I was excited to be going to see Atlas Shrugged, Part 1. I had just read the book for the first time last year, and it became one of my top favorite books. I shrugged off the ultra-low rating at RottenTomatoes, expecting the film critics to just be reflecting their bias, and I went with my family and friends to see the movie. Unfortunately, I found the movie to be awful, just like the critics had warned.
What I liked most about the book was how Rand portrayed characters like Dagny Taggart and Hank Reardon as passionate leaders of people. Like many of the great CEOs of today, they learned their businesses from the bottom up, they had the overwhelming respect of their better employees, and they displayed a passion and a will to succeed despite overwhelming obstacles. Dagny and Hank are roll-up the sleeves executives. The movie mostly missed this, placing Dagny in stiletto heels and a designer suite while on the job site, and showing these characters in opulent settings, detached from their employees as well as their business operations. They were disappointingly portrayed as eccentric elites, and most people will not identify with them or see them as positive role models.
I also liked how the book portrayed the non-contributors in society. It showed how the power-hungry people with no productive talents worked their way into positions of authority, and how they manipulated the system to ensure that society could not run without their involvement. It also showed how the “cultural” and “scientific” elites feel about normal people, and how they travel in their own sycophantic circles. If the movie had a strong point, this is where it was, but even this area could have been better.
What I liked least about the book was the way in which Rand had the characters convey their philosophy in speeches and tightly-scripted comments. It had the feel that she tried, in places, to merge a textbook with her novel. I felt that the story was strong enough to communicate the ideals without many of the speeches, but, the movie also adopted this style, and it made the characters feel stiff and robotic.
If you’ve read the book, it is worthwhile to see the movie. The movie successfully puts a face to many of the characters and it brings the concept of “Reardon Metal” to life in a gleaming rail line. You will also find fellow fans of the book at the theater. Despite the poor qualities of the movie, you will likely hear a cheer as the credits start to roll like I did at the showing I attended. I believe that this reflects the frustration many of us have with the current direction of society, and how excited we are to see anyone making an attempt, albeit a bad one, to help reverse that course.