Saturday, December 10, 2011

Atlas Shrugged ~ Pt. 1 (movie) & Ayn Rand

We were in our local stationery/book/video store the other day to buy a birthday card. About to leave, I spotted, on the "Best Rental" DVD shelf "Atlas Shrugged. Part 1". I've been curious about Ayn Rand's supposed tour de force for a long time, yet too lazy to read the 1000+ page book. Outcome: we watched the DVD that evening, so as to get the DVD back in time for a discount. The movie was certainly not worth the full rental price, we have no wish to give it a second airing.

Having made those disparaging remarks however, I didn't find the movie nearly as bad as some critics whose reviews I read after watching it.

My husband felt it'd have been better produced as a TV mini-series. I agree. He still didn't like the film though. I didn't exactly enjoy it, but was curious about Atlas Shrugged and remain so.

Part 1 takes us only part-way into the plot. It appears that parts 2 and 3 are not due out until 2012 and 2013 (if the producers still have the stomach for it after so many bad reviews), by which time we'll have forgotten all about it. That being said, and the author's politics apart, it was a mediochre, slow, and slightly weird offering rather than a totally worthless one, I'd say.

I was interested to see Ayn Rand's, for me highly objectionable, political views translated novel-wise. One oddity I spotted immediately: it was set in 2016, but everything still looked like the 1950s. Background is a dystopian USA. Air travel is almost non-existent (the reason was a bit obscure, possibly lack of oil - or maybe I just didn't catch the relevant dialogue). Trains are the preferred method of travel. Rail lines are worn out though, and iron ore is becoming a scarce commodity, making replacement of rails difficult. An enterprising manufacturer has invented a strong type of metal to use for rails and bridges which needs less, if any, iron ore. This is the focus of part 1 of the storyline. Oh yes - there's the discovery, in an abandoned factory, of a very special kind of motor which seems to violate most known laws of physics. I'm not sure where that part of the plot is likely to go in part 2.

The government appears to be attempting a mild form of socialism: restricting business owners to a single business enterprise, for instance; and trying to bring about some semblance of fairness generally. But as one reviewer put it, the action takes place in, to 21st century viewers "an unrecognisable twilight zone", labelled 2016, but with no high tech, no evidence of computers and all the trappings with which we have become so familiar. The feel of the film is a little weird throughout because of this anomaly.

Ayn Rand's philosophy was along the lines of allowing personal excellence and unrestrained industrial productivity, endorsing selfishness and the right of the successful few to hold sway over "the Great Unwashed". A form of 20th century feudalism, in fact.....or, put another way, as it often was in Britian in the
'50s: "Im alright Jack, bugger the rest of 'em!"

On a superficial level, I thought Taylor Schilling (the blonde at centre in the photograph), playing the lead part of Dagny Taggart, a "strong woman" and entrepreneurial whizz, seemed a tad too young, fragile and glamorous for the content of the part, though she turned in a decent enough performance, just didn't look right. It's only a story, I kept telling myself : poetic licence. For a toughie such as Dagny I'd envision someone more like a right-wing version of Susan Sarandon.

There's no humour in evidence. None. Even in hard times, with a dystopian background, surely someone would have cracked the odd joke or seen the funny side of something?

Adding to the "twilight zone" feel of the tale is a constant mention of one John Galt, who we can only surmise is a guy who occupies himself in spiriting away all the best and brightest of business people, financiers, inventors and suchlike - putting them on a kind of "strike" footing. No doubt he aims to show the Great Unwashed how far they'll get with la crème de la crème out of the picture (I guess that's what's going on).

I'd watch part 2 and part 3 if the DVDs were available now, but fear my interest will have waned by the time they appear.

The best advice about the novel Atlas Shrugged I came across in my searches was that it'd be best to read it in tandem with The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, by Robert Tressell, a novel portraying the other side of the coin. Balance is everything - in all things!

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists tells the story of a group of working men who are joined one day by Owen, a journeyman-prophet with a vision of a just society. Owen's spirited attacks on the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system rouse his fellow men from their political quietism. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is both a masterpiece of wit and political passion and one of the most authentic novels of English working class life ever written. (See here)

Tressell's cast of hypocritical Christians, exploitative capitalists and corrupt councillors provide a backdrop for his main target — the workers who think that a better life is "not for the likes of them".

I've muttered about Ayn Rand's astrology before in these posts. Once in comparing some politicos all born with Sun in Aquarius, then on another occasion more generally about her and her chart. I'll copy a few relevant lines from my archived posts, along with her natal chart.

She was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on 2 February 1905. Astrodatabank gives a "C" rated birth time, probably rectified, not 100% to be trusted as accurate, but I've used it anyway. The rising sign may or may not be as shown, Moon's degree likewise, but Moon would have been in Capricorn whatever her time of birth.
Perhaps the best way to safely describe Aquarius Sun people is to say that many, or most have a inclination towards politics. My Pollyanna-ish idea, formed years ago, that Aquarius Sun people are always going to think as I do is wrong, wrong, wrong!

.... Aquarius has co-rulers: Saturn and Uranus. Saturn traditionally ruled the sign, before the discovery of Uranus. That these two planets stand for opposite ideas is significant. Saturn = conservative, status quo, authoritarianism, Uranus = forward thinking and change. Two other zodiac signs have co-rulers: Pisces has Jupiter/Neptune; Scorpio has Mars/Pluto. They do not suffer from the clash of opposites as does Aquarius....But some fundamental differences lie not in the stars but in education, environment, experience and family background. Sun sign is just one component in a natal chart, astrology is just one component in the structure of character and personality.

The astro-key to Rand's right-wing conservative/libertarian views is the placement of Saturn in Aquarius, with a secondary key being Moon in Capricorn (ruled by Saturn). Aquarius Sun people are often politically inclined, with a yen to "change the world" in one direction or t'other - direction being governed by the rest of their chart, and by their own life experiences.

There's an interesting piece by Cathy Young from 2005: Ayn Rand at 100.Penultimate paragraph of that piece kind of describes the conflicting traits of Aquarius/Saturn/Capricorn within Rand:
Rand herself was a creature of paradox. She was a prophet of freedom and individualism who tolerated no disobedience or independent thought in her acolytes, a rationalist who refused to debate her views. She was an atheist whose worship of Man led her to see the human mind as a godlike entity, impervious to the failings of the body or to environmental influences. (Nathaniel Branden reports that she even disliked the idea of evolution.) She was a strong woman who created independent heroines yet saw sexual submission as the essence of femininity and argued that no healthy woman would want to be president of the United States because it would put her above all men.


Jefferson's Guardian said...

Twilight, like you, I've never read the bible of libertarianism, and frankly, have no desire or the time. It's my understanding that Ms. Rand's literary style was very awkward and fragmented, so I would imagine any attempt to get through her 1,000 page monstrosity would be torture, at best, for me. I'd usually defer to "waiting until the movie comes out", but I can't even make that claim now.

Thanks for the review!

JD said...

one of Ayn Rand's most devoted disciples was Alan Greenspan
I wonder whatever happened to him?

Tressell's book is a work of genius!
And his observation's still hold. Once, when I was working in London, I decided to go to see Tosca at The Royal Opera House.
A colleague at work said "But that's not for the likes of us" and he was serious - I couldn't believe it so I just said "Why not?"

*And I thoroughly enjoyed the whole opera experience too!! :)

Jefferson's Guardian said...

Oh, one more thing...

Given the subject matter today, and the holiday season upon us, thought you'd find more than appropriate the following adaptation...

Happy holidays!

Twilight said...

Jefferson's Guardian ~ 1000 pages = 500 pages too many for any possible story a human mind can dream up, in my opinion. ;-)

LOL! Thanks for the link to a very apt video - love it!

Happy holidays back atcha J'sG.

Twilight said...

JD ~~ hmmmm - "A man is known by the company he keeps" and by the idols he worships! ;-)

Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was lent to me many moons ago, read it -but now I want to read it again, knowing what I know now (as it were). I've ordered the cheapest used copy I could find.

"Not for the likes of us" indeed!
:-) I do recall - again many moons ago, being with a nice guy who was of a rather posh background; he suggested we go for a drink in a swanky establishment way off my own usual territory, and, to my shame now, I felt much as your colleague did about the opera. Spluttering something along the lines that I wasn't properly dressed for such a place, I declined. To his credit he said I looked fine - no worries, and in we went. I learned a lesson! Have never forgotten it. :-)

JD said...

"To his credit he said I looked fine - no worries, and in we went."

clearly a true gentleman.

There are not many of us left :)

mike said...

[responding to comments in your 1-1-13 posting, Twilight!]

I forestalled reading "Atlas Shrugged" for way too many years, because of it's massive pages and the subject matter. I finally read it last year primarily because so many of my trusted friends recommended it. I would definitely recommend this book to ANYONE, regardless of philosophical, political, or social affiliation.

Rand captures the inner psyche of individuals and interpersonal relationships in a way I've not read previously. This book is more about power, including sexual power. It had to have been a most risque release back in 1957.

She definitely explores politics, government, communism, socialism, industrialism...but she juxtaposes those same large-scale influences with small-scale human relationship counterparts, if that makes sense.

She wrote this book during the years of post WWII, McCarthyism, and the rise of communism vs capitalism. It's helpful to bear this in mind during the read. Her words are as prescient now as then.

Many people's negative comments about this book refer to that person's disdain for corporate take-over...Rand's words did not make that connection to me. She definitely believes that an inventor or original talent should be rewarded for their efforts AND receive protection for the product or talent. Her belief was to minimize government intervention and control in the name of the people, but in actuality, for oligarch gain. She was all for people like our RIP Steve Jobs, Apple products; Tesla Motors corporate team; Space Exploration Technologies (private supplier to the space shuttle), etc.

Most people that I have talked with regarding "Atlas Shrugged" have preformed opinions of this book, but have not read this book. Interesting. I don't see how a movie can be made to capture the writing basis of this book. Also, "The Fountainhead" is the preface to this book.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Thanks for adding your input to this thread. I admit my prejudice against Ms Rand, it'd be hard to get past it in order to read so many pages.

I honestly can hardly remember the movie I've written about in this post, even after reading my words again - that's how much of an impression the film left on me.
Still, that may be the fault of the film maker.

I doubt that I'll ever get around to reading Atlas Shrugged in this lifetime, but you never know. If the internet were ever to go down for good - I'd be looking for stuff to do and I'll remember this post and your comment!