An ATLAS SHRUGGED movie isn’t just a bad idea, it’s dangerous

Will Schiffelbein

by: Will Schiffelbein
June 21st, 2010

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.

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  • Kyle

    One post suggested that this author should get out of this country, I would suggest we allow him to be treated as his philosophy dictates. Do not give him a choice to chose where he lives, take the choice away and make the best decision for the rest of every one for him.

    To be selfish is a virtue and a necessity for survival and progression. The important part of this concept is to TEACH and ENCOURAGE GREATNESS, this is both selfish and virtuous as prosperity cannot be truly achieved nor enjoyed alone.

  • for real?

    You obviously don’t understand Objectivism, Atlas Shrugged, or Ayn Rand if you are suggesting that the production of this movie would result in a country with people governed by “no rules”. As if Dagny Taggart lived in a world with no rules….
    You do know Dagny was the protagonist of Atlas… Right?

  • D.C. Wright, USMC Retired Will Schiff

    “I’m not afraid of the average man not understanding it. I’m afraid of what he’ll do with it. Were the masses to move in large numbers with Randian ideas, we’d see the death of public schools and socialized roads.

    “We’d see NPR and PBS, two great media outlets, disappear.

    “We’d see the death of state incentives for filmmaking.”

    Will, you say this as if it were a BAD thing. Recall that the Founders wrote a Constitution that puts limits on GOVERNMENT, not on private actions. Also recall that Rand came here as a refugee from the ULTIMATE socialist/”Progressive” State and utterly rejected that evil “philosophy” with every fiber of her being. In that, she was fairly closely aligned with our Founders. With the exception of “Post” roads, they gave government ZERO authority to do these things. However, if you look close enough, you might note that INDIVIDUALS got them done… and done well, except in the minds of collectivists. In our previous societal incarnation, individuals made their own choices and decisions and things got done and people were mostly happy with their lives, because THEY had the final say over their own lives and property. Government was there, in its proper role as arbiter of disputes, provider of justice and protector of our borders, in line with its Constitutionally limited authority.

    Rand, like many of us on the Right, vastly preferred that limited vision of government. We find OUR decisions and choices to be infinitely superior to those of some distant central planner. I, for example, find that I can spend MY money in a much more beneficial way than Congress can… AND it has the added savor of being mine BY RIGHT, the right of having earned it. Should I also feel benevolent, I can give to the charity of my choice, knowing that a group such as the Salvation Army or Volunteers of America give the biggest “bang” for the buck AND do it locally, where they know what is needed.

    And, with respect to education, up until the Socialists came along, the responsibility for a child’s education rested where it YET belongs: with the parents. Ans, believe it or not, the United States had a higher literacy rate than it does now. Go figure.

    No, socialism or progressivism have nothing to offer a free society, and EVERYTHING for a free people to fight with everything that’s in us.

  • Terry Mcintyre

    Do you not feel that the comparison of Ayn Rand to Stalin is just a bit overblown? For all of Ayn Rand’s character flaws, she did not murder her opponents, nor toss them into prisons. She merely beat them with words. Love or hate her words, she did not use violence against her enemies. So what’s your issue?

  • Libertarian

    Interesting how extreme right or left opponents of individual rights contend it means a world without rules run by cavemen. What’s more interesting is how Rand dissects this pathology in her novel.

    Rand’s formulation to some extent came from her pledge as a participant in the Libertarian League, today the Libertarian International Organization, as the foundation of rights-respecting community.

    To see what pledged Libertarians are doing, see

  • honestann

    The author and everyone else who hates Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged wants to steal something from you. Usually, they want to steal your entire life, and make you slave to them and everyone else who wishes to steal part of your life.

    Atlas Shrugged is not dangerous, and the author of this article is crazy to imagine the movie could materially change society. But rather than being fortunate, that’s too bad. That means the only hope for mankind is the events that take place at the end of Atlas Shrugged… the total collapse of civilization worldwide. We are well on the way to that collapse now, and Atlas Shrugged (the novel) clearly explains why.

    It is amazing that the majority of people are not bothered in the least by overt slavery… but they are terrified by the following a world in which every individual enjoys/bares/suffers ALL the consequences of his actions, and enjoys/bares/suffers ZERO consequences of the actions of others. In more common words, the author of this piece is terrified that “people get what they deserve” (both good and bad). Oh, my! Wouldn’t that be oh so terrible.


    Go see Atlas Shrugged, then buy the novel and read it… a few times if necessary. I suspect what really terrifies the author is… how timely this movie is today.

  • Plurstar

    The only thing this movie was dangerous to was my laugh-lines. Get over yourself.

  • Angel s

    Ayn Rand had Aspergers… and being Autism is becoming rampant, there is much to fear that those who care little about others would read this book and use it as their bible. That is the LAST thing the world needs now…

  • Jd Hoffman

    Regarding this article:

    Who cares what a fool believes!

  • Jd Hoffman

    Regarding this article:

    Who cares what a fool believes!

  • antisocial

     ”I am merely asking that the media be socially conscious when producing entertainment” Whatever you say James Taggert  asking that the media be socially conscious when producing entertainment” Whatever you say James Taggert 

  • Radical Rand Fan

    You are an ignorant imbecile that has been corrupted to believe Government Is Good and Can Do No Wrong.  What’s wrong with finding new ways to do something that people would benefit from, developing the process of doing it, then offering it to people to utilize and incentidentally making a profit from it?  Your line of thinking is that anybody else who wants to is entitled to take YOUR work, YOUR effort and produce it without YOU benefiting from everything YOU did to bring it about.  Selfish?  Yes, IF you buy into the idea that someone’s thinking and work and efforts to “make it so” belongs to absolutely anybody else who wants to make, or do, what you figured out how to.

    That is the ultimate theft: stealing incentive.  If, after you have put in all the effort to make something possible, someone else who did absolutely NOTHING whatsoever can come along and use your work, why bother doing anything if you can not gain any personal benefit from it?  Atlas Shrugged is *ALL* about that, and shows the ultimate end result of that way of thinking.  “John Galt” is the embodiment of rational thought and presents a logical and thorough argument to the other “titans of industry” showing (NOT CONVINCING) them to respect themselves, their own intelligence, and not allow anybody else to leech their abilities.

    Let’s suppose you find a way of making a vaccine that could cure any form of cancer.  The Government comes along and decides you should give this information to any competitor that wants to make that vaccine, and takes rights to it away from you, and giving the formula or whatever to any and all potential competitors that want “in on the action”.  Where is your incentive to continue developing it, if you KNOW that is what will happen?

    I would hope that anybody brilliant enough to do something that would be so beneficial would also be humanitarian enough to produce it and sell it at a modest profit rather than engage in price gouging.  If it was me and all the “profit” I’d gain was one cent above my cost of making it, it would hit the market THAT DAY or the next!  Why? Because if it saved ONE PERSON’S LIFE who would ultimately do something else beneficial, MAYBE, just maybe they would acknowledge MY “contribution” to their life.  THAT, to me anyway, is a bigger benefit to me than a bloated bank account.  *I* would have made a significant difference in that person’s life*I* would know so.  Even if that person NEVER acknowledged they had cancer and my vaccine or whatever had cured it,  I would KNOW that SOMEBODY out ther had been save because *I* produced it.

    On the other side of the coin, suppose I charged thousands of dollars for it and somebody else figured out it acutally only cost me – say – $20 a pop?  I’d get the well deserved reputation of being a selfish price gouging a**hole who didn’t give a da*n who lived or died.

    I couldn’t live with myself like that.

    America used to be a country where intelligence and innovation and ingenuity was rewarded.  It isn’t that, now.  NOW, what you do “belongs to everyone”.  NOW, people like Thomas Edison would very likely decide “Why the He** bother???”

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