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Who is John Galt?

Nobody cares who John Galt is.
Nobody cares who John Galt is.

Atlas Shrugged


Atlas Shrugged–Part 2 will debut on October 2012. Ayn Rand cultists had to wait 54 years for a movie version of her novel, Atlas Shrugged. They finally have one that’s true to the letter and spirit of the book. And that is the problem.

Atlas Shrugged is a lengthy novel that imagines a future where America has become a state in which mediocrity is the goal, and high-achieving individuals the enemy. Unions and big government conspire to stifle innovation and crush excellence. Capitalists are groaning under the tyranny of government ministers who wield powers greater than any Soviet premier ever had.

Atlas Shrugged–Part 1 covers the first phase of this nightmare-fantasy. Rand’s novel takes place in some unspecified future, but the creators of the movie, for reasons unknown, decided to set it in the year 2016. (Maybe the Rand cultists wanted everybody to think this is what the world will be like after eight years of Obama?) The plot involves Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling), a young woman who controls a railroad company named Taggart Transcontinental (its motto is Ocean to Ocean). She is a fearless and visionary entrepreneur, who is determined to use a revolutionary new steel to repair her train tracks. But vast forces seem to conspire against her.

Watching the movie, like reading the novel, requires a considerable amount of suspension of disbelief. We are expected to accept the idea that railroads are the hot new thing in transportation. And that Hank Rearden has created a miraculous metal that’s lighter and stronger than steel, but the bureaucrats, politicians and government ministers are conspiring to keep it off the market because it’s too good.

Okay, whatever. But it gets worse. Rand was the queen of one-dimensional characters, wooden dialogue and bloated plots, and Atlas Shrugged–Part 1 faithfully follows her example. Much of the “action” consists of long conversations about such thrilling topics as metallurgy and railroad management. The love affair between Dagny and Hank has all the erotic sizzle of a corporate merger. They get more aroused talking about a revolutionary new motor than they do in bed. The cast of second-rate actors does its best to breathe some life into this movie, but not even Marlon Brando could have saved this turkey.

A Tea Party member said, “The book, not the film, stands on its own as a vision of what America once was and still could be.” False. It is a fantasy about an America that never was, never will be and never could be. Things simply do not work in the real world the way they do in Rand’s imagination. Rand’s fantasies do not work on film and they don’t work as novels either.

Another Tea Party member said, “Atlas Shrugged is one of the great novels of American literature.” False. If by great you mean overblown, simplistic, bombastic, tedious, ludicrous, absurd, and humorless.

Frequently throughout the movie, characters repeat the phrase, “Who is John Galt?” A man in black, always in the shadows, is apparently John Galt. The real man in black was Johnny Cash. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times and H. Bruce Miller of the Source Weekly inspired this article.