Atlas Shrugged Part II: Ideas That Tower Above Any Movie

It is often said that to truly enjoy a drama one must engage in a willing suspension of disbelief. This is difficult watching a movie based on an 1,168-page novel that you can practically recite from memory. A novel that changed your life. A novel that is still changing lives.

I just finished watching a DVD reviewer’s copy of Atlas Shrugged Part II, the second installment in the promised trilogy, scheduled to open October 12. It’s late and I’m tired. Tired and scared. Tired of standing on the deck of the Titanic, like so many others, shouting “Iceberg, Iceberg!” Scared as I watch the impending train wreck of a global economy that is being recklessly driven toward a fiscal and monetary cliff by its political masters—safety valves welded shut, fuel being poured on the fire, desperately trying to outrun a disaster of their own making. Wondering if I will know when it’s time to start planning a personal escape, or will stay until it’s too late.

If Atlas Shrugged Part I was a CliffsNotes version of the first third of the book (as I wrote in my review in Forbes last year), Part II is a pastiche of excerpts from the middle third, ending when main character Dagny Taggart, played by Samantha Mathis, crashes in Galt’s Gulch. The emotional force of a novel that has the power to grip a reader through many readings spread across multiple decades just cannot be delivered by a 112-minute movie. The context can only be supplied by the viewer.

And that’s how I watched Atlas Shrugged Part II—filling in the missing lines, adding the absent characters, mentally conjuring up the omitted back stories, and letting my memories merge with the actors’ efforts to draw the best they could from a screenplay ruthlessly truncated to fit the required format. It’s a bold attempt, and I will not dismiss the effort despite the fact that a viewer unfamiliar with the novel is likely to be mystified, wondering what the big deal is.

Francisco d’Anconia’s money speech, the second most important in the book, is more timely than when it was first written given the Fed’s insatiable appetite for printing trillions. Alas, it was delivered in abbreviated version by actor Esai Morales without the dramatic punctuation provided by the panicked riot that ends the Taggart wedding scene, which played out only in my mind’s eye.

The trial of Hank Rearden, played by Jason Beghe, was drained of the slow-build drama leading to the “Aha!” moment when Hank withdraws the “sanction of the victim,” depriving the judges of their moral authority—the key to fighting back and an enduring lesson of Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism.

The hobo scene when the story of the destruction of Twentieth Century Motors by socialist experimentation is peeled back, and the secret of John Galt’s role in “the strike” is first revealed, gets tossed off in perfunctory fashion by a railroad worker substituting for the hobo.

The drip, drip, drip disappearance of the major industrialists, their businesses falling like dominoes, the economy deprived of innovators who did build that, is alluded to but never viscerally experienced. There is no substitute for plowing through the book, night after night in impending dread, much as we are doing today watching the evening news.

I could go on, but I won’t. You’ll have to read the book—which was a big deal, and still is.

This movie, released a mere three weeks before the election, deserves your support. Vote for it with your movie dollars, if nothing else but to protest the statist madness engulfing us. Perhaps it will force some rational dialogue. Rest assured, the movie will be savaged by the leftist press, mocked by the cultural intelligentsia, and derided by the political operatives and crony capitalists that Ayn Rand so well portrayed in the characters of Wesley Mouch, Bertram Scudder, Kip Chalmers, Owen Boyle, Floyd Ferris, and many others.

Do not be discouraged when this movie is dismissed by opinion leaders, just like the 1,168-page book that went on to sell over 7 million copies. If the former serves only as an advertisement for the latter it will have done its job.

Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here. If you would like to have his columns delivered to you by email, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.