Saturday, February 12, 2011

Who Plays John Galt?

I maintain a certain fascination with - if not necessarily adherence to, by any means - Ayn Rand. Yes, yes, I know... an antisocial nerd with a soft-spot for Objectivism? Shocker.

Look, I'm no Objectivist, but I'd be lying if I said that the broad sweep of it - particularly the whole "live for yourself," "to hell with the Greater Good," "traditonal-morality and social-stability are secondary to the freedom of visionaries to realize their potential" aspects - didn't appeal tremendously to what I recognize to be both the best and worst aspects of my personality. Yes, I recognize that the "philosophy" is a lot more about the author's own pathology and self-justification... but on the other hand "The Fountainhead" IS probably still the most absurdly-potent "Artist Versus The World" story ever, and more-indirectly, "Trees" is a really good song.

Basically, I appreciate it just enough that seeing Objectivist lingo and imagery being whipped out by the Tea Party as of recent is like a stabbing pain in the gut for me - it's akin to watching a caveman using an M-16 as a club. "Atlas Shrugged" as the banner of barely-literate "family values" yahoos for whom "elitist" is a curse-word? Have these people no concept of irony whatsoever? Sarah Palin is Dagny Taggart like I'm Erroll Flynn. Egh. Anyway...

I've always maintained that there's a good movie somewhere inside "Atlas Shrugged," but that to find it would require a top-down reworking, merciless trimming and oversight by filmmakers who could "respect" the story without needing to worship the philosophy (such as it is.) For the longest time, Angelia Jolie was trying to get it off the ground, but apparently that's been stalled. Instead, an indie outfit decided to put a version together as a "keep the rights" move, and they've now released a trailer...

...which looks like a Syfy/Asylum level production. Love the ominous "Part 1", too, indicating that they're keeping the interminable, meandering length of the thing. This could be the "Battlfield Earth" of political movies.

Incidentally, want a sobering glimpse of just how much political thought in the U.S. has degraded over the last few decades? Google "Ayn Rand" and "abortion," and marvel at what "conservative" USED to mean in this country.


Robert said...

Weird how you post this within ten minutes of me finishing Bioshock for the first time on my MacBook.

This movie looks like garbage.
Some things just cant be translated into film.

tyra menendez said...

I saw a documentary on Barry Goldwater and later realized that Lincoln was the founder of the Republican party. It really is just since Reagan that it's been about big business and Christian fanaticism.
Society is supposed to benefit everyone, otherwise, what's the point of living in society? In society, the strong are there to protect the weak (and the weak do things like math and make movies that keep the strong entertained), the weak are not there so the strong can build a pyramid to stand on their backs to reach the fruit that's up too high. I think I took that metaphor too far.

dkh said...

I argue Atlas Shrugged cannot be made into a good movie, but primarily because of the thematic underpinnings that cause Objectivism to break apart at the seams. Objectivism, as you know, is a philosophy of rationality that dictates that the individual, call him Man for the sake of convenience, is alpha and omega of all human virtue. That's the oversimplified version, of course, but getting into all of it would take too long.

Anyway, it follows that if everything is to be considered rationally, and that it is a philosophy about Man, that she must have a definition of Man. But that's where she falters. She makes it abundantly clear that all religion ("Mysticism" as she calls it) is asinine, so we cannot have magic intangible souls. But she also made it clear that she did not believe in the dictatorial aspects of genetics, which she ranted about particularly in The Fountainhead (remember how Toohey talked over and over about how we were slaves to our "glands"? Yeah).

This expanded. Her views on her heroes were that they lived in a vacuum of time, technology, and existence. A favorite example of mine is how Rand's former lover, Nathaniel Branden with whom there was a MASSIVE falling out, said she was suspicious of anything more modern than the theory of gravity, and he clarified that that was only a slight exaggeration. Further, he said she was extremely uncomfortable with the idea of evolution. Why shouldn't she be? If people were not completely in control of their own actions and had to work with the biomechanical contraptions nature had given them, then suddenly the prospect of total individualism doesn't quite work on a naturalistic moral level.

Point being Objectivism requires a leap of faith just like any philosophy and religion, but she refused to admit this about her own work and THAT is her tragedy. Reading The Fountainhead, several characters have flaws or pains. The hero Howard Roark recognizes he was wrong in helping Peter Keating with his own work. Randian HeroMan Gail Wynand collapses and ends up a broken shell of a man despite his potential. Most telling, the secondary character Guy Francon hopes that after everything his daughter Dominique finds happiness with Howard.

Atlas Shrugged, published 14 years later, had no ambiguity. Those shades of gray were gone in Rand's work. There were heroes and villains and that was really it. The grayest it got was in the character Eddie Willers, a would-be hero who just wasn't good enough to run his own megacorporation. Without conflict, without a chance to see multiple views, without fear, all of that, there is no real chance at drama.

It's religious dogma, like putting Superman in the role of Jesus Christ.

Blue Highwind said...

I never read Atlas Shrugged, though I did once make it through the first paragraph in a Barnes and Nobles before giving up and finding something in the Military History aisle instead. Anyway, John Gault - years of trendy twist endings have given me a keen awareness of when things are going to go David Lynch. I'm guessing that John Gault is either the main character's alter ego (or real name), God, Satan, or the main character's own ego.

Kent said...

I think Bioshock portrayed the fault of this philosophy best.

What happens when someone decides not to follow the rules? What happens when the criminal element has nothing to stop it? They don't like you talking out about their activities, they have you killed. You complain about service at their speak easy? To bad, they burnt the competition to the ground.

I've always hated this way of thinking because fundamentally for it to be allowed to work, the majority must not follow it. For a civilization stable enough to allow for artists, scientists and engineers to work, people need to obey laws and submit to the rule of others.

Clayton said...

ew, that does look pretty nasty. I can't say that SOME of the tenets of Objectivism don't appeal to me, but the thing as a whole just makes me roll my eyes. I will say at the very least Ayn Rand herself can't do the screenplay. I also remember the last time they made a movie based on one of her books and how WELL that went over.

Sarge said...

Two things.

"it's akin to watching a caveman using an M-16 as a club."

Best simile you've ever written. I hate the italics, of course, but still. Nice.

Second: you mean introverted, not "anti-social." They're different things, and as a pedant, I felt like pointing this out and, if you've read this far HAHA! I've inflicted my opinion upon you! One point for me.

9jack9 said...

Who plays John Galt? Why the director of course. So you know this shits gonna get self indulgent

tyra menendez said...

I like what dkh said, up there, except Superman is like Moses, already.

Elessar said...

My problems with the themes of Atlas Shrugged aside I don't think it can work as a movie, without some HEAVY editing (and for the record, I think Objectivism can be just as harmful as Facism or Communism, occasionally moreso. Want to see Objectivism in action? Play Bioshock).

The problem is all on the script level, mostly with dialogue and pacing. The characters are well defined, if a bit predictable, and the story is quite good actually. It's just the thing takes FOREVER for things to actually get done. For fuck's sake, The Divine Comedy is faster paced.

And the Dialogue, oh the dialogue. Ayn Rand apparently had NO clue how people actually talk, because all they do is Pontificate like their Nibbler.

So yeah, a 'straight from the pages' adaptation like this looks like, much with a production of this size? Get ready for a stinker.

Reverend Allan Ironside said...

I watched the trailer...and not a single shit was given this day for Lifetime's movie special of the week.

Adam said...

As a political moderate who leans conservative on a number of things I do agree with a lot of Ayn Rand's philosophy and disagree with a lot of it as well. I have yet to find what I would consider a fool-proof view of the world but I can respect her views at least.

But I've always been suspicious as to why mainstream Hollywood and Angelina Jolie in particular would ever be so interested in adapting any of Ms. Rand's work. Not to blabber on the tired accusation of Hollywood being filled with nothing but rich socialists or anything but I've just never understood it. I'm friends with a quite a few very staunch Democrats and for them mentioning Ayn Rand often provokes a reaction similar to mentioning Anne Coulter.

Anyways if this does happen I'll have a curious interest in it, but if you were going to adapt Rand's work I think "The Fountainhead" would be a much better choice.

Arturo said...

I can relate.
I'm no objectivist, but the idea is very intriguing.

On a not entirely unrelated note, 2112 is my favorite song. Ever.
-It tells a story regarding what music is all about
-It's an event in and off itself

Nick said...

How did they convince Andrew Ryan's voice actor to play a VILLAIN in this thing?

dkh said...

Actually, Nick, he is playing a minor villain. Very minor.

Joe said...

Michael Shermer's book, Why People Believe Weird Things, has a chapter titled "The Unlikeliest Cult" about how irrational Rand's inner circle, the people who fetishized reason, ended up.

Of Rand's fiction, I've only read Anthem, partly because I wanted to read the inspiration for Rush's 2112 and partly because it's only 100 pages. I was struck by the hypocrisy of the ending and have been turned off of Rand ever since. Though I have a friend who briefly devoured all her writings (and Peikoff's) and shared some insights with me.

Most Objectivists or admirers of Rand seem to be creative and intelligent young men (late teens - late 20s) from a working or middle class background. It makes perfect sense to me: Rand basically tells this demographic, "you are better than other people and should be in control". This view tends to neglect the bigger picture, things like a) would you be so intelligent if not for the existence of publicly-funded education? b) would your lifestyle be comfortable enough to cultivate your creativity without government regulations on heating, clean water, minimum wage, street lighting, policing? c) Other people with similar circumstances do become millionaires under the existing system, so maybe you're not as awesome as you think you are? I am strong believer in and supporter of individual rights and freedoms, but I think Objectivism ignores how much the individual actually owes to the society around him.

Although I don't completely agree with the thesis, Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers has a chapter discussing the success of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and other computer pioneers of that era, and how much they actually owe to circumstances and supportive people in their lives.

Dave Cesarano said...

Jesus. Atlas Shrugged is pretty much unfilmable. Not even Kubrick could make a movie out of it.

A miniseries might work, but... not a film. Ye gods, not a film.

Bob said...


FWIW, "Fountainhead" is actually pretty readable as-literature, or at least it was the last time I did.

The most concise "gotcha" to Atlas Shrugged is, honestly, the PLOT of Atlas Shrugged: MILD SPOILER! a group of good-guys are able to start and maintain a functioning Objectivist "society" - but only because one of them invents a scientifically impossible unlimited-energy source.

Arman said...

I've never viewed Objectivism as "Conservatism". The two are not the same. They should not be lumped together. Indeed, its true that the two movements intersect from time to time. They're both to the right. On economics they're almost identical.

However I've always seen Objectivism as libertarianism for sociopaths. Rand has an uncanny ability to take virtue as vice and vice as virtue. The moment I renounced Rand was the moment she argued that selfishness is good. Of course its understandable. She lived in the Soviet Union, and hated that society so much that she assumed that the polar opposite was right. However, she failed to realize that you can't have free society without standards. That's not how you get Galt's utopia. That's how you get Rapture.

Conservatives on the other hand believe that if a free society is to function, it should have a moral template to follow. After all, you don't need a ton of laws if people can practice self control.

That said, I don't know where Bob gets at with the Tea Party reference. A movement that believes in limited government and free enterprise quoting a woman who believed in limited government and free enterprise. Shocker! Heck, I think she was wrong on a lot of things. I think she was right about some things. Am I wrong to reference her?

Either way, I've come to a similar conclusion as Joe. Most admirers of Rand are younger libertarians in high school, or starting college. Most grow out of it. I did.

tintaman said...

Hehehe, Principal Schneider from Buffy is in this. Otherwise looks meh, I didn't find anything particularly bad about that trailer.

Bob said...


I'm speaking more of the way it appears that they've adopted Rand largely because they've been led to believe that "Atlas Shrugged" is the smartypants-version of their movement - if the Tea Party's "normal joe" members comprehended what Rand thought of people like them (her contempt for "average" folks and family-values types makes even MINE look positively minimal) they wouldn't be waving her quotations around.

Yes, fine, they both believe in limited government... well, actually, the Tea Party DOESN'T - they believe in a very, very BIG government, just ONLY in the areas that middle to upper-class white people care about - but they "say" they do. But the TP is ALSO anti-intellectual (they call it "anti-elitist") and reflexively traditonal-values oriented; which makes them almost the precise OPPOSITE of the woman whose words they're borrowing.

But then, what should I have expected from a movement that has the gall to call itself "libertarian" and sit idly by as the Republicans it put into power pursue an opening-agenda devoted almost-exclusively to shoving anti-abortion bills into law?

dkh said...


Bob, I don't think the characterization that the Objectivist paradise was only possible thanks to the generator is fair. The book makes it abundantly clear that characters are happy to do work superlatively (like Hugh Akston as a short order cook, Dagny Taggart as a cook and servant, or Ragnar Dansdfjkwerklj as a pirate). They did not lament lost empires or conveniences - I believe Ellis Wyatt specifically states he prefers to only make a fraction of his previous profits but to have all of it belong directly to him. One character, I can't remember who, states he would happily work as a chimney sweep for Hank Rearden because Rearden was a true industrial genius. These things indicated a complete willingness to live off of hard labor, energy be damned.

I think it's fair to say the generator was meant to represent what the greats of the world were holding back and what they would be capable of if only people like me would get the Hell out of the way.

buzzkillinton said...

they already made this into a movie it was called iron man. rich playboy type develops something that the government wants he decides its better if he hangs onto it. they swapped iron man out for a train but its the same basic movie

tyra menendez said...

Yes, Buzz, I read the Cracked article, too.

Arman said...


Perhaps you're right. However, I think that if we're going to argue if the Tea Party is antithetical to Objectivism its only fair to look at actual objectivists. For instance, Dr. Yaron Brook, president of the Ayn Rand Institute, is an Objectivist. He also speaks at Tea parties and has spoken in support of the movement. The Ayn Rand Center for Individual rights had this to say regarding the Tea Party:

So, it would seem, Objectivists don't see Tea Partiers as an ideological threat.

The truth is, we Conservatives are not nearly as homogenized as our counterparts on the left are. On the left, if you do not follow a rigid set of fundamental beliefs, you aren't welcome (Joe Lieberman, for instance). To a Conservative, if you agree more than half the time you're an ally. I can look at a libertarian who sadly does not value the unborn and say "Hey, I don't think you're right on the abortion issue, but you believe in economic freedom. I believe in economic freedom. Welcome to the team."

The tea party did back Scott Brown, after all.

So if you hear the label of libertarian put on the Tea Party, its more likely that there are just as many of them as there are socialcons in the organization.

dkh said...

Arman, then I have to ask, why are these Tea Party challengers reproaching conservative candidates?

Bob said...

Yeah, Joe Lieberman is so "unwelcome" everyone up to and including the Clintons hardly batted an eye once that business with Lamont was over.

Conservatism is "diverse" in the sense that you have two sides each of which assumes it's using the other to get ahead. What's the angle this week, again? Are we on "let the god-nuts do their thing, so long as their votes get us those tax-cuts" or "taxes, no taxes, whatever, the important thing is to protect them fetuses!!"?

connor.mcmyne said...

Interestingly enough, I recently read an article arguing that Iron Man 2 has the same basic plot as Atlas Shrugged. Or at least it's an homage. make of it what you will.

Arman said...

dkh. I'd have to ask you to be more specific. Are you talking about conservative candidates, or just Republican candidates?

I do not find it politically expedient for the right wing to create a rift between its two major factions. There is too much at stake. If you agree with me 80% of the time, there's no reason to be a political enemy. I'd prefer not to be a purist.

It is, however, political expedient to the left. Which is why I'm wary of people that promote false dichotomies between the two groups. I'd prefer leftists to be purists.

And since when did being libertarian mean that you couldn't get involved in social issues? Who's to say I can't be a libertarian, and not draw a moral line at terminating offspring on a whim?

And I'd be happy to hear the case that more abortions would help our budget problems.

smile said...

Of course you show an interest in Ayn Rand, you must find more ways to annoy me. :|

I can't stand the woman and The Fountainhead is terrible. All I see is a shallow whore with an attraction to rich white men who made an entire philosophy out of it that appeals to borderline aspie megalomaniacs.

Yeah we all fantasize about being a rich evil elitist and laugh in the face of all the children that wronged us in the past... and then, you grow up.

Nixou said...

Speaking of irony, the high-speed train that appears at 1'50 looks a lot like the TGV, the french high-speed train, built during the presidency of a socialist because the state owned company of Railways was trying to find a way to fight of the competition of cars.

This makes this trailer one of the most unintentionnaly funny I've seen in a long time.

RocMegamanX said...

About that Ayn Rand abortion thing, I may not subscribe to atheism or Objectivism, but I can somewhat agree with her that a woman DOES have a right to do what she wants to do with her body, especially when aborting an embryo that was forced upon her in cases of rape.

Dark and controversial view, especially coming from me, I know, but if she didn't plan on having a child yet, nor has enough money to support her, why not have that choice? Of course, some of you say: "But what about adoption?" As I said, it's a choice. She doesn't have to abort the child, nor should she be forbidden from doing so.

I haven't read Atlas Shrugged, by the way, or the Fountainhead. I don't really like reading long books.

Arman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Arman said...


One of the most frustrating things about the abortion debate is that pro-choicers always seem to force the discussion to "What if she was raped?" failing (or maybe not) to realize that its a red herring. Its a convenient way to force a pro-lifer to:

1. Come off as morally inconsistent ("Well, you're fine with abortion for rape, but not for other cases. What's the difference?")

2. Come off as an asshole for fear of being morally inconsistent.

But that's not what the debate is about. The debate is about wether or not it is moral for a woman to terminate her own child because it is inconvenient for her to deal with pregnancy at the moment. The debate is NOT about whether or not abortion should be allowed in the extreme circumstance of rape or some life threatening complications. When people who are pro-choice use this tactic they are deliberately diverting the debate. They're cheating.

Mr.G said...

Anyone else find it funny that Quark is in this movie?

RocMegamanX said...


How is it "cheating" or "a red herring" to even mention rape in the same breath as abortion?

Children can also be conceived through rape, especially when a young woman hasn't PLANNED for the pregnancy.

Why should rape have to be excluded from this debate? I'm sorry, I want to side with the pro-choice side, but the fact that I don't know reasons, other than rape or life-threatening, for abortion keeps me neutral. At least give me a reason for abortion. Rape IS a reason.