return! To do anything else would only make us parasites on the competent. Everyone should just get out of their way so they can be the successful people they deserve to be!
The ultimate expression of this parasitic attitude is communism. The message is clear: the commies are ruining everything.
This is my big problem with the book: it is the embodiment of Red Scare. Published in the 1950's, it represents everything people feared would happen if communist ideals ever infiltrated the United States, and who could blame them? Russia turned into a dictatorship, China fell to communism, half of Asia fell to it, it was spreading through Europe. America heard about what was happening to people's lives over there, the oppression, the injustice, the poverty. What would happen if it came here??!!?!?! That's what happens in the book.
The communist mindset infiltrating the United States is portrayed like this:
Some character has a new thought. It might go something like: "Well if you think about it, it doesn't make sense for one business to succeed while another fails. I should do something about that! Let's pass laws that will restrict competition so everyone can succeed! Even if it fails, I'm still on the side of right! Yes, it's the right thing to do because it's for everyone's good! I didn't make any money off it, in fact I lost money, therefore it was the right thing to do because money is evil, so anything I do that loses money must be good! It all makes sense!"
Or it might go like this: "You know, if you think about it, we're all in this together aren't we? What sense does it make for one person to be better off than another when we're all human and need each other? Let's buy a factory and make everyone work as hard as he's able, but only paid according to what he needs! That will ensure a more fair distribution of wealth! And if it doesn't work, I still did the right thing!"
Jim Taggert, for example, makes bad business choices not because he's incompetent, but because he's been influenced by socialist ideals. Everyone who makes bad business decisions isn't just bad at the job, or making an honest mistake, but actively trying to derail his company for the good of everybody else.
This ideology is infiltrating people's minds, and harboring socialist ideals somehow has the effect of turning people into zombies who involuntarily act for the public good. Yeah, these ideals just get into people's minds and make them do terrible things. For no good reason other than it's following an ideal.
These socialist ideals just emerge out of a vacuum. For no apparent reason, people just start making these bad business decisions, totally ignorant of what they're actually doing to the business. The decision to cap railroad rates, for example. In the book it serves no purpose. People just randomly decide things need to be more equal. Same for the law limiting steel output to a certain quota. It is done for the sole purpose of making businesses more equal. Nobody is trying to live off the prosperity of the ALPHAS. Nobody is actually trying to be parasites; they're all acting for "the public good." It comes across as contrived because the negative effect it has is so obvious, but the socialists are not able to see that these policies are not working, and there is no reason given for their actions other than the oft-repeated "we've got to do it for the people! We've got to!" This is the only catalyst, the only motivation.
It is not how socialism emerges. It doesn't come out of a vacuum because people get the urge to blindly follow an ideal.
But then, after the midpoint, a brief change! It's implied that there is a small group of people infiltrating the government who are rearranging things to their benefit! Real parasites who actually do want to take the hardworking man's wealth because they themselves are unable to make it! For a few brief chapters in part 2 I was firmly on Dagny's and Rearden's side. These spineless looters are actively working to take away what our ALPHA human beings worked so hard to create!
This is how the idea should've been presented from the start: that a bunch of people are intentionally trying to make this happen. But it doesn't last long. Quickly it's back to the ideals of communism spreading like a disease across the continent. Applying this parasitic philosophy on a national scale causes the country to fall to pieces because it hinders the ALPHAS' ability to produce, which cuts off the source of the parasite's food. They blindly become the cause of their own destruction.
It doesn't make sense. These people are following communist ideals for no apparent reason. They gain nothing, cause destruction, reap no benefits because of their actions, and yet they keep doing it. Why? It would have made much more sense for there to be some intent behind their actions. If these people knew what they were doing--knew they wanted to create a system in which they would live like kings off the hard work of the ALPHAS, then it would have been believable.
But for the whole book, people don't even know why they're following this self-destructive ideal, and they never question it. They don't actually want to leech off the success of the ALPHAS. They just create socialist policies and pass socialist laws for the public good, with no intent for personal gain, or to leech off the wealth of others. Absolutely illogical--even commies would act with personal gain in mind! The concept of the book is severely disjointed from the actions of the alleged parasites. Hard to portray them as the bad guys when they don't even try to be parasitic.
If you're going to write a story about people who prey on the success of others, then there should be people in the story who are doing this. Atlas Shrugged should be full of people conspiring to leech off the wealth of successful people, but instead it's full of people who are trying to reorganize economics and business to make the world more fair, to curtail competition, and to help the poor. The opposing force needed to be so much stronger for the virtues of capitalism to look better by comparison.
Even so, the novel makes it a point to show that everything would be solved if we'd just get out of the ALPHA humans' way. Yes, the people should do them a favor and just die. Stop holding the real humans back--they have stuff to build and great things to achieve! The rest of the human race should just die to make room for their success! Ayn Rand says so herself: let the parasites die.
There is a problem with this philosophy: it assumes the people who are rich are doing things which benefit society. They have the right to do whatever they please because anything they do brings the rest of us up with them.
But what if a business is doing something genuinely wrong? What if it's hurting people? What if a person is making money by hurting people? What if the things he's doing to be rich are giving nothing back to society? Idealism aside, it's happened many times before. Railroads once refused to upgrade braking systems and car-coupling mechanisms because it was cheaper to let their workers die from railroad accidents than to buy safer equipment. It wasn't until congress forced the railroads to adopt new technology that safety improved and workers stopped dying.
That's why laws curtailing business happen. Laws are never passed for the sole purpose of making it impossible for them to do the business that makes this country great. Nobody passes laws for the sole purpose of forcing people to be equal, but Rand's novel portrays it as such.
That's not how communism works, that's not how fascism works, hell that's not even how a dictatorship works! If you're going to show how capitalism is the backbone of America, there needs to be a more believable opposing force.
The philosophy hinges on the idea that every person who is rich deserves to be because they earned it. They've built great things that we all use to better our lives, like railroads, search engines, computer systems and automobiles, and the rest of us have no right to demand anything from them like safety, health plans, fair wages, etc. It's our responsibility to earn that stuff for ourselves, not force those demands on the ones who have already succeeded.
It postulates that the managers get to be managers because they're the ALPHAS! They're the people with the knowledge and the experience to get things done, and they are the men and women of action. I call bullshit on that point. The managers are NOT the people with all the knowledge. From what I've seen, it's the parasites that rise to the top and get the people with the knowhow to do the actual work. They reap the benefits while the rest of us get nothing, which leads to my counterproposal: who is feeding on whom?
I don't know what legend of Robin Hood exists in Ayn Rand's universe, but the Robin Hood I heard of was a man who stole from the rich what the rich stole from the people, which made them poor in the first place. The rich who did not innovate, did not deserve their position, did nothing to create their wealth, but instead robbed their subjects with unfair taxes and oppressive laws. The rich people in Robin Hood's time were parasites on the commoners, so I and the rest of the world call it justice to rob from them and give it back to the victims.
Ah, but Rand would disagree! She would suggest that it was the people's obligation not to rob in retaliation, but to create their own wealth! As if that were possible in a society with no upward mobility.
How can we tell who the productive people are, and who are just feeding off other human beings? Before you answer that, remember Rand's book portrays the ALPHA humans as selfish, greedy assholes who don't care about anyone but themselves. If we repeal the laws and give them unobstructed freedom to do what they need to continue doing great things, under this moral code they are not obligated to give anything back. We repeal the taxes, they will pocket the profits instead of creating more jobs and hiring more people. We relax the laws, they will outsource. We give them a bailout, they will foreclose the people who bailed them out.
Rand's philosophy says this is okay because the rich (and by extension, corporations) have the right to behave this way. Even when they do something that hurts the people, it is their right to do so because everyone is a parasite on their success anyway, so what right does everyone else have to complain? Remember that next time you argue for businesses to have more freedom. They don't care about you. You are nothing but a hindrance to their success, and yet they rely on you to buy their stuff.
There's the inherent contradiction in Rand's philosophy. She mocks communists for being weak people who can't earn their own living, feeding off the people who can. They create a communist system as the ultimate expression of their need to live off others, and even though they need the ALPHAS in order to survive, they sneer at them and hate them for being people who can succeed.
It works the other way around, too. What if the ALPHAS are abnormal people who desire to be at the top of anthill and acquire lots of wealth and status? What if normal people want to be nice to each other, cooperate to survive and look out for one another, but these ALPHAS are unnaturally aggressive and push people down to become leader of the pack, forcing the rest of the people to compete to survive?
The only logical way to accomplish this is to keep hoards of lesser humans down so they will continue to make and buy their products. It's just as logical to conclude that the ALPHAS are, in fact, parasites who feed off the lesser human beings' hard work and keep the benefits for themselves. If they happen to build something that makes America great, like a railroad, it's unintentional and only a means to an end. (Don't laugh; Rand portrays the ALPHAS in her book as just this!) All the while they sneer at the lesser people for being what they are and wish they would just get out of their way.
This means capitalism is nothing more than the system engineered by the ALPHAS to support their method of survival. The idea is just as logical as Rand's. Just as worthy of considering. I don't believe it's that extreme, but it's another interpretation of the evidence to ponder, which you will not find in Rand's book. It hit me pretty hard while reading it because it's so blatantly absent from the text.
This is how communism emerges. This is why revolution happens: when the people realize the nobility are not an asset to society, but the ones who are looting it.
The socialists also feel the need to justify themselves constantly. Even though their ideals never work, they always make it a point to let Dagny or Rearden know that they did what was right. It failed, but they did the right thing for the people. The capitalists always argue their point of view with sound logic and solid scientific and sociological principles, while the socialists can only counter with "oh, my, what you say just can't be true! It can't be! I don't know how, but I just feel that you are wrong! My way is better because it is from the heart! I feel love for my fellow man and therefore I'm doing the right thing! My business went bankrupt, but I know I did the right thing!" They can't even argue their point of view!
Socialism is doomed to failure. Capitalism is always successful! According to Rand, no argument is possible.
In addition to this, the ALPHA humans are not portrayed in a sympathetic light. They are heartless. They are cruel. They are all business, only care about themselves and they're out to make money. They don't care about creating jobs, or building something that will benefit the country. They only care about making money, and they will overcome any obstacle to do it. This should be inspiring, but it comes across as them being arrogant assholes.
[[Addendum: June 18] The book makes the outrageous claim that greed is good. Selfishness is a virtue of the human species--the symbol of mankind's ability to take an empty field and turn it into a sprawling metropolis. Ambition is the most holy of human actions and following it is nothing short of divine. Traits such as charity, compassion and empathy are the evil traits--the symbols of the moocher who can't make his own way in the world. It equates communism with these traits.
Ayn Rand is saying the people who want to live for something other than making money are foolish--they're the ones destroying the country--not the industrialists, not the leaders, not the selfish assholes who don't care about anyone but themselves. The book actually says the people who stand in the way of the ALPHAS should just get out of their way because it is their right to be great. Charles Dickens would have a problem with that.
I find it fascinating that anyone would want to follow a philosophy in which they are expected to make way for the superior people and accept their place. Unless they themselves believe they are the superior ALPHAS and everyone should just get out of their way so they can do great things.
Sounds rather childish when you put it that way, doesn't it? "Oh, if only people would just stop stopping me, then I'd be successful! I'm not to blame, it's all these other people who are making me think of others! They're holding me back! It's just not fair!" It's like me saying I'd never get into a car crash if only these other people would just get off the road and make room for me to drive the way I want. Yeah, I think that way sometimes, but I know it's not gonna happen. Would we have a society at all if everyone thought like that?]
[[Addendum: July 2] Sorry, I normally don't edit reviews after I post them, but there is just so much more to say about this book.
Atlas Shrugged proposes that religion was created as a means to make the ALPHAS feel guilty for being what they are. The parasites branded lust, greed, ambition and selfishness as sin so they could keep the ALPHAS subservient, and they could continue to live off their hard work. As long as the ALPHAS feel guilty, and feel they need the approval of the parasites to validate their existence, the system worked great.
Ayn Rand wants the unproductive people to get out of the way of the productive people, and for the unproductive people to stop telling the productive people what they can and can't do. Everyone just get out of their way so they can be great! Government is not needed; just leave them alone, let them do their great things for themselves and they will elevate all of us with them!
That's what the book proposes. To all the people who agree with this philosophy: why?! Why do you willfully accept your place as subservient to the ALPHAS? Do you hope that by giving the ALPHAS the unfettered ability to do great things that they will elevate you with them? Or do you believe you're one of the ALPHAS and you could be great if only everyone else would simply leave you alone?
The book postulates that we wouldn't need a government, or laws, or regulations, or restrictions if everyone were looking out for himself. The solution to all our problems would be to lift the regulations on the rich ALPHAS so they can create jobs and elevate the rest of us up with them. Well, sure, but by that logic if everyone would simply do the right thing, live by a moral code and never commit crimes, there wouldn't be any crime at all. The problem with people is that we can't rely on everyone to do the right thing on their own. That's why government was created in the first place! If we could count on everyone to live morally upright lives, government would never have come into existence in the first place. It's unrealistic to expect even the ALPHAS to follow this moral code and never deviate from it.
Under Rand's moral code, it is firmly against principle to sabotage a competitor because he has a better product than yours. It is your duty instead to improve yours, compete fairly, and if your competitor drives you out of business, you are morally obligated to accept the defeat and move on to something else. Maybe even work for him because he's obviously doing something better than you and you need to learn from it.
How often does that happen in business? Even the most productive people in the world will try to sabotage their competitors if the survival of their company is at stake. There's no moral involved. No principle to uphold. Nobody's thinking of it. Companies have sabotaged (or bought out) one another many times in the past to prevent one company from taking over another. Nobody would willfully allow himself go out of business because it's the right thing to do. No, he will do everything he can to save his ass, even if that means undermining the competition in an unfair way. That is curiously absent from the story. There are no businesses competing with one another. The only enemy is socialism preventing businesses from doing their thing.
Moral code of competition? Rand proposes competition is a product of the human intellect. I disagree. Any animal can compete for survival, and when it comes down to it, that's all business is. Animals fighting to dominate one another. It is on this fundamental point I disagree with Ayn Rand.
From what I've read, I think Rand was an asshole and was tired of people telling her to be "nicer, more caring and think of others," so she wrote a philosophy that justified her assholeishness, made it ok for her to be a jerk. There are many clues in the text, such as Dagny herself: she is obviously a Mary Sue. Think about that before you base your political views on this book.]
I only want to mention one other point. What is up with the sex scenes? Dagny gets pleasure out of reducing Hank Rearden to such a low state that he wants to use her body for his pleasure. "Hank, I'd give up anything I've ever had in life except my being a luxury object of your amusement," she says to him. Uh, what? This isn't erotic. It's not logical, or emotional. It's weird. Please give me more soap opera dialogue--it's better than the sex!
It is a painful book to read. It may as well be a collection of essays because every character blurts out at least one multi-page monologue about money, the true nature of love, the true nature of business, the true meaning of greed and self-preservation, and so on. One character has a chapter-long speech in part 3, and it explains in great detail everything the book has already shown, and what other characters already monologued! It is the worst way to write a novel, hitting the reader over the head with a sledgehammer on every page: communism is the system of the parasite and will lead to destruction; capitalism is the system of the ALPHA human and will lead to a golden age; just die, make room for the ALPHAS so they can make America great!
But if there is one positive thing you can take home at the end of the book, it's that the story is very empowering. It encourages the reader not to expect life to be easy, not to expect a handout, or to reap rewards without working for them. Be the man or woman of action, not the spineless idiot who hopes someone else will do the work and share the reward. People like that really do exist, and they're everywhere. Don't be one of them, and don't let them feed off your success. Let them earn it for themselves. That much of Rand's message is true. Just don't take it to such an extreme as she preaches. If you do succeed, never forget that your success relies on people who have not succeeded.
and while we're on the subject...
Atlas Shrugged (part 1)
starring Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler
Remember when I called the book a freakin soap opera? Characters talking about doing things, talking about things happening in other parts of the world but not actually doing anything? That's especially true of part 1, and this movie is based on part 1 of the book.
That's exactly what the movie is. A freakin soap opera, and what did anyone expect? It plays out exactly like the book does, except the book does it better! The book has lots of time to introduce us to these characters, show their motivations, show how they relate to one another, and sledgehammer into the reader's head the opposing force that's stopping them from building the Rio-Norte line.
The movie glazes over so much of this it has no meaning. It shows the Equalization of Opportunity bill, but doesn't show what effect it has on our ALPHAS. It shows the incompetence of socialists trying to do things for the public good, but everything they do has no visible effect. It didn't in the book either; the effects were narrated, but the movie barely tries to show that communist ideals are opposing Dagny's and Rearden's efforts.
So, laws are passed, formal parties are attended, conversations are had. That's it. By the time Dagny and Hank Rearden succeed in completing the railroad line, Dagny cries "We did it!" and embraces Hank. Did what? What did they do? So they built a railroad, so what? In the movie, nothing is in their way! A few minor laws passed that forbade one man from owning more than one business, which forced Hank to sell his vertical monopoly on steel. A few lines from the unions. A few newspaper and magazine articles condemning the new kind of metal. So what? These anti-dramatic developments don't hinder their ability to build the railroad in the slightest. None of the socialist's actions stands in the way of anything they do. The book goes out of its way to make sure we know how their actions are impeding business and keeping the country down, but the movie totally fails to get this across.
When Ellis Wyatt torches his oil fields at the end of the movie, there is no explanation. There is no reason or buildup to this. He just torches it and leaves. So what? What happened? Why? The book is very clear on this: the socialist regulations make it impossible for Wyatt to operate his fields at a profit, so he leaves. The movie doesn't even try to draw attention to this.
What did anyone expect? You can't translate narrative drama into a cinematic experience without filling the audience's ears with voiceover narration. The movie actually tries this, disguising it as news broadcasts, but it only goes halfway. It wasn't enough to establish why this is important to anyone.
The movie has the burden of trying to introduce us to so many characters in such a short span of time there is no way to keep track of them all. But I do like the casting. Jim Taggart looks and acts like the kind of slimy businessman you don't want running your company, but he is portrayed as way too confident. In the book, he's a wishy-washy, wormy kind of guy. In the movie, he's a self-assured rising star in politics. Big difference, but it actually works in the movie.
Lillian, Rearden's useless wife, is also well-portrayed. In the book she sounds like she belongs in a Victorian period drama. In the movie, she looks like she does.
This whole movie looks out of the times. It takes place in the near future, but the emphasis on steel and railroads is so early 1900's. It tries to establish a reason for this, that the country's hard economic times have forced the United States to slink back to a lifestyle closer to that of the 1950's, but it's still awkward to see people making a big deal about railroad travel and the steel industry, and yet using cell phones. It's like a period drama recast in modern times.
And Armin Shimerman as Dr. Potter? He only has a minute of screen time, but what is he doing here?? Was it intentional to invite the man who voiced Andrew Ryan in Bioshock, the ultimate critique of the system of pure capitalism Rand proposes in her book? If it was, nice touch. There's nothing funny in the movie, but seeing him in here made me laugh. Maybe that's why he didn't have a bigger role.
Anyway, the movie is a flat soap opera. The book is a dynamic soap opera. Give me the sledgehammering of socialism is bad capitalism is good. That at least ensured the book got a point across. The movie barely tries to convey what's happening and why it's significant. I agree with the consensus of reviewers that this should have been a TV mini-series. It would've given the story more time to stretch out and build up. I would like to have seen a real group of parasites trying to take over the country, instead of zombies doing things for the public good. It would be the only way Atlas Shrugged could become a good movie. I will be surprised if the other two parts even get made.
So skip the movie and read the book. Just don't expect a great, cinematic story. Go in expecting to get drilled with idealism and a totally different set of moral principles. It's an interesting look into another person's point of view.