Thursday, October 11, 2012

'Atlas Shrugged II' opens

     "Real heroes don't need capes."
-- Web advertisement for Atlas Shrugged II

     Yes, part two of the epic film adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged is now opening, again without much advertising (I stumbled upon one web ad, containing the above ad line and a portrait of Samantha Mathis as Dayny Taggart, but clicking on it didn't blow it up or connect me with anything, not even the movie's official website, so apparently they're still trying to do this on the cheap).
     There's a fawning, true believer's review on that doesn't even pretend to start from a position of objectivity. The film is a must-see, he said, because it's based on the magnificent Atlas Shrugged, the greatest and most important novel ever written.
     As I have previously written, Atlas Shrugged is an extremely poorly written book. It's characterizations are of a kind with the Saturday afternoon movie serials of the 1940s where you can tell at a glance who is the bad guy because he twirls his Snidely Whiplash mustache and says, "I'm the bad guy." The characters don't have conversations; they make speeches. And Dagny Taggart falls in love not because of personality or physical traits or kindness shown to her, but based on their business and scientific excellence. She's in love at various times with three of the book's heroes, and they with her because apparently she is the most -- the only? -- admirable woman in the world.
    Atlas Shrugged is also science fiction. I don't say that pejoratively -- I like good science fiction -- but it's never marketed as such. If you pick up the book and aren't prepared, you might wonder WTF happened when super metals, sonic death rays, free-energy machines and the like suddenly pop up. There's a valley, owned by the good guys, concealed by a force field that makes it invisible and also prevents any vehicles from entering without having their engines fail.
      Conservatives and tea party enthusiasts seem to love Rand, particularly Atlas Shrugged, but often overlook her atheism. When called on it, as Paul Ryan was earlier this year, he recants, claiming he likes some of her ideas but never liked the woman or her books. Then tapes surfaced of him saying that he required interns and workers in his office to read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, something that he denied.
     The novel involves a U.S. where the producers -- the job creators, I suppose we would say now -- decide to protest the unfair taxation and government regulation under which they labor by going on strike. That is, they leave their factories, their typewriters, their labs, their pianos, their easels and their banks, go to the aforementioned secret valley and wait for civilization to end or come to its senses. This group is considerably smaller than Mitt Romney's one percent, so the vast majority of people, most innocent, are going to suffer. That, I think, is what appeals to the conservatives and the tea party. All those moochers, even the ones raising a family on minimum wage salaries, are going to pay for not letting the super rich get even super richer. Rand is honest about this. The first character we meet in the novel, Eddie Willers, works with Dagny, is in love with Dagny, and is a decent though not exceptionally talented man. In the end, he is left alone, stranded, presumably to die; he is not worthy of living in the valley. He is not one of the heinous ones who are responsible for the socialization of America, but the scene shifts from his moment of symbolic, existential death to the strikers planning their new constitution (a godless meritocracy apparently) with not even Dagny giving Eddie or the countless millions who are reverting to tribalism and anarchy a second thought.
     But that happy ending is for Atlas Shrugged III, if it's ever made.


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