Seek the Original: Atlas Shrugged

(This review has been edited, deleting the original, rambling review and replacing it with the discussion from parts two and three. The movie sections are still the same.)

(part 1 | part 2: The Strike | part 3: Who is John Galt? | Another Perspective)

[TL;DR: In Ayn Rand’s world, money is an outward sign of a man’s intelligence and industriousness. Therefore, if a person has lots of money, they must have done something of great importance to society to earn it. Therefore, the rich are the hardest-working, most intelligent people on the planet. To hinder them is to hinder the progress of mankind itself. Atlas Shrugged is the story of how the poor are poor because they are lazy and don’t want to work, so they’ve constructed a conspiracy to steal the wealth of the rich through things like taxes and communism and charity. A certain person named John Galt is opening the eyes of the rich people of the world to make them aware of how they’re being exploited by the poor. He believes it’s time for the rich to refuse to do all the hard work in society so the poor will starve to death, which will bring peace to the world without all the lazy parasites holding back the best people in society. It all makes sense if you truly believe the rich are just smarter and work harder than you, so that’s how they got rich—that money just naturally flows toward people who have superior intellect and work ethic, thus everyone who has lots of money could not have accumulated that wealth in any way except by hard work which they themselves performed individually without any assistance from anyone else, therefore they deserve their station by virtue of their bank accounts. It’s a good read if you can get past the lackluster descriptions, horrible dialogue, and bizarre sex scenes. People believe this book is true, and they have risen to positions of power over the years and have enacted policies to make the world work this way. People out there truly believe the rich are the best people in society, thus if you give them all the tax breaks and resources they will create a paradise for all of mankind. This may be the most important book anyone can read because understanding how people have used this book to justify the abuses of capitalism and the obscene wealth of the rich explains so much about the world in which we live.]

89% of everything Hollywood does is adapted from a book, or short story, or comic. Never settle for an adaptation. Seek the original!

Atlas Shrugged
by Ayn Rand

This is Ayn Rand's world:

The world is divided into two groups of people: rich entrepreneurs, and poor parasites. People who take responsibility for their lives by starting businesses and making lots of money and earning prosperity; and people who just want to skate by in life and are content to live off the prosperity of others.

Poor people are poor because they're lazy, and they want to leech off the hard work of others. The rich are the people who take command, get things done, earn their lives, start great businesses and acquire massive amounts of wealth. A person's wealth is the measure of his value to society. In other words: if a person is rich, it can be deduced he or she is doing something of great importance to amass such wealth.

If you are not an entrepreneur, you are lazy, have not taken responsibility for your life, and are just feeding off the effort of everyone else who has. The rich are doing all the work in this country, building skyscrapers, railroads, search engines, etc. They make the world go 'round, and the rest of the people are worthless parasites.

But the rich have grown tired of these lazy freeloaders stealing their success, so the rich revolt against the poor. That's right. In Ayn Rand's world, the rich are in fact being exploited by poor people who refuse to take responsibility for their lives and work for a living.

In fact, society as we know it arose because these freeloading poor people gathered around rich people to steal their prosperity. People who could not survive on their own gathered around the people who could, and leeched off their hard work. They created an elaborate system to support their lifestyle. Communism. In all its forms, it's a system that says people who do no work should be rewarded, and the rich people who do all the work don't deserve to be better off than people who don't work. Hell, any form of government is, from Rand's point of view, an elaborate mechanism to steal the rich man's wealth and give it to the poor people who refuse to earn it for themselves.

Ideas such as charity, laws and the like were created to keep the rich person from getting too prosperous and leaving the parasites behind. Giving a person charity only encourages that person to be dependent on you; a good person would deny him help because that would spur him to help himself. Parasitic people created religion itself to make the rich person feel guilty for having ambition to succeed. Greed, ambition, perseverance became demonized to keep the rich person in his place so he will continue to do all the work and allow the parasites to steal his success.

It's gotten to the point where lazy, poor people don't even realize they're conspiring to steal the rich man's wealth. They do it completely subconsciously now, and without even realizing it, they're sowing their own destruction by enacting communist ideals. Communism impedes the rich man's ability to work, which has the effect of hurting the parasites.

What's the story? What's it matter?! Nobody praises this book for its wonderful prose or engaging characters or bold setting. Everyone is content to ignore the terrible, soap-opera dialogue, the poorly crafted narrative description, the heavy-handed moralizing and booooooooooring monologues. Instead they choose to examine the message. The MESSAGE!

Atlas Shrugged is a longwinded, heavy-handed, ineptly told story about the rich realizing the poor have been exploiting them for centuries, and enacting a grand conspiracy to cut off the parasites' food supply. The rich will no longer allow the poor to live off their hard work. They're going on strike.

Rand says, in short: the world will be a better place without all these poor people who refuse to work for a living; they just want a handout and they want to make the rich pay for it. Oh, how much better off the world would be without the poor. The rich will live happily ever after!

There is so much to say about this idea. One, it goes against everything anthropology has shown. Prehistoric people banded together for mutual protection and cooperated to survive.

Two, religion was not created to keep the rich person feeling guilty. It was created to explain things which early humans had no explanation for, such as why volcanos erupt and earthquakes happen, why the stars move and the planets move independently of them. I'm not sure if this is a fictional metaphor, or if Rand really believed it, but I tend to think she's serious.

Three, according to Rand, if a person is rich, he is obviously doing something very beneficial to society to earn such wealth. But just because a person is rich doesn't mean he is valuable to society. Most of the people who are rich today earned their wealth by playing games with the money system, not by producing something valuable to society. Whenever someone says "hard work" is the path to success, I just want to punch them. Nobody got rich doing the "hard work." They got rich by investing, by owning the business and getting others to work for them, then keeping the profits from other peoples' labor. Not everyone, of course, but by and large it is a gross oversimplification to say wealth = value.

Four, just because someone is not an entrepreneur doesn't mean he isn't taking responsibility for his life.

Five, if a person is unemployed, it doesn't mean he's lazy. Dismissing a person as unemployed, or poor, because he refuses to get a job and earn a living implies there are always enough jobs for everyone. Before the recession, many people had stable careers. Many people had done everything they were supposed to do to earn their lives. Then they got laid off.

"Well, it's their responsibility to learn new skills and adapt! Don't stay poor; go out there and do something else! The government should just stop giving handouts and helping people with food stamps and medicare and everyone should just work for a living!"

This is like saying "well, I'm tired of everyone wishing we could go to Mars. Stop whining about it and just do it already!"

To everyone who says things like this: stop it! Stop dismissing it as something simple and easy. Like going to Mars, there is so much more to it than that. There aren't always enough jobs for everyone, college is prohibitively expensive and its value has been inflating over the last few decades, and it isn't always as easy as just getting another job. Every civilization throughout history has rich people and poor people. Haves and Have-nots. But it's not because the poor are just plain lazy and refuse to work. There tends to be a nobility keeping things that way.

I'm not saying there are no lazy freeloaders in the world, but dismissing the unemployed and underemployed out of hand is arrogant and shows just how out of touch you are with how the majority of people have to live. Most of us were taught "do work, get reward." We weren't taught "use money to make money," or "get others to do work for you."

Six, not everyone can be an entrepreneur. Think about it. 200 million people all trying to start a business in the USA alone. There are only so many things you can sell. The market for everything would quickly become so saturated there would be no profit left for anybody.

Not everyone has the aptitude to start and run a business, just like not everyone has the aptitude to sing, act, or teach. Just because a person starts a business doesn't mean it will make him rich. Many businesses fail. Holding people to this standard is unrealistic.

Seven, Rand portrays the end result of socialist policies very clearly: it yields an entire population of wussies. Wimpy, whiny people who don't want to put forth effort to do anything, but expect a handout, expect everyone to do things for them and refuse to take any initiative or personal responsibility. They rely on the government to provide for them.

Funny how a lot of people in America seem to be this way, and America is still the most conservative nation on the planet. A lot of people are still wimpy, whiny, refuse to take responsibility for their actions, are incapable of thinking for themselves and expect to be provided for--but not by the government. By corporations. Companies competing for customer loyalty have pandered to their every whim and desire, and this has generated an entire population of wimpy, whiny, helpless people who expect companies to provide for them. Who expect their every need to be met and for everything to require no effort or hassle.

Big government is not influencing business. Big business is influencing government. I argue government is not the enemy. Businesses that are too big to fail are the enemy.

Atlas Shrugged (part 1)
starring Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler

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.

(part 1 | part 2: The Strike | part 3: Who is John Galt?)


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