ATLAS SHRUGGED (PART ONE)
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler, Matthew Marsden
Director: Paul Johansson
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: November 8, 2011
WHO IS JOHN GALT?
I once saw an interview with former Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards by Bill O’Reilly. O’Reilly is not exactly a poor man, but he revealed his tax liability percentage to Edwards. It was quite staggering. Edwards’ reply? “It’s not enough.” O’Reilly suggested strongly that increasing taxes on the people who produce would cost jobs. He even gave a personal example: the radio show he ran at the time. If his taxes went up further, he argued, it would no longer be economically feasible to continue the show, which would put a lot of his employees out of work. Edwards only smiled and offered the usual platitudes about “paying your fair share.”
But more than a half century earlier, novelist Ayn Rand was delivering her own scathing commentary on the future of this country, where individuals who work hard and produce would be taxes, controlled, bullied and victimized by the government and political interests to the point where they would simply walk away. Many cite 1984, but for my money, Atlas Shrugged is the most prophetic novel ever penned.
Rand’s philosophy of objectivism praised individual achievements and work ethic, supported the America of the Founding Fathers, yet warned that government would increasingly pander to those in society who do not produce at the expense of those who do, until the former greatly outnumbered the latter.
Her story of a railroad, Taggert Transcontinental, led by Dagny Taggert (Schilling), was an illustration of how futile the struggle would become. She is smart, resourceful, and plans to make her railroad a success when gas prices reach almost $40 a gallon.
The problem is the political machine. The lawmakers seek control using the glib guise of benefiting the unfortunate when they really only benefit themselves, or the unions who seek absolute control over the market…it might have been unthinkable 50 years ago, but we are living it today.
Her partner becomes fellow entrepreneur Hank Reardon (Bowler), a businessman who has developed a new metal that is lighter yet stronger than any ever tested. Dagny will use her steel to rebuild her railroad. But the government’s State Institute of Science begins a smear campaign against the metal to make the public afraid, and also gets the unions to refuse to cooperate. If there is success to be had, Dagny and Hank will have to do it practically alone.
A successful run isn’t the end of their troubles. New laws, new angles to prevent prosperity threaten to strangle not only their creativity, but that of an individual who developed a revolutionary new engine that could create electricity from the atmosphere. As one politician smugly proclaims, he is willing to sacrifice ANYBODY’s profits for the greater good.
The problem in the novel, as it is in today’s society, is who gets to define the greater good? Why is it always someone else that decides that the money you earned is better off in the hands of those who don’t? If you think the events in Atlas Shrugged were far-fetched, consider an America where the government, with the help of the unions, now owns Chrysler and General Motors, where the proven falseness of an environmental claim does nothing to stop its use in the agenda against personal liberty, and where a politician who tells a constituent to his face that he will confiscate his hard-earned profits in order to “spread the wealth” is far from ostracized, but elected.
So who is John Galt? Well, this is only the first part of the story, and for those who haven’t read this magnificent novel, I won’t spoil it too much for you. Let’s just say in Rand’s vision, the producers of the world are getting tired of the regulation, the taxation, and the bullying, and many are starting to walk away, one by one. If there is more reward for not producing than producing, why keep doing it?
I hope to see the next installment of this film very soon. As the producer pointed out, it’s the most widely read and epic American novel to have not gotten a movie treatment. And he was surprised when he began to try to realize his vision that most of the resistance to the project was purely political, and for almost 20 years he couldn’t get it made as a result. WHO IS JOHN GALT?
This high definition transfer from Fox is quite beautiful. From the racing of the trains through the open fields and mountains to the interiors where lives and dreams are traded, everything comes through with amazing crispness and clarity. Colors are well-rendered and natural-looking.
There are a few big scenes that open up this otherwise philosophical story, from the power of the trains to fires in the field. The dialogue is well rendered, and overall dynamic range is pretty good.
The extras include a commentary with filmmakers John Aglialoro, Brian Patrick O’Toole and Harmon Kaslow, an “I am John Galt” slideshow, and an interview with the producer on getting the movie made.
Atlas Shrugged might be the most important American novel of all time. It’s hard not to read it without a chilling sense of urgency. This faithful first part adaptation might be a little too close to our own reality for comfort, but it pulls the curtains back on an American dream gone very wrong and serves as a critical final warning. Highly recommended.