Atlas Shrugged--And I Didn't
By David Henderson
My title is a takeoff on the title of P.J. O’Rourke’s panning of the movie Atlas Shrugged. He obviously didn’t like it and, with an eye for detail, noticed the strange world in which cell phones exist but oil pipelines don’t. I can add my own criticisms–about a confusion between the price of steel and the price premium on steel and Dagny losing all her bargaining power with Rearden by telling him how few alternatives she has. But one thing I learned or, at least, had reinforced, early in my intellectual life–from Ayn Rand, actually–was not to be bound by concretes but, instead to pay attention to the big picture. And my big-picture view is that on a scale of 1 to 10, Atlas Shrugged is at least a 7. Per dollar spent on the movie, I’d give it a 10. It’s amazing how good a movie they made with only about $10 million. Unlike P.J., I didn’t find the acting stilted. Hank Rearden was stilted, but that was in character–that’s how he appeared in the novel. Eddie Willers was a lot stronger a character than I expected–but I liked him. And Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart was–how shall I say this tastefully–very appealing. I loved the “significant looks”–I think in her novel, Ayn Rand called them “silent salutes”–she and Rearden gave each other. The building sexual tension between Dagny and Hank as the movie progressed was delicious. The only guy who I thought was totally miscast was Hugh Akston. He needed to be at least 10 years older and distinguished looking with a nice head of gray hair. The countercultural hippy look didn’t work.
Also, I had feared that, as in 1950 movie, The Fountainhead, there would be too many long speeches. There weren’t. There were attempts to get the philosophy across, mainly successfully, but these were with one- or two-liners. And the villains were realistic hypocrites. We would see them scheming to take advantage of the interventionist state while spouting all the standard lines about compassion.
My own favorite, though, was Rearden Metal. The bracelet that Rearden gave his wife from the first pouring of the metal was similar to how I had pictured it. And the rail itself was so similar–especially its color–to how I had pictured it. My favorite segment in the novel was the maiden voyage on the John Galt Line. No movie, I think, could do justice to the passion of that segment and this one didn’t. But it did pretty well. And the shimmering metal and the way the train snaked around the foothills and crossed the bridge were beautiful.
The ending shocked me–coming after only about 90 minutes and containing a reaction from Dagny that I don’t remember from the book. But it worked. The movie theater in Monterey in which I saw it–which contained only about 40 seats–was only 2/3 full but over half of those people lingered for the credits. Some conversations got going too. I heard people say, “What happens next?” and “I can’t wait for Part 2.” An older man and his wife came up to me in the dark while the credits were rolling and asked me if he should read the book. I don’t know how he chose me. Maybe it was because at various points in the movie, he heard me laugh at some of the villains. I told him that if he liked the movie, he would like the book and, to give it some perspective, the book had changed my life. “I’m an economics professor,” I said, “and there’s a good chance that, had I not read Atlas Shrugged, I wouldn’t be.”