Assessing the Atlas Shrugged Movie

On Friday night, I went to see the new Atlas Shrugged movie, which recounts Part I of Ayn Rand’s classic novel. My wife (who first became a libertarian after reading Rand, though she is not a Randian today), expected to either love the movie or hate it. In the end, we both came away with the impression that the film was neither very good nor terrible. On the plus side, it does a fairly good job of conveying Rand’s message, the visuals are often impressive, and the actors playing Rand’s villains are often quite effective. Unfortunately, the actress playing the key role of Dagny Taggart doesn’t seem quite up to the challenge, which is a problem given that she is the main character in the first part of the book. There are also several scenes that flop for various reasons.

The decision to set the movie in the near future (2016) was, in my view, a mistake. Even with a measure of suspension of disbelief, it’s hard to buy into the premise that railroads would be as vital to the US economy in this day and age as they are portrayed in the the movie (the book was, of course, written in the 1950s). The film tries to plug this plot hole by positing that unrest in the Middle East has cut off all oil imports to the United States, thereby grounding most planes and making railroads more important. Unfortunately, trains run on oil too. Any increase in the price of oil would affect them as well. Moreover, even a complete cessation of imports from the Middle East wouldn’t come close to cutting off all oil imports to the US. Countries like Canada, Mexico, Norway, Russia, and Nigeria have lots of oil too. The filmmakers would have been wiser to set the film in a kind of “alternate history” 1950s.

That said, I’m still going to watch the second and third movies in the series, which I hope will be better.

For widely differing reviews of the movie by various libertarian commentators, see here, here, here, here, and here.

For my overall assessments of Ayn Rand and her legacy, see here and here.

UPDATE: For my wife’s far more detailed review of the movie (including a few minor spoilers), see here. Alison is far more knowledgeable about Rand and her work than I am.