Saturday, April 16, 2011

"Don't try to find me. I am on strike."

A guest post by Husband.

Film: Atlas Shrugged, Part 1.

Starring: Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler

Synopsis: In an era of economic decline made worse by intrusive big government, a group of powerful American industrialists fight to keep their businesses and their country alive. However, despite their best efforts, their peers- the titans of industry- begin disappearing, one by one, never to be heard from again, just when they are needed the most. Where have they gone? What has convinced the country's best minds to abandon their empires, their work, and simply vanish? Who is John Galt?
(Based on the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand)

I think it's important to mention that well before this movie was released Friday night, the critics and other movie-elites were panning this movie into the ground. "A lame attempt..." "Atlas Shrugged, and you might, as well" "Speechy, preachy tale" "I yawned"... and so on. The reception by moviegoers was expected to be tepid as well, presumably, because it was only showing at a few hundred theaters in the country. In Arizona, there were only two places to see it.

And then opening night happened. By Saturday morning, "Atlas Shrugged" was one of the most-searched terms on the major search engines. And now, the unwashed masses like you and I were writing the reviews. A different tone, and one key phrase in particular, now dominated. "Go see this movie." "The 12:30 matinee was sold out." "Loved it." "Solid and enjoyable." "It was sold out in Portland." "Can't wait for part two." "It's selling out in New York." "Entertaining and true to the book." "Sold out." Sold out... sold out...

And now, it's my turn. As far as I could tell, it was sold out. We got there half an hour early just in case, and it was a good thing, because we barely found two seats together in the third-to-last row. It was at the Valley Art theater on Mill Avenue, which has only one auditorium, so everyone who was there, was there for that movie. It was very crowded, but it was sort of like we were all in some secret club. Everyone was very polite, and acted almost like they knew each other already. There were people of all ages there, even some that looked only 12 or 13, which was good to see. As we left, the line for the next showing was 4 and 5 people wide, and traced around buildings all the way from the Mill Ave. sidewalk to as far back as we could see, and further.

So... the movie itself. Spoiler alert, blah blah blah, and it will help for this part if you've read the book. There were a few weaknesses, mostly due, I think, to the low budget and rushed production schedule. A few of the characters were a bit off. Hugh Akston was just strange, and nowhere near as distinguished in manner as he is in the book. Francisco was too loose and relaxed, compared to the regal and polished D'Anconia heir of the book.

The two characters I was most proud of were Lillian Rearden and Ellis Wyatt. The guy they got for Wyatt, in particular, was spot on in every way. Perfect. Paul Larkin and James Taggart were also quite well done. The two lead characters, Dagny and Hank, had the most screen time, and the nuanced, understated romantic tension between them, given the limitations the movie was working with, were just right. The fact that it was set in the near future is a departure from the book in some ways, but it gave an added relevance and even more timeliness to a story that has both of those in spades, for a 2011 audience.

Of course, things were left out, as you have to do for a movie. There is, sadly, no mention of Richard Halley and his music. There are no flashbacks to childhood summers on the Taggart estate. Major plot elements in the book are given only passing mention in the movie. Numerous minor characters are omitted. It had to be so. And, I wish it had been longer, with more room to breathe and flesh out the drama and dialogue. I would have been happy with a 160-minute version, but in just 90 minutes, it felt a little too densely packed. At the very end, there's actually a moment where I felt that way too much was given away about the subsequent events, but it might have been deemed necessary in order to suggest a sequel in the minds of the audience.

The movie's biggest strong point, by far, is the book it's based on, and to which it remains loyal. And that, not the film itself, is actually the point. People just at our showing drove to Tempe from at least as far away as Flagstaff, and there are lots of reviews on the internet from people who made similarly lengthy journeys. And frankly, unless you're a crazy film fanatic, you don't drive for hours just to see flawless cinematography, the perfect script, or top-quality plot development. Even if you did, the movie has none of those things. And yet, it still got a hearty round of applause from an enthusiastic audience.

Why would that happen? I believe it's because people are hungrier than they have been in a long time for the truth, and for principles and ideas that have stood the test of time- individual liberty, self-determination and accountability, and the fact that free-market capitalism is still the best path to prosperity for the most people. In the past two years, people have woken up to these things, to an impressive extent. The large crowds, the spontaneous camaraderie, the celebratory mood, etc., helped us all to fulfill the human need to feel the equivalent of the words, "brother, I hear you, I'm here with you, and we're all in this together." The movie was a rallying point, maybe more than anything else, and a well-suited one. It was not so much what the movie was, but what it meant, that really made the experience a good one.

Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's masterwork, was first published 54 years ago. It's not often that a book takes as long to be made into a movie as this one has. A few people over the years have tried, unsuccessfully, to make a film out of this book, but finally, one of the greatest works of fiction of all time has hit the big screen. Some might say that this is a movie whose time has come. Actually though, this is a time whose movie has come.

If you've kept reading this far, go out and get the book and read it. And, you know, see the movie when you get a chance.

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