Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?

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As a self-proclaimed critic, I have seen many films is my life. Some have been good, most have been terrible, but let me be clear—Atlas Shrugged: Who is John Galt? might well be one of the worst movies that I’ve seen in my life. Say what you will about Ayn Rand’s works, but at least things happened in them. Doomsday machines, bloodthirsty pirates, shootouts, pain, love, and desperation all appear in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, and it many ways it’s a uniquely American epic that can still be read and enjoyed today. The same, however, cannot be said for the film series, which has failed so spectacularly in the past few years that I can’t help but feel a little sad when I think of what could have been.

Directed by the incredibly obscure J. James Manera (whose body of work consists of a 2010 documentary an a single episode of Nash Bridges) the film, despite it’s massively influential literary and philosophical heritage, is really the brain-child of a single, delusional CEO named John Aglialoro, who spent almost two decades trying to persuade various studios to finance his dream project. Ultimately, Aglialoro, with the help of producer Harmon Kaslow, launched a Kickstarter to help fund the production. Though it seems like the film was stuck in development hell for nigh on twenty years, at least this much is clear: not a single individual involved in the production of this picture had the ghost of a clue what they were doing.

Let’s begin with the screenplay, which was penned by John Aglialoro himself, whom I know for a certainty has never written anything before in his life, Kaslow, who’s a lawyer by trade, and Manera, who, I can only assume underwent a lobotomy prior to joining the production. The writing in this film is so abortively bad, so mind-numbingly awful, that my face turned crimson within the first two minutes of the film from second-hand embarrassment alone. After seeing the film, I was left wondering how lacking in self-awareness one would have to be in order to look at the word-vomit that was the script, and think “yeah, this is a good idea.” Naturally, the writing also belies a fundamental misunderstanding of the core aspects of Rand’s philosophy, known as Objectivism, and instead focuses on the minuscule portion of it which seems to be popular with right-wing media pundits like Ron Paul, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity, all of whom have cameo appearances in the film. On a bit of a personal note, I always think it’s a bit ironic how some aspects of Rand’s philosophy are so popular with the “God and Guns” crowd, when Rand herself was a vehement atheist who abhorred the use of preemptive violence.

So, yes, the writing is shit, but that’s just one aspect of this many-faceted train wreck. I speak no hyperbole when I say that the film is tortuously boring to sit through, mainly because it tends to skimp out on the whole “visual” aspect of this visual medium. There’s a hell of a lot of telling without showing—which never bodes well, of course—but in this instance, almost every single scene in the film consisted of cringeworthy dialogue between two or more people while either standing in a room, sitting in a room, or driving in a car. It was ridiculous! This is supposed to be Film 101! Don’t just shovel exposition into our screaming, upturned faces, weave it into that narrative and show us how the characters interact and react with the world around them. Now, here’s the real punchline: the film is pathetically drawn out to achieve an artificially lengthened runtime, but the director chooses to do this via some truly awkward and out of place montages that end as abruptly and as awkwardly as they begin while very loudly and busily moving the plot absolutely nowhere. One in particular—which I found more laughable than the others, personally—consisted of perhaps one of the most awkward sex scenes ever put to film, with the possible exception of Tommy Wisseau obliviously pounding away in The Room.

And it gets worse. About two-thirds into the film, I noticed a significant decrease in production value—such as it was to begin with—which makes me think that the already paltry budget turned out to be surprisingly smaller that previously thought. It’s hard to put into words, but if you imagine one of the earliest Dr. Who episodes, when sets and monsters where just about made out of cardboard and glue, you might have a rough approximation of what the film began to look like. Strangely, the sudden qualitative drop off in this already bargain basement production made things begin to feel a bit surreal, almost as if they were playing the entire final act for laughs. Now, while I wouldn’t put it past someone like Charlie Kaufman (or equivalent) to pull something like that, such a supposition would be giving far to much credit to Aglialoro and Co.

As I mentioned before, if you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged, you might consider giving it a shot, bloated and ham-fisted as some parts may be. But do your self a favor and stay far, far away from any of the cinematic adaptations.

Rating: 0.5 out of 5

The Incredibles: Who Cares About John Galt?

Pixar, throughout the years, has produced more than its fair share of exceptional films. In my mind, one movie in particular rises above the others. The Incredibles, released in 2004, has everything I could want in an animated film, and indeed, in any film; action with a sense of something at stake, romance with consequences, and brilliantly written characters and a plot which invites the audience to experience something…incredible.

Moreover, the film possesses an intricate and engrossing commentary on the ethics and values associated with Objectivist philosophy, which may (or may not) have been evident to anyone familiar with the work of philosopher Ayn Rand.

Allow me to provide only the barest background into the admittedly labyrinthian intricacies of Objectivist thought. In its most basic form, Objectivism (as far as values and ethics are concerned) holds that there are three virtues which make it possible to honor the ultimate Objectivist value, that is to say, one’s life. These virtues are rationality, productiveness, and pride*. Rand believed that no man of integrity could live without these three virtues and hope to live his life to the utmost.

Atlas Shrugged, Rand’s magnum opus published in 1957, is also referenced through the film as it remains to this day the most complete and comprehensive guide to Objectivist thought. In it, Rand portrays a world in which society’s most productive members have been demonized and have therefore chosen to go into hiding in order to watch a civilization which champions mediocrity to crumble from the inside.

Now, in the case of The Incredibles, the superheroes have been forcibly driven into hiding and are no longer allowed to use their powers which once set them above their fellow man. From the beginning, Mr. Incredible is punished for using his intimate knowledge of his insurance firm’s inner workings to help people who are in need, because the though the company’s profits may suffer. He is discouraged from that “sacred” virtue, productiveness, in the name of the greater good (at least from the point of view of his tyrannical employer).

Likewise, when Mr. and Mrs. Incredible argue over whether their son, Dash, should be allowed to go out for sports, Mr. Incredible laments the fact that theirs is a world in which the mediocre are heroes while the strong are themselves oppressed. He goes on to say that only those who are truly exceptional should be celebrated and acknowledges the fact that Dash’s superpowers may give him an advantage, but argues that his son’s success should not be limited by the inability of others.

There are, however, natural exceptions which disqualify this film from being about Objectivism. One such exception is the fact that the protagonist, Mr. Incredible, believes that saving people should be done for its own sake, whereas Objectivist ethics would imply that he himself should be gaining something from that endeavor.

If you’ve never read one of Rand’s novels, I do recommend it. The Fountianhead or Anthem is a good place to start. But be warned, do not accept everything you read as fact, even when Rand may present it as such. And would you kindly remember one last thing for me? We all make choices, but in the end…our choices make us.

*Paraphrased from an essay by Rand entitled The Objectivist Ethics. (1961)