Seek the Original: Atlas Shrugged part 2

Continuing from part one.

(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.]

Atlas Shrugged
by Ayn Rand

Eight, people who call any government tax "theft at gunpoint," or regulation a hindrance on business are quoting Ayn Rand, and she portrays both as such. However, the laws and taxes passed in Atlas Shrugged are intentionally trying to derail business! People in the book are actively trying to make it harder for them to do anything! Real laws are not passed for that purpose.

Nine, don't forget what happened before the government passed laws that hindered business: companies hired private mercenaries to murder people and harass workers into submission (it's mentioned in The Men Who Built America). If not for those laws, you can bet business would be doing the same thing today.

Ten, big business of the past abhorred competition. Ayn Rand says competition is the product of the human intellect, and when businesses are free to compete without restrictions, it drives innovation and increases everyone's standard of living. To an extent, yes, but Rockefeller himself saw competition as something to be avoided, not nurtured, because competition was a threat to his survival. Ayn Rand seems to think things were better before laws were passed that prevented businesses from doing whatever they pleased, but a simple look at the reality of the world back in the early 1900's will show otherwise.

As I wrote in my review of The Men Who Built America, laws do not impede business. The laws created the even playing field and forced businesses to compete the way Rand romanticizes.

While I agree everyone has a responsibility to make his own way in the world, it's just plain bullshit to dismiss everyone who is not rich as a drain on society. Ayn Rand's "every man for himself" philosophy is killing America, and I'm not the only one who thinks so.

People actually believe this. Atlas Shrugged is perhaps the most important book anyone can read because it is so applicable to the real world. Certain people actually believe it's true. They take Ayn Rand for a prophet, and if only everyone would do as they did there'd be no poor people. Again, to an extent, yes, personal responsibility is a must, but the arrogance of that worldview is astounding. I highly recommend reading some Charles Dickens after Ayn Rand for balance.

This attitude of rich v/s poor is nothing new. Ayn Rand is like if Ebenezer Scrooge never got that visit from the three ghosts of Christmas and wrote a book about how the poor are lazy parasites feeding off his hard work by demanding charity and workhouses and wages. (Real Ghostbusters, anyone?) Scrooge himself said he "can't afford to make idle people merry" at Christmastime, referring to the poor. Because poor people are poor because they're lazy, not because people like him who run the businesses play games with the money system, crash the economy, cut and outsource jobs, decrease wages, and then blame the people for being poor and out of work.

Now let's talk about the sequel nobody asked for...

Atlas Shrugged part 2: The Strike (2012)
starring Samantha Mathis and Jason Beghe

More agenda. Just like with The Men Who Built America, someone was hoping to influence the election. I never would have recognized it if I hadn't read Atlas Shrugged when I did.

I thought it was ironic when the History Channel series presented the history of the titans of industry, it ended up making the progressive's point as well. Depicting the giant corporations in the early 1900's intimidating employees to vote for their candidate, contributing billions of dollars to influence the election and put their man in Washington so he wouldn't require businesses to improve wages and safety... It all looked too familiar. Someone must have realized it was so similar to what was happening in the present that they delayed the last episode until after the election, fearing it might have the opposite effect.

But Atlas Shrugged 2 was not delayed. In fact, it was toted as a film that would change the election.

On Rotten Tomatoes, only one major critic gave this a positive review, but three-quarters of the audience rated it high. I think these people, too, chose to ignore the storytelling and filmmaking and focus on the MESSAGE! Because the MESSAGE is just so deep!

So they got a whole new cast, a new director, a new crew... Hell, this isn't a sequel. This is a whole new franchise! Even with a new cast and crew and director, the same problems remain: the movie totally fails to tell the story, and when it actually tries, it's heavy-handed, preachy and boring, just like the book on which it's based.

Part two of the book is all about Dagny searching for the inventor of an engine that can pull electricity from the air itself. Cheap, unlimited energy is at our fingertips, but the inventor is nowhere to be found, and Dagny can't figure out how to make the engine work. How she can figure out what the engine does at all is a mystery even in the book, but just roll with it.

Meanwhile prominent businessmen are disappearing and nobody knows why, but there could be some correlation between the government pushing business around, telling them how to operate, which only makes it harder for them to stay profitable.

The book tries to create this sense of mystery about who John Galt is, but even in the book it's so blindingly obvious who he is a child would guess it. The book wastes so much time building up to the shocking revelation we saw coming hundreds of pages ago it's laughable. Furthermore, the characters in the book can't figure out that communism is sweeping the nation; they can't figure out they're surrounded by wimpy idiots who want a handout; they totally fail to see the pattern and it makes them look really, really stupid.

The first movie didn't bother to establish any kind of mystery about John Galt, which was a good choice, but it also didn't establish what he's doing and why. It didn't show how the government pushed Wyatt to torch and leave his oil fields to burn. It didn't show how the government's liberal policies are killing business. Now we're in the second movie, and it's time to bring these reasons front and center.

Does it get a point across? Does it tell the story?

Well, a little.

The movie shows that all the woes of the economy are the fault of big government interfering with business. Businesses are failing left and right, but only because of the laws that make it impossible for them to operate at a profit. The people in government don't see that their policies are in fact causing the economic crisis, not helping it, and if they would just get out of the way of the rich entrepreneurs, everything would fix itself. Instead, the government passed laws that keep corporations from setting their own prices, firing or hiring anybody, and from producing anything new, all in the name of the public good.

People are protesting the greedy rich people, when in fact the rich are the only ones who have the knowhow and determination to make a difference in the world. The protests are not in the book. The act of protesting requires a spirit of determination and enterprise, which the ordinary people in Rand's book lack. This was a direct snub against the Occupy Wall Street protestors--the filmmakers trying to reach the people they thought were protesting against hard work, wealth and success.

But all of this comes out of nowhere. There's no reason for it to happen, and it's never shown what's going on or why. In the book, the reason is very clear: the entire country is made up of wimpy people who want a handout, and a communist attitude is sweeping the country, inspiring people to enact these policies. The movie doesn't even show why these people are protesting. It doesn't show what kind of economic crisis has swept the nation, or what caused it. It's all about the government being the cause of all economic woes.

The same problem that killed the first movie kills the second: unless you read the book, you will have no idea what's happening, or why. The book makes damn well sure you know what its point is, and it drills it into your skull a minimum of six times per chapter. The movie can't convey its own ideology for two main reasons.

The first: Atlas Shrugged is not a visual story. There's nothing in it that can be conveyed through action, so trying to make it into a movie in the first place is ludicrous.

The best the movie can do is convey little flashes of Ayn Rand's MESSAGE through the dialogue. Characters occasionally say things like, "what right do you have to expect me to produce and for you to consume?" "It's because of your government policies we're in this mess right now." "History shows the only way to make the trains run on time is to nationalize them."

All the movie shows is that CEOs of billion-dollar corporations are disappearing because of the government. Taken without context, it comes out of nowhere and the reason the government is doing this in the first place is not clear. Now granted in the book the exact reason isn't revealed directly until part 3, but it's still obvious even in part two.

The book establishes that the rich people in Ayn Rand's world make things, and everyone else takes what they make. All we get in the movie are a couple speeches, like the one about money during Jim Taggart's wedding. Money is the root of all evil, says Jim, but then Francisco d'Anconia asks everyone: what is the root of money? He lectures that money is a wonderful thing; it represents man's hard work and if a man has a lot of money and if he acquired it honorably and not through extortion of other hardworking people, then his money represents all the good he's done for society and he deserves his wealth.

He means "extortion" in terms of unjust taxes and laws. He doesn't see how easy it is to make the progressive's point with the same word?

He also says that when people stop chasing money--when money ceases to be the tool men use to deal with each other, then it becomes an economic system of "pull." Men gaining influence with other men, men using other men as tools, making shady back room deals to take from others what they did not produce.

Really, Francisco? Crony politics would not exist in a monetary society, and people with money would never use it to gain "pull" with other people? Like, say, big business buying politicians to gain "pull" with the government? You don't even need to read the book to pick apart that speech.

This is the second reason the movie can't convey its own ideology: it was changed to fit the times. Ayn Rand's book is all about the dangers and evils of communism. The movie's message was updated to be anti-government. But not every detail was changed. Some details in the movie cry out how the government is evil, but others retain Ayn Rand's anti-communist message, and in this new context, they make no sense and are incredibly out of place.

Again, the producers and financial backers aimed Rand's message at the real-life Occupy Wall Street protestors, as if somebody felt the need to defend the wealthy. Somebody thought the protests were badmouthing success and wealth, but like so many things in life, it wasn't that simple.

And who is Jim Taggart's wife? He marries some girl he met at a generic department store, but the movie doesn't tell us who she is, or even her name. In the book, this girl is one of those people who wants to work for a living and create her own prosperity instead of leeching off someone else's hard work. You won't know that unless you read the book. The wedding is abrupt, only a set piece for Francisco's speech. Clearly audiences care more about philosophical speeches than about who these people are.

The movie almost makes a point that these rich business owners are the job creators, and to pass laws that restrict their actions is to hurt the economy. But just like in the book, the government regulations in this movie are intentionally trying to make it harder for businesses to do anything. Not to stop worker deaths, not to prevent another Love Canal incident, not to prevent trusts. Of course they'll have that contrived result.

This is like a Christian movie: low budget, heavy-handed, and so lame nobody who isn't already born again doesn't already agree with Rand's philosophy would even tolerate it.

It is better than the first movie. I'll give it that. There is some action, the speeches give a little context for what's happening, and the government interference is more overt. The first movie didn't even try. But because the story was only updated halfway, its point is lost.

Maybe if this were set in the 1950's with a heavy-handed anti-communist agenda, it might have been an ok movie within the historical context. Instead, the filmmakers tried to shoehorn the story into a near-future date to be more generally anti-government, warning of the dangers of Obama's policies and what happens when government gets too big and tries to tell big business what to do. I'm surprised the filmmakers didn't make the president black to drive home the point.

Why are Americans so worried about government getting too big, but totally don't notice when business gets too big? You know, the Founding Fathers wrote the almighty Constitution on the belief that too much power concentrated in one place was the real evil in the world.

Other than a few lines of dialogue here and there, the MESSAGE does not come through clearly and will likely leave audiences puzzled because the movie still doesn't establish who these people are and what they're doing. It can't decide if it wants to convey the modern anti-government message, or Ayn Rand's anti-communist message.

Read the book if you wanna know what's going on. The movie is not good enough to influence anyone, let alone an election.

Appendix: nitpicky production notes

If the rich decided to up and leave, would the world even notice? If the super rich decided to go on strike, what would happen? Would there really be no one in the world with any ability left? What sort of valuable work do they do, without which the entire world would grind to a halt?

Dagny has an engine that can pull static electricity from the air. I don't think the guy who owns the coal mines (Ken Danagger) will be happy about that. If nobody needs to burn coal to generate power anymore, that'll put him out of business overnight. Does Ayn Rand really think he would be ok with the engine John Galt created? Judging by what the great titans of industry did, he'd probably try to destroy it to protect himself. (Or buy it out and make sure it's never heard from again.) That's how corporations behave. That's what real businessmen do. Competition is not honorable. Competition is a threat, and they will respond to it like a wounded animal.

Hank Rearden runs the cleanest steel mill in the world. No dirt anywhere!

The producers couldn't get a real courtroom for the courtroom scene? Where are they?! High school auditorium!? College lecture hall!? Not to mention they used the fake audience gasp when Rearden's sentence is suspended. Lost all respect for the people behind this film as soon as I heard it. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this:

Hollywood, please STOP IT!

Only one actor I recognized: Robert Picardo! His role is so small... and he gives the second most believable performance in the movie.

Paul McCrane as Wesley Mouch is the best. He plays the part very well. Just the kind of evil bureaucrat you love to hate.

Third best: the Taggart repairman who comes to service the broken train Dagny is riding towards the end. He's only there for a couple minutes to explain what happened to that factory Dagny and Hank found in the first movie, and for those minutes the movie connected me with real storytelling, and it was interesting. Then it went back to agenda.

I hate it when filmmakers show the end of their movie at the beginning just to get the audience's attention. It reeks of bad storytelling--like admitting your story is so weak you have to show the fight scene at the end just to get the audience to pay attention to the beginning.

Isn't there room for some balance here? Obviously too much government interference is a very bad thing. Just look at what decades of dictatorship did to Russia's development. Then again, not enough interference and we'll have another mortgage scheme wreaking the economy.

And Dagny's bracelet is made of Rearden metal. Why isn't it blue??

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


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