Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Atlas Shrugged Part 3: Live Free or Shrug Hard

You know, I've been pretty game about the whole Atlas Shrugged thing. I sat through the first one, mostly without laughing, and I appreciated the great strides in quality made in the second one. These are movies that I have to go out of my way to see, too. (A trip to a regular theater runs a good $40-$60 instead of my usual $22. Color me completely unsurprised that people aren't going to the movies.)

And I knew—I knew—that a movie that was bothering to kick-start $500K (the craft services tab of your average low-budget flick) wasn't going to make good on the promises of Ayn Rand's dystopic future.

And I haven't even read the book.

Which is okay, because Part 3 is more of a book report than a movie, sorry to say. Every cheap tactic you can think of is used to compress the story into what must have been a meager budget. And it's not that it's bad, really, it's that it's not entirely there. Which is a shame on a number of levels.

The new actors (they're replaced again from part 1 and part 2) are good: Laura Regan is even warmer and more appealing in this role than Samantha Mathis and Taylor Schilling, and she has some genuine chemistry with Kristoffer Polaha, who plays John Galt (replacing D.B. Sweeney and Paul Johannson, who had very minor roles in the previous films).

But the rest of the cast phones it in, and I mean that literally. Rob Morrow plays Henry Rearden, Dagny's love interest in the previous film, but his big scene here is a mutual break-up over the phone. (Love, like business, is something that entails no obligations on the parties involved beyond initial agreements, if I understand correctly.)

I like Morrow a lot; would've liked to actually see him in this film. Greg Germann who has been playing weasels since at least "Ally McBeal" (and possibly "Ned and Stacey"), plays Dagny's brother. What a great choice. He even has a few lines. Peter Mackenzie has probably the most substantial role after Dagny and John, as "Head of State Thompson".

I had some trouble with that. What is "Head of State"? Are they trying to say "President" without saying "President"? Did that come up in the previous films? It didn't bug me then, but it did here.

Anyway, the voice over is provided by an actual returning cast member, Jeff Yagher, who plays Jeff Allen. No, I don't know who "Jeff Allen" was in the movie. To me, the story, as I can piece it together from the movies, boils down to a power struggle between Productive Giants and Tyrants, with a love quadrangle between Dagny and, alternately, John, Henry and Francisco, and the big character arc is Dagny's as she is ultimately moved from fighting to her death to save her father's railroad (still makes me laugh—railroad!) to "going Galt".

So, the big climax in this movie is set up beautifully: The heart of her rail operation is this bridge. Galt has predicted this bridge will collapse due to government regulation/incompetence. She says she won't let that happen.

Obviously, obviously, obviously: The Bridge Is The Thing. The movie should revolve around the fate of that bridge. The climax of the movie should be a 10 minute desperate struggle to save the bridge from, I dunno, explosive railway regulators. Whatever.

Instead, we get a still picture of a collapsed bridge and a narration saying, "Yep, it collapsed."

I mentioned in the first movie how off-putting the philosophy itself is. And, by the way, I'm not saying that I understand Objectivism; I'm just going by what the movie presents. The second movie beat out the first by focusing on cannily accurate description of government overreach, and less on the revulsion toward altruism. It also cleverly wove actual current events into the story, where they fit seamlessly.

But where Rand excelled in her understanding of governments, she was seriously lacking in her understanding of humans, which apparently was based rated on the Autism Spectrum Disorder scale.

The Boy noted that Galt's Gulch was peculiarly unfree: You couldn't give food away, you had to charge for it. He made the point that, essentially, he just wants his stuff to be his, to sell or to give away as he saw fit. Indeed, that's freedom, in the end.

And to get into the magic machine room (the perpetual motion machine room), you have to take an oath: "I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

The contradictions in this are inherent in the movie itself though it never notices them, leading me to believe they're in the source material. The whole movie revolves around the tragedy caused by constantly grasping government; yes, it deals with it primarily in terms of individual sacrifice, but the apocalyptic scenario it paints is horrifying because other people matter.

We identify with Dagny (sorta) because she's competent and good at what she does; but the gravity of the catastrophe that unfolds is because millions will starve without her.

The spoken philosophy is practically an embrace of the cartoonish notion of businesses as profit-seeking narcissists, even as the exposition demonstrates that greatness is greatness because of the beneficial aspect of free economic exchange.

To say nothing of the fact taht the whole premise of the story is deeply 20th-century late industrialism: We still have industrial giants, but we are powered by millions of little Galts. There's a great story to be told there about how they, too, will "go Galt" in the right circumstances.

This trilogy probably isn't the movie series anybody wanted, and if we judge it by its own philosophy, there's little reason for a disinterested moviegoer to go see any of them. But there were a few Randians in the audience whose opinion seemed to be "Well, the book was better."

1 comment:

  1. By the way:

    The End?

    Seriously? You're gonna pull "The End?" in 2014?

    Nobody should ever end a movie with "The End?" or "The End...?" or "The End...or is it?"

    The movie you made is OVER. Deal with it.


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