Atlas Shrugged Part 2: Breaking Points

Statue of Atlas, that became the cover illustration for Atlas Shrugged. Is the Third Option a variation on this theme?
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Everything has a breaking point. So reads the tag line in yesterday’s new release, Atlas Shrugged, Part Two. And this latest Atlas Shrugged movie shows what happens when a national government breaks its people’s will to live and work as usual. The result: the country itself breaks apart.

Atlas Shrugged timely release

The Atlas Distribution Company released the new Atlas Shrugged less than a month before the Presidential election. That should surprise no one. Many of the scenes in it look like re-stagings of modern TV reports. Angry Occupy Wall Street-style demonstrators mob a railroad executive. (And they don’t even know that he’s close with a government that says it’s their friend.) And when the government issues a draconian executive order, or “directive,” someone carves a picket sign in wood:

America. Born July 4, 1776. Died yesterday. RIP.

Other scenes play out like dire warnings from current trends. Gasoline sells for more than forty dollars a gallon. (A twenty-gallon fill-up for a pickup truck sells for $895 in one scene.) Naturally, traffic slows to a trickle. And, as in Atlas Shrugged, Part One, the railroads are the cheapest way to move people and goods to and fro. American hasn’t abandoned the airlines completely. But now they make one coast-to-coast flight a week.

Producer Harmon Kaslow makes no bones about Atlas Shrugged, Part Two being polemical. In a recent interview, someone asked him to whom Atlas Shrugged, Part Two would appeal. His reply:

If you enjoy your work and do it well, if you constantly strive to be better, if you work hard every day, you will love Atlas. However, if you feel a sense of entitlement – as in the government owes you something – simply because you exist, Atlas [Shrugged] is not a story for you. You are whom we are warning against.

He could have quoted this line that Henry “Hank” Rearden (Jason Beghe) gives to a young bureaucrat (Bug Hall):

One of these days, you’re going to have to decide which side you’re on.

A raging whirlpool

Statue of Atlas, that became the cover illustration for Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

A statue of Atlas, that became the cover illustration for Atlas Shrugged

To see Atlas Shrugged, Part Two is to fall into a raging whirlpool from which you cannot break free. The movie portrays a country spiraling down. Every citizen and lawful resident loses freedom and wealth with equal breakneck speed. More than that, the movie follows a fast pace and never lets up. In the opening scene, a desperate woman pilot gives chase to a futuristic plane at low altitude in a twisting, turning valley. Suddenly the fleeing aircraft vanishes. And the chase plane’s instruments warn that the plane is about to crash. Into what? Before you can find out, the action freezes—to pick up nine months earlier.

Movie writers and directors have used that plot device often: begin in the middle, or even at the end, and always with a lot of action, and then back up to show how the hero(ine) got to that point.

Dagny Taggart (Samantha Mathis), of course, is that desperate pilot. She is also the COO of Taggart Transcontinental, the railroad on which nearly everyone and everything rides in the near-future America. Her challenge: introduce one new invention, a revolutionary electrostatic motor, into the troubled economy. Once she does that, somehow all the “looting” politicians and government planners will fade before the elemental force of human achievement. Or so she thinks.

The political forces are formidable enough. They include her brother Jim (Patrick Fabian), who regularly consorts with Washington men to get favors. The Washington men are worse, of course. The two key players are Wesley Mouch (Paul McCrane), chief economic adviser to the Head of State (not President; the title has changed), and Dr. Floyd Ferris (John Rubinstein), political liaison for the State Science Institute. Head of State Thompson (Ray Wise) appears once, but once is enough. He looks very much like Richard M. Nixon, though at least one catchword he uses (“Czar”) comes from Barack Obama. And anyone who remembers Nixon’s Four Phases of Economic Planning, beginning with the Ninety-day Wage and Price Freeze, will recognize elements of the Nixon program in “Directive 10-289.”

(Note: anyone who has not read the novel Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, might think the scriptwriters plagiarized Nixon. They did not. Ayn Rand anticipated Nixon, with uncanny accuracy. She herself would acknowledge that in her Ayn Rand Letter, a forerunner of modern “Weblogs.”)

These government policies prove too much for many industrial captains to take. Some, like Kenneth Dannager (Arye Gross), simply quit. (Real-life CEO’s are now threatening to do just that.) Dannager pours out to Dagny what frustrates him most:

The government takes what it wants, and taxes what it leaves behind.

Dagny still will not quit. Soon you realize that she doesn’t want to quit. She’s hooked on thinking and acting. When a horrifying rail disaster strikes, she even thinks she can tell the government to bug off. (Wesley Mouch has little choice; the government literally cannot handle that disaster without her.)

But at least one other person thinks differently: Francisco d’Anconia (Esai Morales), once her childhood friend. He has a radical idea: if society thinks success is evil, he will give them failure! And not only failure but sabotage. Does he do that only to spite the hypocritical liberals who hold his stock while carping at him in public? Or is his motive deeper?

And who is the “destroyer of economies” who leads brilliant tycoons, inventors, and concert artists to vanish in their moments of triumph? And what do some of those people mean by leaving behind this note:

Who is John Galt?

Atlas Shrugged—book and movie

A good movie version of a novel must stand on its own. Same with each part of a multi-part story. Atlas Shrugged, Part Two succeeds where Part One almost failed. But that kind of success has its price. Anyone viewing Part Two, without reading the book, will be just as happy if the series ends here. (Sorry, but I will not explain that here. Go see the film for yourselves.)

Atlas Shrugged, Part Two also does better at showing scenes, and people, out of real-life headlines. Kim Rhodes makes a subtly horrifying Lillian Rearden. If anyone makes The Obama Years, they should cast Ms. Rhodes as Nancy Pelosi. Jason Beghe, as Hank Rearden, recalls the craggy Ben Gazzara, especially in his later years. Robert Picardo, as Dr. Robert Stadler, is every deskbound, bespectacled bureaucrat you ever hated even to look at, much less deal with. Esai Morales gives Francisco d’Anconia a hint of violence about to break out. You can well believe he would blow up his own mines to spite his enemies. And all these actors, plus those I have named already, play their parts far better than those in Part One did.

The actors playing new characters give equally solid performances. Larisa Oleynik, as Cherryl Brooks Taggart, is every star-struck girl who ever believed the hype about a famous person. Diedrich Bader, as Quentin Daniels, easily plays the competent, not-to-be-fooled mechanic. (He knows the electrostatic motor model once ran. The wear and tear tells him that. And he makes you root for him as he tirelessly seeks to make it run again.)

Te movie might disappoint readers of the original Atlas Shrugged at first. Ragnar Danneskjöld, the buccaneer/privateer who figures so prominently in the book, rates no mention in the movie. Nor does Project X, the real reason the State Science Institute is so hot to order 10,000 tons of Rearden Metal. The scriptwriters also cut way short Francisco’s speech at Jim Taggart’s wedding, and Hank Rearden’s defiant “non-defense defense” before the Unification Board. But that disappointment shouldn’t last. The scriptwriters clearly cut to the chase. Literally. With less than two hours to tell their story, they had to. If you want long, drawn-out speeches, write old-time soap opera. (Which, by the way, is what television first served up while Ayn Rand wrote the book.)

And once again, the interloper who pumps Eddie Willers (Richard T. Jones) for information never appears. No one could explain his presence if the story didn’t identify him. Which, as readers of the book know, doesn’t happen until near the end of Part Three. (And for that matter, Jones’ Willers is not the human puppy of the book. That’s an improvement.)

Whither Part Three?

No one knows whether the producers will make Atlas Shrugged, Part Three. That will depend on box-office receipts and how dedicated the producers are to their project. Receipts, and reception, for Part One disappointed them. (The film lost money. Enough said.) Part Two plays better than Part One did, and had a wider first release (over 1000 screens). So this film might work. But the producers will have good reason to make the third film only if enough viewers, especially if they didn’t read the book, really care about the few loose ends Part Two leaves untied.

Related:

A Wild Ride to a Social Train Wreck

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

21 Responses to Atlas Shrugged Part 2: Breaking Points

  1. Fergus Mason says:

    “though at least one catchword he uses (“Czar”) comes from Barack Obama.”

    Bollocks. I think you’ll find it comes from the Roman title “Caesar,” through the filter of the Russian monarchy. As for its use in American politics that goes back to Bernard Baruch, “Industry Czar” in the Wilson administration.

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      That doesn’t make it any better. Wilson was one of the earliest Progressives. (Though unlike Glenn Beck, I don’t leave Theodore Roosevelt off the hook.)

      And Barack Obama is using that word today.

      • Fergus Mason says:

        “That doesn’t make it any better.”

        Perhaps not. However it makes your statement that the term comes from Barack Obama demonstrably incorrect.

        “And Barack Obama is using that word today.”

        So he is. And Ronald Reagan was using it in 1982. Were you complaining then?

        • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

          Not as often. Just once. In the context of combating the manufacture, transport, and sale of narcotics and dangerous drugs.

      • alex says:

        A world without teddy Roosevelt is a sad world indeed. Yes he was progressive politically, but you cannot honestly say you would rather live in Pre progressive America: Where workers had no rights and unions were practically illegal.
        You can be anti socialism, but to be pro business to the extent as to want monopolies to form and workers to essentially be slaves to their employers is ridiculous,
        Atlas Shrugged: Part 2 looks like a poorly written adaptation of a potentially interesting book. It currently holds a 0% on rottentomatoes, and much like the first installment, is criticized not for its politics but rather for not doing the book justice.

        • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

          Yes, I can say that I would rather live in pre-Progressive America. And I do say it.

          Any worker had a right to work at a particular workplace, or not, as he chose.

          And what if all the creative and productive people of the world went on strike?

          • alex says:

            What if all the creative and productive people in the world went on strike?
            1) on what grounds? I can agree that Unions can get out of hand sometimes, but sometimes workers have legitimate complaints against their employers (teachers at my school were forced to work without contracts, and they staged a peaceful protest without missing any school time).
            2)Creative and Productive people do go on strike (the writers strike, for example). When they go on strike, it sucks, but shit gets done. If people have legitimate complaints and quitting is not an answer (you may not have noticed, getting a job is wicked hard right now) then they should make their complaints known, and do everything in their power to change what they see as wrong. this includes people you deem as “creative” and “productive”

            In my experience, employers are only as good to their employees as they have to be. Especially right now, where people will do anything for a job, employers will try to cut corners wherever possible. I once worked for a man who avoided paying people overtime by billing their overtime hours to another corporation. I would hate to go back to when the government literally had close to zero restrictions on what ways employees could get screwed over. Would people flock to be employed by the nice people in the industrial world? yes, but he would go out of business because being nice isnt profitable.
            There are more important things in this life than money. I believe in honest pay for honest work. What do you believe?

          • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

            On what grounds would all the creative and productive people in society go on strike against it? The simplest grounds of all: “society,” whatever that is, refuses to deal with creative and productive people as equals, giving value for value received. Instead, “society,” to paraphrase the actor who portrays Kenneth Dannager,

            takes what it wants, and taxes what it leaves behind.

            The only reason our economy has not collapsed already is that those same productive and creative people have “done something” to “save” it.

            If those prime movers of the economy went on strike, nothing would get done. No revenues, and that’s for starters. To quote an end-title song from a 1960’s-era TV show:

            No light! No heat! No water! Not a single lux-urr-ee!

            Obviously you do not get the point of Atlas Shrugged. It began when Ayn Rand’s then good friend, Isobel Paterson, had the bad sense to tell Rand that the reading public “needed” a non-fiction set-out of her philosophical system. Said she,

            Oh, they do, do they? What if I went on strike? What if all the productive and creative people in the world went on strike?

            Then she added, almost as an afterthought:

            That would make a good novel.

            Now do you get it?

            I gather, from your discourse, that you think that “nice” can never be profitable. Well, hey: competition is the best regulator of them all. People will flock to the employer who offered them the best wages and conditions, for which the employer would expect their best. Value for value, and all by voluntary consent.

            But I suppose you believe that profit is inherently evil, an extra that the creative and productive person should be obliged to return, in full, to “society” from which, by your lights, he “stole” it. In short, you want someone to work for expenses only, and you get to decide what a legitimate expense is.

            That’s why the creative and productive people of our society are already going on strike. No, they don’t have some interloping recruiter who flies a fancy forked-tailed jump jet and manages to disappear behind a Star Trek-style cloaking device. (And tempts a crazy young woman to play follow-my-leader along a dangerous slalom course in a twisting, turning valley.) But they do have the idea that they’ve had just about enough of your regulations, your exorbitant taxes, your entitlements, and all the rest of your cannibalistic political-philosophical system. That’s why someone is already arranging to build “Galt’s City” in Honduras.

  2. alex says:

    History does not back your opinion Terry. If we end restrictions, we enter into the state of Nature. In the state of nature we have infinite freedom but no equality. It is a pure survival of the fittest world. Apply that to business and you can see why workplaces would be undesirable. Corporations that don’t cut corners, lower wages, and ignore health guidelines will find themselves falling behind companies that do.
    With restrictions, limiting some (key word, some, not all) of the freedom of the corporation in order to give some equality to the workers, it is totally within the realm of realism that a workplace can be both safe and profitable. That is what Teddy Roosevelt did.

    I do not like your attacks on my character. You assume I am anti profit and that is not true. A company should make a profit, but not at the extent of abusing it’s employees.

    I have no issue with creative people going on strike. Like I said, if they do then society will change (within reason)

    • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

      Sir, I call a socialist, a socialist. You either stand for freedom or you stand for dictatorship. Either-or. Make up your mind.

      That, of course, is the whole point of Atlas Shrugged: the role of the mind in man’s existence. Socialism, and doctrines that deny the existence or the achievements of the mind, proceed from the same source.

      I pointed out where you stand. Now if you choose to regard that as an argumentum ad hominem, I shan’t be responsible. I never take responsibility for the perverse imagination of any interlocutor, and especially a fundamental philosophical opponent. But that you would shrink from the word socialist, and regard that as a personal insult, speaks volumes. It means that you know perfectly well how immoral socialism, or that pink socialism that some call “interventionism,” really is.

      Any worker, or supplier, or customer of any person in business, or any joint-stock corporation that takes the place of a sole proprietor in business, may deal with said person or corporation, or not, as he or she pleases. No law says that they must deal with any such person. Voluntary consent, sir: the voluntary consent of the people who gave any proprietor or executive his first job, the voluntary consent of any investor(s) in the corporation, the voluntary consent of those who work for or under said executive today, and the voluntary consent of those who buy the products of the business involved.

      I will say more in another article.

      • alex says:

        Ok Terry, answer me this: Should I have the FREEDOM to drive as fast as I see fit? Or should my fellow drivers be able to use the roads in peace?
        Freedom is not as black and white as you make it seem.
        And once again, you pegged me wrong. I am a moderate who believes the government exists to maintain a balance personal freedom and equality. Please to not jump to conclusions on subjects you seem to know very little about

        • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

          That’s a very interesting question. Of course, neither one of us can answer it until we answer who should build and keep up roads—the government, the owners of properties along those roads who want to afford access, the leading merchants in towns that the roads pass through or have off- and on-ramps to, or some other stakeholder? Whoever owns the roads, decides who travels on them. You imply that all the drivers have the stake in the road. That is not correct. The government today is the sole stakeholder in every street, road, highway, or bridge, with very few exceptions. And in that case, the government, and only the government, posts speed limits.

          I have already published an article about streets and roads. Read that to learn who the stakeholder(s) ought to be.

          Once you settle on that, you know that if the stakeholder is private, then you drive on the road by the voluntary consent of that stakeholder. Right now, because the government owns and runs the road, you drive on it at the suffrance of the government. Your fellow motorists, as you put it, have no say in the matter, except insofar as they elect legislators who do have the say, and governors who carry that “say” out (and in some States, judges who hear the complaints that you are in violation of that “say” in one way or another).

          Beyond that, maybe you’ve forgotten that in Germany the government posts a speed limit of 130 kph, equivalent to 81 mph (or “vdo” as they spell it in German), but do not enforce it.

          And finally I will leave you with the immortal words of Senator Barry Goldwater, Republican of Arizona:

          Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.

          • Fergus Mason says:

            “in Germany the government posts a speed limit of 130 kph, equivalent to 81 mph (or “vdo” as they spell it in German), but do not enforce it.”

            I can assure you that speed limits in Germany are enforced very rigorously indeed. However the 130km/h guideline on the Autobahn is just that – a guideline. It’s a RECOMMENDED maximum speed, not a limit.

            Where do you get “vdo” from? Never heard of it.

          • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

            My folks owned one of the very first Volkswagen Beetles: a two-tone tan convertible. (It was the only car with a manual transmission that the family owned while I lived with them. It was the kind where you had to shove the stick down and move it to one side to run in reverse.)

            “VDO” was an abbreviation that appeared on the speedometer just below the speed dial. Below the letters “VDO” appeared the English letterword “MPH.”

          • Fergus Mason says:

            “My folks owned one of the very first Volkswagen Beetles”

            I thought that might be it. VDO is a German instrument manufacturer which specialises in gauges for vehicles and boats. Most VWs were fitted with VDO instruments. See here: http://www.vdo.de

            The German abbreviation for mph would be mps (Meilen pro Stunde) but everyone just uses mph when they need to, which is hardly ever. The standard abbreviation for vehicle speed is km/h.

        • Fergus Mason says:

          “Should I have the FREEDOM to drive as fast as I see fit?”

          I do.

          • Terry A. Hurlbut says:

            That’s right. The speed limits on the autobahn are advisory only.

          • Fergus Mason says:

            “That’s right. The speed limits on the autobahn are advisory only.”

            No, they’re obligatory and violations are punished with a sliding scale of heavy fines and driving bans ranging from one month to life.

            On the other hand many stretches are unrestricted with an advisory maximum speed of 130kh/h.

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