An ATLAS SHRUGGED movie isn’t just a bad idea, it’s dangerous
If you're ever up for a fun conversation, walk into any university, library, or school and ask random passersby what they think of Ayn Rand. 30% will love her. 30% will hate her. The rest won't have a clue who you're talking about. For those uninitiated, Rand is the author of the epochal novel Atlas Shrugged which is a manifesto of sorts; it espouses a very unique, ultra-libertarian ideology. The current Tea Party movement can't give a speech without quoting Ayn Rand, as she falls right in line with their platform.
The history of cinema has seen many attempted adaptations of Atlas Shrugged, each coming up with nothing. The book's 1200 pages aren't just intimidating for filmmakers, but its density is what's truly daunting. Over the past few weeks, we've heard news regarding the latest attempt. The last word we heard regarding the project was that it had actually begun shooting.
I believe that if this project actually sees the light of day, we could be in for some turbulence up ahead. A movie version of Atlas Shrugged isn't just destined for failure- it could turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes Hollywood could ever make. Wonder why? Hit the break for my opinion in full.
First, a brief summary of Ayn Rand's philosophy. I actually began writing this article with the argument that a movie couldn't possibly encapsulate the many nuances and complexities of Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. But after getting about 3-400 words in, I realized that it's not really that complex of an ideology. In fact, Rand sums it up in two relatively simply principles. First of all, she emphasizes the importance of living for the sake of one's self and for no other purpose, whatsoever. This quote, from Atlas Shrugged, sums it up quite succinctly...
"I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."
Simple, no? If you're unfamiliar with her work, it comes off as a bit selfish. That's because it is. In fact, she holds selfishness as an indispensable value. The second value is a bit more metaphysical, which means it's less important in my mind, but still somewhat crucial. Rand contends that what is, is. Moral and metaphysical absolute truths do exist independent of our own perception. The best analogy I can think of to explain this is found in the old saying, "If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a noise?"
Objectivism, and Ayn Rand, would contend that it does. Again, this is more metaphysical and therefore less applicable to my point. But, it's important to understand that Rand believes right is right and that there is no compromise to be made.
Why then would a movie based on these values be so detrimental?
First of all, the ideology espoused here is extremely radical. Making a movie based on the work of Ayn Rand would be akin to making a movie about Stalin and his version of communism. Sure, I'd love to see a biopic about Stalin be made. The difference here is that ATLAS SHRUGGED would bathe this radical philosophy in a positive light. Imagine the uproar if a movie were to hit theaters that made Mussolini out to be a hero, a savior, a prophet.
Second, so long as this ideology has been contained to a hulking piece of literature, the movement and its followers have been confined to a relatively small group. Generally, those who get wrapped up in Atlas Shrugged are those who are frustrated with mediocrity in society. They see themselves as much better than the average man.
What's so scary is the possibility that Ayn Rand's words would spread to a much larger audience. People without the intellectual capacity or willpower to slug through the book would be exposed to this extremely enticing philosophy. Understand this- I spent about a year of my life under Rand's spell. It's an extremely alluring premise- live up to your full potential, care only about yourself, succeed, work hard, don't let anyone take what's rightfully yours. It sounds so great!
Were the troglodytes of society to venture to their local cinema and fall prey to the mystique of an ATLAS SHRUGGED movie, we'd be in a world without rules. It's a scary thought, but I honestly worry that a single movie could have this much effect. Will it? Probably not. But it definitely could pan out this way. I'd argue the same for a movie on the far left, such as an affirming adaptation of The Communist Manifesto.
Finally, the book is just bad. It's not a good piece of literature. The three main characters- Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, and John Galt- have no distinguishing personality traits. They are all each exact copies of one another. They have the exact same values and would act in the exact same way in any situation. The same goes for a large part of the supporting cast, with the only unique characters existing solely as caricatures of helplessness and mediocrity. The antagonists of the story manifest in the form of characters that exist only to leech off of society, they're completely one dimensional.
The narrative is just as silly as the characters. Much of the plot kicks off when rail titan Hank Rearden invents a new alloy of steel that allows his trains to move freight at a much faster speed than his competitors. The government deems this unfair competition and takes the alloy, distributing it among Rearden's competitors. Dagny Taggart is attempting to save her faltering company which is in the hands of her incompetent brother. This is all the while a mysterious man named John Galt is going around and convincing the real men of the world, the titans of industry and capitalism, to join him in a secret valley in Colorado to form an underground society.
It's silly on the whole and much of the plot twists, which I won't bore you with, aren't creative in their implementation. There are plenty of deus ex machina moments, along with convenient appearances, that really detract from the story. In short, nothing truly interesting happens and while the premise of a crumbling society is somewhat interesting, it's completely unbelievable in Rand's interpretation.
Do not misinterpret what I'm saying here. I strongly believe that the industry, specifically the director Paul Johansson, has every right to make this movie. It's not a question of whether they can or whether they have the right to do so. I'm simply asking if they've considered the societal implications, which could be wide reaching. Cinema is a powerful force, it isn't to be underestimated. To think that Clark Gable not wearing an undershirt in IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT drastically affected the sales of undershirts when that movie premiered, just imagine the waves that this could cause. I'd argue that movies like SUPER SIZE ME and AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH changed the world, what's to say that a movie like this couldn't?
I'm merely asking that the media be socially conscious when producing entertainment. Take into consideration the impact that a movie like this could have.