Oddity of the Week: Atlas Shrugged (the Movie)

Although it was predictable, I’m still delighted that the Atlas Shrugged movie has proved an astounding bomb.  As a no-budget independent film with Z-grade acting talent and a poster that looks like it was made in ten minutes by a high school student with Adobe Illustrator, it was inevitable, but still, even libertarian strongholds like the Wall Street Journal can’t defend this one.  They even got the release date wrong–thanks to federal holidays, tax day was April 18th this year.  Herp derp.

But seriously, there are train wrecks (pun intended), and then there’s 9% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Highlights:

This comically tasteless and flavorless adaptation of Ayn Rand’s bombastic magnum opus delivers her simplistic nostrums with smug self-satisfaction.  (Richard Brody, the New Yorker)

Few novels get the cinematic adaptation they deserve, but director Paul Johansson has been fair to Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” — or rather, the opening third of it. The first in a proposed trilogy, “Atlas Shrugged: Part 1” is nearly as stilted, didactic and simplistic as Rand’s free-market fable.  (Mark Jenkins, the Washington Post)

I’d rather have all my teeth pulled out with pliers than go see it, myself.  If you can stomach it, here’s the bile-inducing trailer.  Watch it and you’ll see the inherent difficulty of bringing such a book to the big screen, as hinted at in Brody’s review.

The difficulty is not that the book itself is an author tract and not a proper novel.  It is not why, if John Galt and his cronies are essential lynchpins of society, no one has ever heard of him.  It is not the plot gymnastics required to make high-speed rail the conservative cause celebre of the future.  The difficulty is that you simply can’t get away with portraying awful people as heroes in a film.  In a book, straw opponents, contrived plots, selective viewpoints, and author filibusters can combine to present a narrow one-sided perspective from which the heroes appear to be, if not heroic, at least justifiable in their motivations.  But a film can’t get around the fact that a flesh-and-blood actor has to portray a character in some way, and there’s no way to portray characters with truly Randian motivations except as smug douchebags.  And that’s how they come across.  Hank Rearden can’t say a single line in that trailer without making you want to punch his smug face; Dagny Taggart (where did Rand come up with that ridiculous name?) mostly comes across as a shrill harpy.

It’s almost like a cinematic exercise in achieving the impossible: “Let’s recast Mr. Potter from It’s a Wonderful Life as a hero and George Bailey as a worthless loser!”  But, if this film is anything to go by, it may indeed be cinematically impossible.  People are just too human to buy it.

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If you handled the trailer fine and are ready to test your constitution on something stronger, try Dear Woman: SFW, just guys talking, and you’ll never sleep again.

Here’s Trololo as a palate cleanser that somehow manages to be light-years less creepy.

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