The Hippo


May 24, 2020








Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 (PG-13)


Hard-working business people are besieged by mediocrity and government regulation in Atlas Shrugged: Part 1, a wooden adaptation of Ayn Rand’s novel.

And let me just say up front that I never read Rand’s novel — it’s on the list, along with books like Ulysses, of things I just couldn’t bring myself to read more than a page or so of. I gave it another shot the night after seeing the movie but it was still like plunging a cheap plastic shovel into an endless mountain of wet, heavy snow.

Dagnay Taggart (Taylor Schilling, who seems like an early model of the humanoid Cylon, one that hasn’t yet mastered natural speech patterns or blinking) helps run Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad, along with her brother James (Matthew Marsden). James is kind of a moron who easily falls under the sway of lobbyists and politicians. Dagnay’s robot brain and unwavering dedication to whatever her job is are somehow not enough to keep James from screwing up the company. They do, however, give her the kind of can-do skill that can help her repair an ailing railroad line with the help of Henry Reardon (Grant Bowler), owner of Reardon Steel. His new metal is less filling and tastes great and he (and Dagnay) thinks it’s just the thing to repair the rail line at a manageable cost. But people — unions, the government — have all sorts of complaints about the unfairness of his producing the steel at a lower cost than competitors and at a greater quantity and set about trying to kill the project. Reardon, like Dagnay, is also surrounded by whiners and scolds but he knows how to put his head down and get things done.

Meanwhile, “great men” — meek-seeming company vice presidents — are disappearing and the only clue they’re leaving behind is the sentence “who is John Galt?”

I’m sure I’ve made a real hash of describing the plot, leaving out important details that Rand-heads will explain are the keys to understanding the philosophy that makes this book so deeply important to the people who can manage to read more than a paragraph without giving up. My response: oh well. This may be a dog-whistle to all those who think that government regulation is getting in the way of their own personal railroad dreams, but it is also a movie in a theater and as such it should probably get a plot that doesn’t take phonebooks of exposition to move along. The stilted nature of the dialogue in this movie brought to mind Battlefield Earth but without the comic relief of John Travolta’s wig and the tilt-o-cam. And the actors here feel like cardboard cutouts of people, like plastic game pieces, like sock puppets (only without the facial expressions) — like anything but human people. They deliver their bits of political philosophy, which the movie either embraces or scorns, depending on who’s talking, but there is no feeling of liveliness. Forget things a real person might say; most of the dialogue doesn’t feel like things people in the most stagy of plays say. Infomercials for EasyFeet, that flip-flop brush, feel like The Wire in terms of realism compared to the airless and fake-plant nature of this movie.  

I read a Hollywood Reporter story that said Atlas Shrugged was sort of like the tea party version of a movie  specifically made to appeal to a Christian audience — the Fireproof or Soul Surfer for libertarians. But those movies, for whatever philosophical differences I may or may not have with them, did in fact register as stories with plots and had characters that registered as somewhat people-like. Atlas Shrugged: Part 1, fascinating piece of the zeitgeist though it is, feels like a boring philosophy lecture delivered as you play an endless game of Monopoly. D

Rated PG-13 for some sexuality. Directed by Paul Johansson and written by John Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O’Toole (from the novel by Ayn Rand), Atlas Shrugged: Part One is an hour and 42 minutes long and distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures.

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