When I was in college, and fresh from reading a lot of Ayn Rand, I was happy to hear that a movie would be made of “Atlas Shrugged.” Well, it's been 35 years, and here one is, opening on Friday.
I’m not a disciple of Rand, but I have a certain admiration for her philosophy and her writings. So I was eager to see how such a mammoth, intellectually dense novel could be turned into mass entertainment.
The result is neither a failure nor a great success. The film has its merits. The characters are considerably more approachable, human and even likable than the chilly, heroic dogmatists Rand imagined. They don’t engage in the endless and often overbearing monologues that fill countless pages of the book.
The actors, none of them big names, are well-suited to the roles. The story has drive, color and mystery. It looks good on the screen.
But it’s not a movie I’m eager to watch twice. It has a bit of a TV-miniseries feel. Some of the movie’s weaknesses are the fault of the book, which has a lot of cartoonish characters and stilted dialogue. Those are less pronounced in the movie, but still there. Because “Atlas Shrugged” is being made into three separate movies – with Part 2 not due until a year from now – this one ends abruptly and inconclusively.
Another arguable major flaw – bug or feature? – is that it spends so little time on Rand’s philosophical themes, without which the book would be of no interest. The film lacks intellectual ballast.
Maybe it would be impossible to do them justice in this time-constrained visual medium. For those acquainted with Rand, the limited references may be enough. But for those new to her, the motives of the lead characters will be puzzling.
I also found the oppressive, collectivist political climate depicted in the movie (as in the book) extremely far-fetched. Fifty years ago, it was possible to imagine such policies becoming commonplace and popular. Today, it’s not – partly because of the influence of intellectuals who publicize the virtues of capitalism. Rand is something of an anachronism, a victim of her own success.
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