So, Atlas Shrugged the movie premiered in select theaters on April 15th. I had been anticipating on watching this film for about a month or so. For those of you who are Any-Rand-inclined, the novel Atlas Shrugged has a character named Dagny Taggart. This is where my parents got my name from. I myself have read the book, along with “The Fountain Head,” “Anthem,” and “We The Living.” I might be a little biased, but I believe “Atlas Shrugged” is one of the greatest books in the world. There are so many themes and messages and philosophy woven together in a story so complex and innovating. Everything in it is relevant to our current economic situation as much so as it was in Rand’s time.
The film is set in the year 2016, where the economy is in shambles, several oil spills have occurred, and airplanes have been dismantled due to its cost. The majority of the American population is unemployed. There were even a few scenes where men in suits are holding large cardboard signs with their resume written in marker walking on the sidewalk. The only reliable mode of transportation has regressed to trains. There are a few businesses that focus on technology or transportation that are owned by a few key players. The government considers them a monopoly and focuses all their time and effort to create laws to limit them. As the story unfolds, different men are confronted by a tall man in a trench coat asking if they know who they are. Then the scene freezes and words appear under the image showing their name, the company they own, and the day they disappeared. The span of time skips around in a similar way. For instance, once the bill was passed that limited the number of company’s a person could own and the amount a person could produce, there were several repetitive scenes of the character Henry Rearden signing off his various companies and handing a folder to different men. I know it was supposed to signify the effect of the bill, but I don’t think there was enough explanation behind it. Everyone repeats the question “who is John Galt?” without any context or implication of significance.
Even though this was only part 1 of the story, the film seemed to rush through it. Skimming over key pieces, the plot is diluted to a branch of government that believes monopolists are selfish and one woman who is obsessed with a railroad. Transitions between scenes and dialogue are not smooth, which makes it difficult for the audience to connect the dots. I’m not sure if I should blame the script writer or the actors, but the majority of the dialogue and its delivery was blunt.
As for the characters, this might have been the most disappointing part. Let’s start with Henry Rearden. Even though I expected him to have a bit of a thicker figure and to seem a bit older, the actor – Grant Bowler – was a good fit. He was able to convey the character pretty well, in particular when he tried to explain the importance of his steel. However, the delivery of some of his lines were stilted and sometimes lacked a definite emotion or tone. Next, Francisco D’Anconia. A copper-mine-tycoon-womanizer who is smarter than everyone thinks. The actor they chose for this part – Jsu Garcia – really couldn’t carry it. When I read the book, I pictured a slightly darker version of Antonio Banderes. Garcia could not portray any form of royalty, wit, or appeal. The few scenes he was in were not memorable. John Galt, the man always wearing a trench coat and hat lurking in the shadows and is the cause of all the disappearances, is played by the director – Paul Johansson. Not much happening there. Lastly, Dagny Taggart. Being the origin of my name and one of my alter egos, it really was heartbreaking to watch Taylor Schilling play Dagny in this film. Starting with what one could see, blonde, skinny, and lifeless is definitely not what I read in the book. None of her outfits were tailored or of any quality that the real character would have worn. It was like her instructions were just to keep a straight face, but they forgot to tell her to play a character. Thus, she ended up being one-dimensional. There was no explanation to why the railroad was important, why she was linked to D’Anconia, her philosophy of society in general, and a myriad of other key elements. Years ago when rumors of this film started spreading, apparently Angelina Jolie and Charlize Theron were on the list to play Dagny Taggart. I’m not sure how that would have happened since it was always known that this was going to be a low-budget film. Nonetheless, I feel either of them would have done a better job. Dagny Taggart is a woman who is so complex and deep, that one would need a person who could convey that without saying anything. Unfortunately, there was nothing striking or intriguing about Schilling (actress).
It is true that taking this novel to film is a very difficult endeavor. I commend the director for his bravery, but his attempt was not satisfactory. This is probably why Ayn Rand fought so hard to keep anyone from taking this story to film. It might also explain why all other attempts – starting in 1972 – fell through. Maybe they should have hired the director of “Lord of the Rings” or the first director for “Harry Potter.” Bringing a book to life is key when it comes to film adaptation. Fiddling with the time period and omitting certain themes are not a good starting point. So, as the cliché goes, “the book is always better.”
“I swear by my life and my love it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask for another man to live for mine.” -John Galt