Friday, September 21, 2012

I know who John Galt is, and I don't care

Take a philosophy (or ideology, if you prefer), mix in advertising-perfect sets and scenery, add age-of-railroads industrial imagery. Don't expect it to rise. Expect a film like Atlas Shrugged, Part 1.

If you're questioning my reason for watching ASP1 (on a Blu-ray disc from Netflix), well, so am I. I had been aware that it was savaged by reviewers, but it was possible that they had let their own ideology influence their judgment -- almost all reviewers are standard off-the-shelf leftists. ASP1 is short by current movie standards (an hour and a half) and I let curiosity get the better of me.

I should acknowledge I haven't read Ayn Rand's super-sized novel. I don't expect to. The next five-pound book I read is going to be Kazantzakis's The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, not Altas Shrugged.

ASP1 looks pretty good, in a picture-postcard, Architectural Digest way. It's shot in rich, saturated colors: interiors glowing with the patina of aged wood, the lemony light from chandeliers, Corot-silver ultramodern office corridors. Plenty of travel brochure shots of Western landscapes. Eye candy and all that, but pleasing.

The characters inhabit a world of glamour and industrial chic, set against the background of an America in economic chaos -- if it was explained why the country had sunk so low, I missed it. As to the storyline, I suppose it's familiar even to those who, like me, haven't delved into Ayn Rand's cult novel. There are three main characters: Dagny and James Taggart, sister and brother, heirs to a railroad (because of petroleum prices, the only form of mass transportation in the year 2016) and fortune; and Henry Rearden, head of a steel company.

Dagny and Henry symbolize the kind of titans Rand lauded. Almost everybody else in the movie is swinish, especially the politician characters. They don't make steel or run railroads or produce for society. They're leeches. The John Galt of the title, as I'm sure everyone knows, is a shadowy -- literally -- figure who appears at intervals to persuade the movers and shakers to drop out of sight and leave the untermenschen to their fate in a collectivist world.

It's possible that Rand's novel is not so simple-minded and didactic -- probably not, from what I've read of it, but possible. And in a less extreme form, her philosophy of Objectivism might have been a useful counterweight to the forced egalitarianism and subsidized dysfunction the Left has so successfully lumbered us with. But I can't admire the kind of people she seemed to admire. I don't want to live in a culture that has no use for ordinary people, for wisdom, for spirituality.

Let's talk about the acting. You're not going to get much satisfaction from what is on view in ASP1. Of course, it's hard labor for players to do anything with lines like, "That's a secondary cooler, to reduce the heat generated in the process" (or something like that; I quote from memory, but will try to be more precise later). I have seen none of the actors before other than Jon Polito, and in his case I wish I hadn't, then or now.

Taylor Schilling is Dagny, super-captain of industry. She shows flashes of technique that might be better employed elsewhere. Her co-titan Rearden is played by Grant Bowler, who has one of those handsome-pretty faces that soap opera casting directors like. His is one of the most abysmally uninteresting performances I've ever seen in a lead role. Some of the other poor wretches trying to make something out of nothing show signs of talent, albeit in a lost cause. The only actress who commands the screen is Rebecca Wisocky as Rearden's shrewish wife.

You may have gotten the impression that the story and dialogue are rubbish, but to describe them as such would be unfair. They are worse than rubbish. They are hilariously bad.

Actually, ASP1 is no sillier than the other film based on an Ayn Rand novel, the 1949 The Fountainhead. But that, one of the greatest follies ever committed by Hollywood, at least boasted a couple of magnetic stars, Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal.

I seem to recall that ASP1 was shot on a slender budget. The best that can be said for it is that it doesn't look cheap. The worst is that its ideas are fatuous, and the sets deserve above-the-title billing.


YIH said...

Well Rick, from what I've been told {spoiler alert} it was another 'arab oil embargo' that renewed the idea of rail as a form of long range transportation.
I learned the hard way in 2000 that itself is laughable, Orlando to Buffalo would have cost twice as much and taken 18 hours with a change of trains in NYC verses flying.
I've read the book and from what I've read the movie is what it is. BTW, how did they treat smoking in the movie? In the book cigarettes are quite literally a plot point and every character smokes.
Also there will be a 'part II', due out next month. Also thank you for turning off the CAPTCHA.

YIH said...

BTW, if you've read what has been written about the movie Idiocracy you'd think it was a great moment in American cinema.
I saw it, no it's not. Think mediocre 'TV movie of the week' and you'll be closer to the truth.

Anonymous said...

" Land of the free and home of the brave".
That's why the far right including Catholicism don't like condoms.
That and their urges as pedophiles, be they Mormans or Bible freaks.
The thing is, turns out , the poor do breed like rabbits because they have no health care and the US Government just loves that; they get to use that surplus quite cheaply in wars.
And this same surplus provides millions of returning vets ,with post- traumatic stress or with amputations , and painful , physical wounds, - they do become drug addicts ; and that's another win- win for US Government because , as everybody knows, Washington is about it Bush or Clinton or Obama.
So they got the guns - Vermont - Maine with military ....
And , of course, it's the billionaires churning those
suckers out like Mitt- Kerry- Rush - Bush associations .
Ask Hillary , Cheney or Rove.
Ruth and Stan are giving away the prizes.
( 22UA YHD5)
And Hollywood dumps Lance.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Stogie said...

I liked "Atlas Shrugged," though it isn't perfectly written -- too many very wordy passages where characters give long speeches that are merely sermonizing on the righteousness of the free market. I agree with the message, but it isn't perfectly delivered.

The major point of the novel, which was written over several years and finished in 1957, is that talented entrepreneurs drop out of an increasingly socialized economy. They stop producing; it is an economic form of passive aggression. In the novel, this takes the form of a concerted action among the productive rich, who simply disappear, one by one, leaving the leeches to fend for themselves. But where do they go?

The lessons of this novel are not trivial, and with all due respect, deserve more consideration than you are giving them.

Rick Darby said...


I don't know if you are the same schizophrenic who has been "commenting" for some weeks now or a different one, but I'll say it again: your biochemistry is messing with your head. Go to a hospital and tell them your symptoms if you want help.

Rick Darby said...


I acknowledged I hadn't read the novel but I have read a fair amount of commentary on it (which isn't the same thing, obviously) and on Objectivism.

I don't like reviewing movies on political grounds, but ASP1 is permeated with Ayn Rand's political philosophy, so it's hard to separate the two. Still I tried insofar as possible to review it in cinematic terms, which is why I talked about the cinematography and acting.

If statism continues advancing at the rate it has during the Left's "march through the institutions," I understand why at a certain point the most brilliant and productive members of society would say "enough!" and go underground, even though many innocent though not dominant people would suffer as a result.

Maybe the executive in overdrive (as in the case of Barack Obama) and the elephantine federal bureaucracy need to be allowed crash society before any serious reform can succeed.

But I also believe that, at bottom, our crisis is spiritual. Ayn Rand was an atheist-materialist, and I distrust systems built purely on economics and power hierarchies.

Rusty Mason said...


Regarding the weird Anonymous comment, I have read that hackers have created bots that post semi-coherent comments on random weblogs, using words from the targeted blog and its commenters. Maybe that's what you have there.

Rick Darby said...


Wunnerful wunnerful. My most enthusiastic commenter is a psychotic bot.