Atlas Shrugged the Movie Review: I am John Galt

Warning: Spoilers

Last night I went to see Atlas Shrugged the Movie: Part One. Going to see it on opening night was quite the experience. In front of the ticket stand was a table with representatives from They featured some of the products they sell and let us enter a raffle to win some of the products after the movie. The local news was also there, interviewing the representative from ProudProducers.

The line to get into the theatre was long. It was filled with totally cult-like people who had multiple piercings, poor dress, and highly political shirts advocating or denouncing a particular political candidate. Oh, wait. That was opening night at Fahrenheit 911 that I am thinking about! No, the people in line at Atlas Shrugged were all normal, regular people: nicely dressed, calm in demeanor, and most were with their family or significant other.

When I went to see Fahrenheit 911, I came with a pen and paper to write down notes. I did not do that with Atlas Shrugged as I just wanted to enjoy it. Forgive me if I stumble through some of the details of the movie.

I was very moved by the movie, in the same way the book moved me when reading it when I was 19. It is very interesting how the book touched me at 19 and how the movie touched me again as a well-established adult at 30, but for very different reasons this time.

I was moved from the very first scene. It was a scene between Dagny and her brother Jim. There had just been a disaster with one of their trains. Jim is panicking and doesn’t know what to do. Dagny informed him that she had already severed the business relationship with Orren Boyle, whose company produced poor quality product. She was moving business away from the altruistic San Sebastian line in Mexico and back to the rails that desperately needed upgrading. She had done all of this under the table, with no one’s permission, and it was now saving the day.

In this scene, I think many people will admire Dagny’s independent judgment and forward thinking, which are good things for sure. But what I responded to was the fact that the only person with brains at Taggart Transcontinental had to go underground to do her job right. She had to hide what she was doing from others. I am in this exact position. I work as a test engineer and have to constantly fight people telling me that certain tests are unnecessary as those functions are “sure to work.” I, as well as other coworkers who work for me, have done what’s right while not telling anyone we are doing it. I am sure as you can imagine, as a test engineer, when I do a test and find a problem, the validity of my decision to do what’s right has proved to be the right one almost all the time. Thus, when I saw it on the big screen and made the connection between my life and Atlas Shrugged, it was a powerful one. I teared up starting with this scene.

The only complaint in this scene was the way the lines were delivered. While Dagny (Taylor Schilling) was cool and confident, she was somewhat bubbly. It deflated my response to the movie as a whole somewhat. I don’t want to be too hard on her for I thought she did justice to Dagny Taggart. But if I had just experienced a disaster where I work, one that I was working diligently, alone, to remedy, and I was confronting the worthless sacks of shit who caused it, I would be a little more sharp in my tone. However, Schilling’s bubbliness helped to make her relatable throughout the entire movie.

It was really great to see Atlas Shrugged on the big screen. It is no replacement for reading the book but a movie format has its advantages. Of course, the book has very good analysis of what the characters are thinking as well as non-fiction philosophical interjection. However, when reading a book that is so long, it is difficult to consider the book as a whole. Watching it on the big screen, seeing scenes move quickly after one another, brought the entirety of the book into easier mental grasp. For instance, it was powerful to see Francisco tell Hank that he was there to give Hank the words he’ll need when he needs them, and then immediately after Hank saw Dagny take the bracelet made of Rearden metal from Lillian. It was the first instance where Hank was starting to learn the lesson he needed to learn.

The overall script was a little choppy. The scenes transitioned too harshly. This was to be expected given how long of a book it is and the producers’ budgetary and time constraints.

There was also one too many limo riding and wine drinking scenes. In the book, several of the characters smoke. Few characters smoked in the movie except Hugh Akston. I wonder if this wine drinking was meant to replace the cigarette smoking. I think of the cigarette smoking as like that on the TV show Mad Men. It is meant to give an air of opulence and enjoyment. As cigarettes are known cancer sticks, they switched to drinking wine.

At the beginning of the movie, they explain that the oil industry has crashed and thus people are back to relying on trains in order to travel. The producers of the movie did this so they could have a movie about trains in a modern setting. I don’t think they had to do this. I pretty much forgot they did it. As an audience member, I can easily relate and get excited over trains, even in the 21st century.

Most of the ad libbing was clever and helped to modernize the movie. For instance, one the characters says “Move!” while leaving a room. However, some of the ad libbing was misplaced. I didn’t like when Dagny swore. I also didn’t like when she said she was “gambling” on Rearden metal. I was actually worried about this line, as I knew she said this before seeing the movie. I was worried the film would portray Dagny as flippant. Most Hollywood movies seem to portray the hero as having some magical ability to see and do what’s right, as if it is all fun and games and they always magically win. The movie didn’t do that at all. With the detailed characterization and dialogue that Rand gave to Dagny, it would be impossible to bastardize her.

Everyone will have their complaints as far as what the movie left out so let me give mine. I thought the plot of the John Galt line was rushed. We see some scenes of people who want to destroy it, including the head of the union. But it seemed to go from “people don’t think it will work” to “Dagny and Hank are on the maiden voyage” too quickly. In particular, I would have liked them to have shown Dagny living in the office she had to while running the John Galt line, which was basically in the slums. (This portrayal also would have offset the excessive limo and wine scenes in the movie.) The John Galt line is again an instance where the brain of a company is forced to go almost literally underground in order to operate. It again had a deep impact on me. I also wanted to see the men with rifles lined up to watch and protect the maiden voyage of the John Galt line. Nonetheless, I cheered (and cried) while watching the John Galt line success.

I enjoyed the idea of the scene where Hank and Dagny find the motor. I know many people who have very creative ideas but whose ideas sit on shelves. In the book, the motor is left abandoned because the company adopted a policy where everyone would be paid according to need, not ability. The inventor of the motor quit. I have seen this happen in real life for this exact reason. Young engineers have a good idea and it is squashed by an older manager, out of jealousy. The engineer is denied pay, promotion, and respect. It is another scene that penetrated me deep. However, the execution of it was less than to be expected. Dagny and Hank kind of waltz through the factory. They enter a room where Hank says he is sure this is the room where the motor was built. Without really looking at anything, he announces everything in there is sophisticated. And then, almost instantly, they find the motor. I wish they would have shown how Dagny and Hank actually break in to the factory. This act takes the “can-do” attitude to new levels and was sorely missing from the movie.

The strike of Ellis Wyatt was beautifully done. It is again an advantage of the movie format. It was very powerful that they showed the antagonists discussing how they are going to bring Wyatt down. They call him arrogant and promise they will distribute his success and wealth. While all this is going on, Wyatt vanishes. Take it; it’s yours! The final scene of the movie, in which Dagny goes to the burning oil field that Wyatt left behind, is beyond powerful. It is another advantage of a movie format. Perhaps I am lacking in imagination, but when I thought of Wyatt’s torch while reading the book, I just thought of it as a simple flame, kind of like the Olympic torch. But in the movie, it is a widespread, disastrous fire—no, really, Wyatt is gone and in a big way. Dagny’s scream penetrated me to the core, a scene that had me not just crying but shaking. The movie format shows off well that Dagny’s biggest triumph yet—the John Galt line in order to serve Ellis Wyatt—was followed with Wyatt going on strike.

Some critics have blasted the movie for having characters that are flat or one-dimensional. How is it possible that these characters, who resonate with so many people on such deep levels, are flat? This book; this movie; Ayn Rand’s philosophy speaks to people on such a deep level as to move almost everyone who reads Atlas Shrugged. Rand obviously writes about something fundamental and deep about human nature. She speaks to anyone and everyone who is genuine, honest, clear-headed, productive, morally-grounded, and committed to doing quality work and who, because of these things, is spit on. I, as well as countless others, can identify with the characters in the movie. We are not in a fringe element of society; we are very normal people. If anything, this movie shows this off: the people who like it and support it are just like almost everyone else except that they are talented in some way and are tired of the lack of appreciation and abuse they likely go through because of it. I, as well as countless others, am John Galt.

After the movie, we went back out to the raffle. Many of the products said “Who is John Galt?” Honestly, I never understood the popularity of this on T-shirts, stickers, etc. The question is meant to evoke hopelessness. I understand that the people who wear it support the book. After the movie however, I decided what catch phrase I would support and wear. It would be, “I want to live in Galt’s Gulch,” because I really do. I am happy to tell you that the hat I won at the raffle says, “Galt’s Gulch, CO.”

Although I had some nitpicks about the movie, I really recommend it. I sincerely hope there is a Part Two and Part Three, and that the producers take the constructive criticism from me and many others into consideration.

Amber Pawlik
April 16, 2011

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