Search This Blog

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Atlas Sucked: Atlas Shrugged Part One (2011)

Screenplay by Brian Patrick O'Toole and John Aglialoro, based on the novel by Ayn Rand
Directed by Paul Johannson

Taylor Schilling:  Dagny Taggart (Mark I)
Matthew Marsden:  James Taggart (Mark I)
Grant Bowler:  Henry Reardon (Mark I)
Jsu Garcia:  Francisco D'Anconia (Mark I)
Paul Johannson:  John Galt (Mark I)

With Jon Polito, Michael Lerner, and Armin Shimerman at least making a car payment or two out of this

If this goes the way I'm expecting it to, all three Atlas Shrugged movies are going to be reviewed in the Atlas Sucked roundtable between Cinemasochist Apocalypse and this blog. We asked several other B movie sites if they wanted in on this sweet action, and got two "I'll have to think about it"s, one "Oh HELL no" and dead silence as responses. When I mentioned this plan to other people the kindest comment was "You've made a horrible mistake". So this isn't going to be so much a roundtable as it is Brother Ragnarok and I at a diner booth hating on the movies. So be it.

It also turns out that it's the fourth anniversary of the first film's release, which I may or may not have known when Bro Rag and I were floating the idea for this gimmick. Releasing the "what have the Romans ever done for us" movie on the day people have to pay their membership dues for living in America is actually pretty damn clever. Too bad so much else about this film fails to entertain or enlighten, even in a "so bad it's good" way. This film's just so bad that it's bad.

We start in the distant future of September 2016; this means, among other things, that the first volume of the Atlas Shrugged adaptation could also be called 2016:  Obama's America if that title hadn't already been taken. Rest assured, if you're making a movie for the teabaggers and you're setting it at the end of the current Presidential administration you're calling out to all their fears (about what's going to happen to America) and their hopes (about what they, personally, can do about it as brave revolutionaries on the front lines of the struggle for the destiny of their society). Of course, it's just a crappy movie and the target audience for it is probably not going to run out and man the barricades during the revolution--for one thing, they'd need some barricades. And a revolution.

It's par for the course, though--I'm partway through a book called Wrapped in the Flag, written by a woman whose parents were the first John Birch Society cell leaders in Chicago. In 1960 the hard-core right wing was viciously against the concept of labor unions, brutally in opposition to any kind of welfare for the poor, and screaming about Communist infiltration in the education system, entertainment world and political structure up to and including the Presidency. In 2015 the hard-core right wing is viciously against the concept of labor unions, brutally against the concept of any kind of welfare for the poor (their own Social Security and Medicare payments excepted) and screaming about Communist infiltration in American society and politics, up to and including the Presidency. Even some of the phrasing is the same--the Birchers in 1960 were talking about taking their country back; so were the teabaggers in 2010. Half a century gone by and they couldn't come up with anything new.

I should probably point out that this movie is the first of a trilogy adapting a 1957 novel from Ayn Rand, the atheist Russian Jew whose work provides the social and political framework for the current flavor of Republican Party policy (while we're enjoying the irony of the cracker Taliban looking to someone they would despise for all three of those reasons, plus her status as a woman, let's also remember that Rand herself made a career for decades attacking "moochers" who parasitically burrowed into the capitalist system and took handouts, crippling the greatness of America, and then went on Social Security and Medicare herself when she ran out of money). What I'm saying is that this work and Rand's life appear to be fractally hypocritical. The books themselves amount to self-insertion fanfic about economics; if Rand happened to have been born a few decades later she probably would have contented herself writing about Ensign Randynna who was totally awesome, saved the USS Enterprise lots of times and got to fuck Spock whenever she wanted because she was so beautiful that even a Vulcan with no emotions went crazy for her.

The film itself had a decades-long journey from page to screen (I can remember hearing rumors that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were going to make this movie at one point, which went on to not happen); the film under consideration today got made because the option on it was going to expire if cameras weren't rolling by a certain date. Rather than let someone else make what was undoubtedly expected to be a massive hit and cultural shockwave, the filmmakers got things done as quickly as possible in order to massage an 1100-page book full of leaden dialogue and a plot that hinges on industrial metallurgy into a usable screenplay. It turns out that it took three entire movies to tell this story (at this point I haven't seen the second or third films but apparently the budget got noticeably lower with each installment).

It's not completely unprecedented to roll the dice like this--the three Lord of the Rings movies were filmed before the first one was released, because getting that massive of a cast and crew together once for a long time was considered easier than doing it three times in a row. If the first film had been a flop New Line Cinema would have gone under; as it turned out, audiences responded to the first film well enough that the production budgets of the entire trilogy were recouped just in theaters. The marketing and distribution costs for all three were also a respectable sum, but there would not be three Hobbit movies now if there was no market for Tolkien films. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Atlas Shrugged would have been a gigantic smash; after all, the Tea Party movement was on the news every night for several years, and science fiction is a genre that has been known to make some money for people. Of course, if it turns out that the insurgents from Glennbeckistan aren't actually all that prevalent and that the rest of the country doesn't care about the movie, it's going to lose a hell of a lot of money and flame out.

So. On to the movie. It's the distant future of 2016 (a year and a half from this writing, but a full half-decade from when the film was released). There's a news montage at the beginning that sets up the dystopian world the film will be taking place in, and how it got that way; instead of Jaegers and Kaiju it's stock market crashes, infrastructure collapses, social unrest and gas shortages. Somehow the lack of oil from the Middle East means that rail travel is the only way to transport people or things in Future Economic Dystopia Shrug World, despite the fact that in the year this movie came out, Amtrak needed more than a billion dollars in government handouts to stay operational. Scenes of a train rolling through blue-for-night landscapes are intercut with bits of unsourced news footage (the filmmakers didn't even fake up a Global News Network or NBS logo for them) and audio clips of what I guess are supposed to be talk radio performers or audience members. The final straw in the destruction of America is a bill passed by what would have been the Republican-controlled congress of 2016 in which it's illegal to fire anyone who works for a profitable company, and to institute price controls for all consumer goods. Sounds legit.

Then, right before the narrative begins, there's a train wreck. Sometimes the jokes just write themselves.

The scene shifts to a rainy night in some city somewhere; as required by the Urban Scene-Setting Act of 1974, a homeless man is using a trash-barrel fire to keep warm. Meanwhile, Jay Knight, a television host, welcomes James Taggart, the CEO of railroad company Taggart Transcontinental, Ellis Wyatt (played by the dude who was Dick Stensland in the masterful L.A. Confidential), an oil entrepreneur (whatever that entails) and Wesley Mouch, a lobbyist, to his show. He asks Taggart what the company plans to do about the dozens of derailments on their rail lines, and the corporate titan says everyone must act to benefit society as a whole, just as a billionaire CEO on a news show would be expected to say in the real world in 2015. At a diner, a man in a suit buys a piece of pie and leaves; another man accosts him in the rain. The mystery man is wearing a trenchcoat and fedora, meaning he is either Ben Grimm or Godzilla.

A brief, cryptic conversation about living off one's own efforts and not letting people leech off your profits ensues and then the screen freezes and goes to black and white, superimposed text (with two different sets of sound effects--one of digital blips as each character appears on screen and one set of computer-key clicks) revealing that the pie purchaser was a banking CEO who mysteriously vanished. Considering what people like Midas Mulligan did to the American economy in 2008, I'd say one disappearing is an excellent start if the economy is ever going to be expected to recover. For that matter, I'm not sure what a banking CEO would do for money if he was working solely for himself. One assumes he won't be running to man the teller windows at every single branch of his bank personally. That's what non-CEO employees exist to do.

Then we get the opening titles for a few seconds, and somewhere else a phone rings. Dagny Taggart, the real power running Taggart Transcontinental (her doofus brother is an incompetent figurehead, as it turns out), answers the phone and turns on the TV, getting a plot-specific news broadcast about another Taggart derailment in Colorado. I will give the movie this--she had to change the channel to get the news story she cares about. Monster movies generally have the bulletin start the second someone turns on the TV or radio and it's always exactly what needs to be heard or seen to keep the plot grinding along. Anyway, two walking-past-homeless-people-without-giving-them-anything sequences and a subway ride later, Dagny shows up at TT HQ. Things are bad. The Rio Norte line is in such bad shape that Wyatt Oil is shipping tanker cars on the Phoenix / Durango line. OH, SHIT!

Dagny and James have a conversation in which the hard-charging Dagny is completely right about everything that has to be done and James just wants to make sure everyone company in the world gets a fair division of the money Taggart will be spending. Dagny has also placed an order for new rails from Rearden Steel in an attempt to keep the trains from falling off the tracks of the Rio Norte line and blowing up. Rearden apparently has some new kind of totally rad railroad rail steel that's going to get used for the repairs. James scoffs at this in dialogue worthy of Infra-Man:  "The consensus of the best metallurgical authorities are highly skeptical." I bet they are, if anyone can actually figure out what the hell that means. Dagny, like the honey badger, doesn't give a shit. She's off to Philadelphia (hopefully on a Taggart train that won't be exploding) to talk to Henry Rearden to finalize the order.

Dagny and Rearden talk about what it'll take to do a quick nine-month overhaul of the entire Rio Norte line; Dagny offers half of the premium rate to get everything done quickly because that line will be the first showcase of Rearden metal's capabilities. There's some politically charged dialogue about the right to make a profit from one's labors (though I notice Rearden, as CEO, wasn't actually out on the pour floor tipping the slag buckets himself). Rearden walks Dagny to her car after their conference, which is odd because gas is supposed to be too scarce and expensive for private motor use. Dagny points out that Rearden metal could make air transportation economically viable, which would mean trains wouldn't be as valuable any more. This is either dialogue from 1957 not updated for 2011 or just another symptom of the screenwriters not particularly seeming to know what transportation systems are actually in place in ShrugWorld.

Rearden returns to his mansion, where his wife, two men--his brother and a dude named Paul that seems to work for Rearden, maybe--and a woman I assume is his mother-in-law have been waiting for him for hours (and, presumably, putting a dent in his liquor cabinet). They're all whiny and judgmental because he works so hard to provide them with material comfort. Speaking of material providence, he gives a bracelet made from the first commercial-grade Rearden metal production batch to his wife, who fails to appreciate his scientific genius. Everyone bitches about this gift (I think it's pretty cool, myself, which puts me in the queasily uncomfortable position of agreeing with an Ayn Rand protagonist about something). Henry's brother Philip hits him up for a contribution to Friends of Global Awareness and when the selfless CEO industrialist immediately offers $100,000 to the group Philip gripes that Henry doesn't really want to help the underprivileged. He also asks for a wire transfer rather than a check so that the wrong Rearden's name isn't on the contributors' list. The dialogue in this sequence is possibly even more on the nose than anything out of Streets of Fire, but it's nowhere near as knowing about its own phoniness.

Rearden walks off to eat steak delivered by a butler while the guy who I don't know who he is tells him that the liberal media is casting him as a ruthless capitalist who only wants to make money. It turns out that it's all right to be profit-driven, as long as one doesn't admit it openly, I guess. And the acting between Grant Bowler and Patrick Fischler as Paul in this conversation is nice and understated. As a special added bonus, the dialogue actually sounds like something people might say to each other in a real conversation, too. At least up until Paul asks a few useless questions, wrapping up with "Who is John Galt?".

Paul, that treacherous little shit, is next shown having dinner at some big shmancy restaurant with Wesley Mouch, underhanded tycoon Orren Boyle and James Taggart. (It is probably a complete coincidence that the actors playing the three forces of economic and political corruption, including the one working from the inside to bring down the heroic capitalists, look incredibly Jewish.) Mouch says, and I quote, "It's not in the public interest to let one man destroy an entire industry," which means that the villains in this movie make a hell of a lot more sense than the heroes. It isn't actually in the public interest for one dude to wipe an entire economic sector off the map, whether through deliberate action, simple incompetence or bad judgments. Anyway, there's another liberal law meant to destroy the ability of honest capitalists to make money coming along, and Mouch and Boyle need James Taggart and Paul to help them get it passed. Also, naming your evil socialistic politician "Mouch" is pretty excessive. I wouldn't be surprised if Jewy McJewerson was the first-draft name.

It also appears that Wesley Mouch is supposed to look a hell of a lot like Barney Frank in this particular movie. I'm sure that was completely unintentional, since the target audience for a feature length right-wing screed wouldn't associate a non-religious, openly gay left-wing representative synonymous with campaign finance reform with villainy.

Barney Frank.

Michael Lerner as Wesley Mouch.

While they're discussing their sinister plot to end capitalism, the quartet of conspirators spots billionaire heir Francisco D'Anconia. Boyle and Taggart talk about a Mexican ore-mining operation that D'Anconia has invested in (which will be used to supply iron for a Taggart line down in that country that James believes will pay off handsomely); this is a brief introduction to the character and I'm sure the scene here will pay dividends later on. Or the director's just wasting everyone's time.

Back at Taggart Transcontinental HQ, Dagny and James have an argument over the Mexican situation. It turns out that Dagny has moved all possible Taggart assets out of the country so that when the industries are nationalized by the looters and moochers they won't lose anything. After James stomps out of the office, executive Owen Kellogg shows up to resign, refuse an offer from Dagny to name his own salary, and ask "Who is John Galt?" as a response to her rather justifiable request for a reason that he'd be quitting out of the blue. Then the screen goes black and white and we get the "disappearing person" text with the redundant character-generator sound effects again.

A jump cut to the Rearden bedroom and Hank's wife asking "All done, then?" after lovemaking later, the titan of industry leaves to go do work stuff. He gets a phone call from Dagny, who wants to complain about Owen Kellogg quitting out of nowhere. She also references the repeated question about who John Galt is, and gives the first in-story indication that anyone's noticing the disappearance of various titans of industry. Rearden reassures her that everything's going to work out okay, because people of their social class are the levers that move the world. Donald Trump might have told him to tone the ego down a touch.

Another quick CEO disappearance occurs, and then there's a phone conversation between James Taggart and Orren Boyle; they're working on a piece of legislation called the Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Rule, where individual corporations in a given industry will work together for mutual benefit. That actually sounds like an okay idea but Taggart says it's about the collective needs of each industry, so it's got to be a moocher / looter plot to destroy innovation. And speaking of looters, moochers, and statists, Mexico gets around to nationalizing that ore mine that Francisco D'Anconia had planned out and there's no ore in it. I actually found this part of the book funny and interesting, because the aristocrat had figured out a way to make the government forces arrayed against him steal something valueless and then complain about it. You have to take your entertainment value where you can get it in this work.

In the wake of this devastating setback, Dagny's personal assistant Eddie Willers tells James Taggart that there's an emergency board meeting. At this meeting, James takes credit for Dagny's decision to move equipment out of Mexico. In a private meeting, Boyle and James Taggart decide that D'Anconia is too smart to lose all his money to a nationalization scheme and plan to find out how they can profit from whatever it is, once they find out what the forthcoming plan is going to be. D'Anconia finds James Taggart to be a bore, and won't set up a meeting or even take a phone call from him.

Meanwhile, Dagny Taggart takes a call from her assistant while riding in a limo (that is supposed to be too expensive to use with gas at $37.50 a gallon--although I'm not sure a diesel engine would be getting good enough MPG to make trains a winning proposition); another person that was supposed to be facilitating the Norte line vanished, leaving behind a note asking who this John Galt dude is, anyway. I can't imagine that one executive was going to lay thousands of miles of track on his own, but the movie treats this as quite the setback. During a brief discussion between the Taggarts, James is treated (by Dagny and the film) as a fool for thinking the Anti Dog-Eat-Dog Rule will help his company and he suggests his sister asks D'Anconia what's up with the Mexican ore mine nationalization fiasco. There's an exposition bomb here that Dagny and Franscisco used to have a thing going, but don't any more.

In her office, the head of Wyatt Oil is there to chew Dagny out for the destruction of the other railroad company that runs the Phoenix / Durango line; Taggart promises him that the rail line will do everything he needs it to so he can sell his oil--then she makes a dinner date with Francisco D'Anconia even though she's already got one with Henry Rearden. I had visions of batshit crazy sitcom plots (or the scene in Superman IV where Clark Kent and the Man of Steel both have a date at the same time in the same restaurant), but it was not to be.

At the Rearden date, the two colleagues talk about diesel engine manufacture and maintenance; Rearden knows of a company in Wisconsin that made super great train engines but went out of business. If they still have any parts or machine tools lying around it might be a way to get more trains on the line in Colorado and get oil tankers moving. They segue to Dagny's invitation to the Reardens' anniversary party and another missing executive; according to Hank if all the innovators and businessmen get Raptured at this rate, soon it'll just be yes-men, incompetents and political hacks running the economy and that could be disastrous for the economy (MBAs and tycoons running corporations with an eye solely on the bottom line, to the exclusion of any other factors,  could never work out badly).

Then Dagny goes to meet Francisco at a restaurant (and incidentally, as clunky as all the names are in this movie--I haven't even mentioned the pirate Ragnar Hammarskjold yet--I can't really hate on the novel or the film for having goofy names. I loved Pacific Rim, and there's no way anyone on the planet named their kid "Stacker Pentecost"). Dagny throws a drink in her former squeeze's face and accuses him of setting up the Mexican mine deal to fail so that he could swindle money from the various investors, including her brother. D'Anconia implies that he set the deal up to fail to punish people for trusting him blindly, leading to an exchange that could only have come from the mind and pen of Ayn Rand:  "They rode on my brain and the premise that I wanted to make money." "What happened to you, Francisco? Where is the man that I used to love?"; scripts don't get any sudsier than this (although usually the woman asking that question isn't lamenting the loss of capitalist desire). There's still two movies to go in the series, so Dagny doesn't get any answers here but she does get her hand fondled all creepy-like and a promise that she'll eventually put the pieces together. And, of course, the only answer she gets from D'Anconia is "Who is John Galt?".

That's enough sizzling romantic tension; now it's time to visit the Reardens in the back of a limo (that is supposed to be too expensive to drive) as they go to their anniversary party. A plot-sensitive TV in the limousine tips Rearden off that the Equalization of Opportunity Bill is coming up for a vote and he places a call to Mouch but doesn't get through (and doesn't leave a message). Now it's time for soft jazz and people drinking cocktails at a banquet! Also, to give the film credit where it is due, the party scene is filled with extras in appropriate clothing and the camerawork glides around like an eavesdropper to follow some characters and move past others. It's nicely handled, as is most of the technical craft of filmmaking (I've seen movies that are so badly made they're not in focus; this one doesn't have any gratuitous lighting errors or anything similar that would make it look shabby). There's also lots of quick closeups of the party attendees, which makes me think either the director and editor are being far more generous to their extras than one would expect for an Ayn Rand film (they don't deserve a closeup if they aren't the stars, after all) or possibly that the producers got coaxed into getting cameos in this scene.

Dagny and James arrive and there's some subtle bitchery from Lillian Reardon about Dagny's dress being passe and her Rearden metal bracelet as a clunky, ugly thing. Dagny and Hank gather together, united in their dislike of social functions. I'm always glad when I find someone who has opinions about the Lannisters in a crowd, myself, so I understand. Someone named "Balph Eubank" is mentioned as an attendee, giving us a new gold medalist for Goofy-Ass Name in the film. D'Anconia sidles over to Hank Rearden, who is offically having none of it (he has no desire to lose tens of millions of dollars on a dry mine). D'Anconia asks Rearden why he's willing to carry so many people who would be helpless without his money and talents. There's a brief cryptic conversation between the two that wouldn't have been completely out of place in the Village, and then D'Anconia politely takes his leave. Right around that time Dagny trades her jeweled necklace for the Rearden metal bracelet, then leaves the party.

Time for a jump cut to Colorado, where Rearden steel rails are being laid down for the Rio Norte line; rather than Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden putting all the track down themselves, they're forced to rely on the common laborer. And, worse yet, I bet the people actually putting the tracks down are expecting to get paid for doing so. Shit, they might even be in a union, which means the work will have to be done while trying not to maim or kill them.

After that interlude, the Taggarts in the back of their own too-expensive-to-use limousine going to a function where Dagny is expected to address the National Council of Metal Industries and defend the new material being used for the Taggart line in Colorado. James tells his sister that her speech is going to actually be a debate against someone named Bertram Scudder. Waiting until she's in the car going to the event to spring this one on Dagny? Dick move, Jimmy. Dagny instructs the driver to pull over so she can leave, since she's not interested in getting ambushed at a press conference when she thought she was going to have a private dinner. Getting out of the limo, we get a shot that encapsulates the Rand ethos pretty perfectly. Dagny walks past a homeless man at a trash barrel fire without noticing him.

The rail construction continues, and Hank Rearden refuses to stop making his new metal even when a slumming Armin Shimerman drops by to offer a government buyout (they apparently want to benefit from his privately financed R&D, or possibly just refuse to issue manufacturing licenses for the new material--I'm not entirely sure which). The government flunky won't answer the question "Is Rearden metal good or not?", so Rearden won't do anything he likes. Because behaving like a petulant child when you don't get your own way is sound governing practice. I did enjoy seeing the actor behind the main Ferengi argue for fairness and economic redistribution though.

One newspaper-and-magazine montage later, public opinion has been shaped against Rearden metal, even though it hasn't been proven to fail yet. Or proven to work, for that matter, but Dagny makes the justifiable point that the people using it to make rails and switches know more about its capabilities and flaws than someone writing for a magazine. When the State Science Institute warns people away from using it, though, things are getting real. At the SSI, Dagny talks to their head science person. He tells her that a philosophy prof made a bet with him when they tried to influence three brilliant students. One turned out to be Francisco D'Anconia, one was the pirate Ragnar Dannaskjold and one vanished completely. Also, it turns out that Dannaskjold's acts of piracy steal from the poor and give to the rich. I wonder if his name is Norwegian for "Dennis Moore". The science institute guy also looks like he's about ten or fifteen years too young to have taught D'Anconia during his college days.

Somewhere on the Colorado rail line, Dagny accepts the praise from Ellis Wyatt for staying on time and getting the tracks laid on schedule (naturally, it's assumed that she's doing all the heavy lifting, rather than the construction crews who are literally lifting the heavy things as part of the project). Hank Rearden is there; they talk about replacing an old worn-out bridge with one made of Rearden metal. He thinks it can be done in three months, and then asks Dagny to dinner. She declines, because he's married and it's only the first movie.

Back in NYC, Dagny's limo drives past a food handout truck from the Ministry of Welfare (hiss, boo) and gets a brief update from Eddie, her personal assistant. The stock price of Taggart is plummeting and it looks like using Rearden metal in the face of government orders and rigged public opinion is going to kill her corporation completely if nothing is done. She tells her brother that she's going to leave the family business and start her own company to take over the Rio Norte line with her own financing; once the line is running and Rearden metal is proved to be the best of all metals, Taggart Transcontinental will take the line back over and everything will be awesome. Maybe it's because my degree is in film studies instead of business or economics, but that sounds like Three Card Monte with stocks and ownership. She makes a quick deal with her brother--he gets to be CEO of Taggart in exchange for Eddie going over to her company, as well as a promise that he'll use his influence in Washington to make sure her new company won't get bogged down in red tape and regulation while she's off being awesome. James says he can't let her damage the family name with her scheme so she decides to name the new company the John Galt Line.

Dagny's plan hits a snag pretty much immediately when she asks Francisco for financing and he says there isn't any money to give. She offers to sleep with him in order to make the deal, and he still turns her down (I hear that the Columbia House record company went out of business under similar circumstances). She gets turned down by a lot of small-minded idiots who don't recognize a great rail transport opportunity when they see it, but eventually sells plenty of shares in the company to a consortium of other tycoons; Hank Rearden buys the last portion of available bonds himself when Dagny stops by to commission that bridge from a few scenes back. He's also got a folder with some schematics and photos of a new engine type that he got from the shut-down manufacturing firm in Wisconsin he knew about (the "20th Century Motors" logo doesn't sound all that impressive or futuristic in 2011, by the way). Hank and Dagny decide to take a trip to Wisconsin to catch a Tommy Bartlett show and also investigate this further, but before anything else happens Hank gets a phone call telling him the Equalization of Opportunity Act got passed so nobody can own more than one company any more. Rather than consolidate all his holdings into Rearden International he says he'll sell off everything but the steel mill. Paul, the guy whose relationship to Hank I'm still not entirely sure of, gets the ore mining company. Various other people who haven't shown up in the movie before wind up with ownership of other Rearden companies; I'm pretty sure this gets explained a touch better in the book.

Rearden is left alone with his one true love, a robotic steel mill. And plenty of Rearden metal tracks have been laid now; it's a shame the CG effect to change the color of the rails doesn't quite work, because it's important that the new rails don't look anything at all like any existing ones. They look periwinkle, and I wouldn't trust periwinkle to hold up a freight train. A union delegate comes into Dagny's office and says nobody from the Engineers Association will run an engine on the new and untested rails, which honestly a genius captain of industry should have thought of. Dagny busts the union by saying she'll use scabs to run the engines after the successful test of the rails, and the representative backs down. She then says she'd never force a man to do anything, which kinda contradicts the scene she was just in.

Soon enough it's time for the maiden voyage on the John Galt line, which is covered live by cable news because absolutely nothing else is happening in the world that day. The train speeds along on the new rails in a slightly-below-average CG effect. The new bridge holds (there's a series of shots of the train going over the bridge that are edited together choppily; I'm guessing there was only so much time and money for the CG effects and they just had to use all of them, whether or not the virtual camera placement made any sense or not), and Dagny and Hank hug in triumph. There's also lots of gorgeous Colorado scenery utterly ruined by a lack of a train going through the wilderness.

It's a triumph (though there's only about ten or fifteen people meeting the train at its endpoint and there didn't appear to be any passengers other than Hank and Dagny, which raises the question of how exactly the John Galt Line is going to make any money whatsoever). The oil tycoon made dinner for the steel tycoon and the rail tycoon, but the shadowy forces of Jewish-looking character actors conspire to wreck the pair of them for the sheer evil of it.

Meanwhile, over steak, vast quantities of wine and champagne and awkward dancing, the Tycoon Dinner Party proceeds. Ellis Wyatt says he's got a way to extract oil and gas from a hitherto unreachable deposit in his territory (which means that Atlas Shrugged anticipated fracking, I think). He leaves to go make some phone calls and Hank and Dagny are told that there are several guest rooms upstairs. Turns out they're only going to need one, because marital fidelity is for losers--though to be fair Dagny is single. It's just that Rearden isn't. A shadowy figure lurks outside and knocks on the door. Like most billionaires, Wyatt doesn't have a security staff or a butler so he answers the door himself. The next morning he is nowhere to be found, but he did leave a brief note for his guests.

Hank and Dagny decide on the spur of the moment to go check out that abandoned machine shop in the deserts of Wisconsin. According to Hank the company collapsed because it paid its worthless, parasitic employees too much money. In the decades-abandoned but spotlessly clean and dust-free company headquarters Rearden makes his Spot Secret Doors check and uncovers a small room where the mystery engine was developed. Dagny finds the engine and identifies it as a particle accelerator the size of a cocktail shaker. It's pretty impressive, but TONY STARK BUILT ONE OF THEM IN A CAVE! FROM A BOX OF SCRAPS!

A bit of sleuthing leads the pair to the last owner of the factory, and from there they follow a chain of previous owners to track down the inventory of the engine (while utterly neglecting their existing businesses, it looks like). The inventor died years back, but his wife says his assistant was the real genius, and that the assistant kept in touch with Professor Akston of Patrick Henry University. And, in a line of dialogue the expositionary actress successfully delivers without laughing, "Mr. Akston was rumored to have opened a roadside diner near Cheyenne". How profitable a roadside diner would be in a world where nobody is supposed to be able to afford to drive would be, I'm not sure. Maybe Akston likes the quiet. Or maybe the movie forgot gas is supposed to be almost forty bucks a gallon.

At the diner, Akston refuses to answer any direct questions and tells Dagny (trying super hard to be portentous) that she's stumbled over one tiny corner of the big mystery and then walks home (leaving the diner open; maybe he's not a very hands-on manager). The shadowy trench coat and fedora wearing guy is already there, proving Daryl Zero's maxim that people don't know you're following them if you get where they're going first.

A convenient news bulletin tells Dagny that the Wyatt Oil fields in Colorado are on fire (which might be sabotage or it might be the kind of thing that regulation of industry exists to prevent). Special points for the reporter on the scene saying the hill behind him is engulfed in flames while the insert footage does not feature a reporter or a hill on fire. Dagny drives off to Colorado (I guess to try and help with the fire?) while Mouch gives a speech about all the pointless wealth-wrecking restrictions he's going to place on businesses as the new MFIC of the Bureau of Economic Planning and National Resources. He says he's going to "equalize the national economy" through taxing and business restrictions, which makes as much sense as "reverse the polarity of the neutron flow" to me.

Dagny breaks past a couple of not particularly effective cops to run inside the Wyatt mansion looking for Ellis, but doesn't find him. A voiceover plays of the shadowy dude telling Wyatt that he's the head of a Libertarian paradise, a city of heroes where all the geniuses are free to be awesome producers and be freed from pointless government interference or regulation (meanwhile, the cops and firefighters trying to save Ellis' mansion are paid for by the taxes he undoubtedly loathes). A sign at the edge of the burning oil fields implies that Wyatt torched the place himself before leaving for Tycoon Valhalla Atlantis. Fade to black and roll credits.

The credits, by the way, reveal that this was a movie made with a union crew, crediting the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO specifically. And the copyright protection covering the film and allowing the artists to realize the profits from it (if there were any; this one lost about three and a half million dollars according to figures on the IMDB) are part of that pointless government regulation the movie just spent its entire running time attacking. I think the real secret ingredient to Rearden metal has to be irony.

The real problem with Atlas Shrugged as a portrayal of anything is that neither Ayn Rand nor the filmmakers seemed to ever realize that the protagonists are being described in exactly the wrong terms. The CEOs and billionaires that want to sulk in their douchebag clubhouse and destroy society are not Atlas holding up the world. They're Pharaohs in gold and jewels screaming from the top of a pyramid that they're living gods and they'll wreck the world in a fit of pique because the sweating, starving masses don't love them enough. And there's no position less analogous to Atlas' than a mortal god-king on top of a stone monument built by slaves. The top of a pyramid couldn't be farther away from the position that the 1% say they're in (both in this movie, and, occasionally, in real life).


  1. Who is Jon Galt? I mean, Dennis Moore? The internet is full of Dennis Moores and the first two I looked at don't make sense.

    My first car was a '79 Ford Pinto. It almost never exploded. True story.

    Excellent sneakylinks. You win the internet today.

    I CANNOT picture Taylor Schilling as a titan of industry. She looks like a sleepy bubblegum pop star.

    Who the HELL would manufacture a metric fuck ton of new metal without knowing everything there is to know about it first, and what idiot would then lay a complete line's worth of rail with this mystery metal without having run some trains over it first? This plot annoys me.

    Why the HELL did Zero Effect never become a series?? Hollywood annoys me.

    “Nothing is more admirable than the fortitude with which millionaires tolerate the disadvantages of their wealth.” -- Rex Stout

  2. Dennis Moore was a Monty Python sketch about a highwayman who stole flowers from the rich to give to the poor (who would have rather had cash), and who then got confused and stole from the poor to give to the rich. His theme song turned out to be a parody of the Robin Hood theme song that was produced by Joe Meek, which I had no idea about until I was in my mid thirties.

    Anything that the right kind of capitalist does in an Ayn Rand book is automatically and always completely the right thing to do; they never make mistakes. So because Hank Rearden is one of her Men of Vision(tm), he can come up with an alloy that is lighter, stronger and more durable than steel without having to worry about things like whether or not it'll support the weight of a train. If it was a government scientist who invented State Science Metal the rails would vibrate apart and the bridge would collapse, killing hundreds. But Rearden is just awesome at everything, so his metal is exactly as perfect as it can be.

  3. I think I see...the safety and efficacy of the the magic-metal rail lines was established by the simple fact that Rearden and Dagny produced them. Testing would have been redundant and wasteful. The simple, dumb mistrust with which they were met was simply an obstacle they had to overcome en route to the embiggening and betterment of Amurica. Does that sum it up?

  4. Yes, although the mistrust was also a symptom of the moochers and looters being too jealous of Rearden's awesomeness to trust the metal. It gets pretty ridiculous what the characters are capable of; Dagny's also a jet pilot in addition to being the sole force running Taggart Transcontinental.

  5. Good stuff, but ouch, that font.

    It was just the other day that it was occurring to me that Howard Roark blowing up his own building actually had no philosophical justification at all, even within libertarianism or objectivism -- he was just acting childish and butthurt, and that was justification enough. I haven't read Shrugged but it sounds like you've reached a similar conclusion about the Galtian sabotage movement.

  6. The politics of the novel and movie would have to clarify by orders of magnitude in order to just be incoherent. It's literally "whatever the author thinks is the right thing to do is the right thing to do", notable especially when different characters do the same thing. Dagny telling a train to go through a danger signal works out fine because she is the hero; a moocher doing the same thing causes disastrous loss of life because the author said so.

    The movies left all the pro-rapist commentary from Rand out, for which I am absurdly grateful.