Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Atlas Snored

After a nearly a whole lifetime of deliberately avoiding Ayn Rand’s 1957 classic “Atlas Shrugged,” five or six years ago I finally unavoided it. I could cite more reasons to not like this book than Martin Luther had theses to nail to the Wittenberg door, but one simple fact trumps all of my objections - namely that I couldn’t put the damned thing down. Say what you want, the book is a page-turner.

Compare that to the movie version, released as “Atlas Shrugged - Part 1.” Inside 30 seconds I was looking at my watch. Let’s put it this way. The movie invites comparisons to such classics as “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” and Ed Wood’s immortal “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” Really, we’re talking “Mystery Science Theater 3000” quality here.

Ayn Rand’s dystopic novel asks us to identify with a band of hero capitalists getting squashed by big government, who in their frustration stage their own version of going on a strike led by the mysterious John Galt. Everything ends happily when the US of the future is plunged into the Dark Ages as a result, setting the stage for a return to reason.

Crazy as it seems, Rand pulls it off. The story centers on a hard-as-nails railroad heiress, Dagny Taggart and a much-maligned self-made steel magnate, Hank Rearden, who team up to save the country from its own stupidity (but only in pursuit of their own rational self-interest, which is Rand creed), and fall in a higher kind of love in the process, only to bow to the inevitable and join John Galt.

Rand’s oddball over-philosophizing is about as subtle as a headache (and just as painful) and the various plots and sub-plots and sub-sub-sub plots unfold like George Orwell on acid, only not nearly so coherent, but she does stick to literary convention in serving up virtuous and heroic (and ultimately doomed) Arthurian archetypes with whom we can easily identify.

This is far from the case in the movie version, which effectively turns our heroes into JR Ewing and Marie Antoinette.

No, it’s worse than that. At least JR Ewing was fun to watch. Whatever induced the producers to think that a main course of thudding right-wing speechifying would make compelling cinema? “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” by contrast, is a cliff-hanger. Unfortunately, my cinema seat did not come equipped with a fast-forward button.

It was no coincidence that the Dagny Taggart character seemed to have come straight from a Fox News desk. It was as if the producers felt that we would instantly identify with a limo-riding blond in short skirts, gorging herself on fine delicacies while the rest of the country couldn’t afford to feed their families. Any second, I expected this bloodless wonder to spout on about the evils of Obama Care.

What idiot could possibly identify with a character like this? I could only think. Oops, that’s right, Sean Hannity. He loved the movie. Then again, he probably wrote the screen play.

I’m sure the military right now is playing this movie to suspect terrorists at Gitmo to get them to confess. Where water-boarding failed, this horrible excuse for a movie may well succeed. In the name of humanity, we need to find a more humane form of torture.

Poor Ayn Rand. This is the last thing she would have wished for. “Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.” Alas, she is doomed to a similar fate as her Nietzschian supermen.


Unknown said...

I find it kind of interesting that in all the courses that I have taken (including some women's studies) that Dagny Taggart has never popped up. She was pretty radical for her time, and make no apologies for it. Even though her independence was still limited by societies rules of the time, she was very much a feminist. I thought that was fascinating. I don't think she and June Cleaver would have much to say to each other over tea!

John McManamy said...

Hey, Allison. I fully agree. Ayn Rand was way ahead of her time. Not only a strong woman battling men and making things happen, but a woman who loves on her own terms with more than one man. I think Dagny Taggard is the first of her kind.

It's a shame that the movie didn't do justice to the book, as Dagny is a role most actresses would kill for to play. Angela Jolie at one time was interested in playing Dagny. Imagine her in the role with the right script and the right director. It would have had Oscar written all over it.

Likewise, Ayn Rand has a very strong and unconventional woman character in The Fountainhead.