Friday, April 15, 2011

"Atlas Shrugged: Non-Contradiction" nearly sells out on Friday afternoon, draws applause from the "choir"; watch Wyatt's Torch

I read “Atlas Shrugged” by Ayn Rand while in the Army, evenings at Fort Eustis, in 1969, sometimes on the bus for trips “home”.  Other guys in the barracks read it, too. What a tool for unit cohesion. 

Atlas Shrugged: Part I”, comprises the first third of the novel (“Non Contradiction”), is directed by Paul Johansson (who will appear as John Galt), and is now produced and distributed entirely by “The Strike Group”, after Lionsgate apparently backed out. It wouldn’t surprise me if Lionsgate returns and handles the DVD’s later.

“The Strike” (which even has a trade dress on the poster based on “Wyatt’s Torch”), is, of course, a pun: all of the men who produce things go on “strike”, leaving a collectivist world in shambles.  The plot has been advanced to 2016, when the disappearances start (John Galt knocks on your door), with a total Arab embargo again, gasoline rationed, and the nation’s infrastructure falling apart. The government has turned to collectivism, with “Equality of Opportunity” laws (no one can own more than one company), anti “Dog-eat-Dog rules”, and even a “Bureau of Redistribution”.

It’s logical enough that high-speed rail could come back (look at the trains in China, France and Spain today), with leadership from someone like Dagney Taggart (Taylor Schilling), and that something like Rearden Metal (Grant Bowler) could make it possible. But the film, however spectacular the western, Gunnison-area scenery (as if the Cinemascope film needed Imax) rail scenery and however dire the urban scenes look, seems to miss the communications revolution altogether.  Would the heads of Google and Facebook join the “strike”? The film takes on the character and look of a Christian film (or at least a typical right-wing movie), and sometimes the characters seem comic-book like.  Yes, Wesley Mouch (Michael Lerner) sums it up (with this “Bureau of Economic Readujustment”).  He is a mooch.

There’s no question that the film is timely given the recent debate on the budget, shutting down the government, raising the debt ceiling, Paul Ryan’s proposal to gut Medicare, and Obama’s “King’s Speech” at GWU this week. And the film opened on “IRS Day”.

As to philosophy – do the “men of ability” (and women) owe something to “ordinary people” upon whose labor they depend?  Christian “morality” sometimes tries to take this into family values, claiming that marriage is the social bridge between individualism and the necessary social interdependence and complementarity expected of everyone.

The railroad "Cassandra Crossing" scene over the Gunnison certainly can stimulate debate. True, Ayn Rand insisted that "second handers" mooch off of those who take risks to produce. But the "risk" needs to be understood in various contexts.  In a real world, a train like that wouldn't be run over a new bridge without extensive testing by engineers, some of whom would have to be introverted to do their jobs right. (That's like IT work.)  And the new rails had to be laid still by a lot of manual labor (that fascinated my own father's moral sense). Dagney says her workers "volunteered" for the train ride; she had never "harmed" anyone. That's a loaded proposition. 

There is a scene where Dagney is told she has no feeling or empathy. But later, she puts the make on fellow entrepreneur Francisco D’Anconia (a very handsome Jsu Garcia, who is always shown in shadows in Part I), with the conversation between them rather brief and pleonastic.

Here, I can’t resist quoting an email sent to me in 2005 from someone in Australia, a bit of a tongue-lashing (or email-lashing), that seems to take my own “objectivism” to task. Here it goes:

I was surfing today on subjects that I could read on the matter of feeling listened to. I happened on your site and was very interested in your comments. I will go back and re-read..and re-read as I tend to do, but I felt that in some of what you were 'doing' what you were commenting on. You complained that people/groups would not listen because you were not of the 'specific' group. A question of empathy and a willingness to be open I believe is the problem here. You were a bit offensive in relating to that the fact you write at a certain level and many would not understand what you were saying. That is complete snobbery and a very bigoted point of view. You are not more creative, wise and truly all-knowing. What gives you the right to the idea that you are intellectually above the' cretins 'of the world? Education is a tool not a weapon to threaten anyone with. If the majority of people are not able to understand your train of thought, as you say you have observed, then it is you who is not communicating effectively. You may be your own worst enemy.”

I saw the movie in a smaller auditorium at the Landmark E-Street in Washington on early Friday afternoon, and it nearly sold out. The evening shows today (April 15) are sold out. The audience applauded at the end.  But maybe the audience was “the choir”.  There were some long lunches today to see this film. How many walked down from the nearby Cato Institute? Or perhaps the law firm Latham and Watkins, next door. Or even the FBI in the area.

There is a site called “Atlas Shrugged Movie” here but it is not the official site. That is here. And yes, I paid a legal admission ($8 daytime) to see it.

The film provided am embeddable trailer on YouTube:

I had read "The Fountainhead" while in graduate school at the University of Kansas, and I have seen the 1949 United Artists film, directed by King Vidor, in black and white, based on Rand's own screenplay. It's not that convincing. Howard Roark destroys his own work in response to government misappropriation, just like Wyatt does in Atlas Shrugged (hence Wyatt's Torch). 


I've also seen Strand Releasing's 1997 biography "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life", directed by Michael Paxton.

Update: April 30

Richard Sincere has an interesting take on the film in the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner, here.

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