Capturing the spirit of Atlas Shrugged

What was it like to attend the ten-minute sneak-peek of the Atlas Shrugged movie earlier this month in New York City? An Atlasphere member relates his firsthand experience.
Donovan-albanesi

On December 7, 2010, I attended the Atlas Shrugged movie event hosted by the Atlas Society. I had no idea how many people would attend; I had made my RSVP through Facebook, which listed only seven registered attendees.

I traveled from my home in Dallas, Texas to be at this historic event. As I walked in the cold along the streets of New York City, I found myself in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 5th Avenue.

I turned my head to the right and there, in front of Rockefeller Center, was the bronze statue of Atlas carrying the world on his back. I smiled; I had not anticipated seeing the statue. This only set the stage for what would prove to be an experience of a lifetime.

The statue of Atlas in front of Rockefeller Center in New York City
Since the announcement of the production of the film in June 2010, expectations among fans of Atlas Shrugged and among Objectivists in particular have been mixed, and the attitude in some circles has been decidedly pessimistic.

Some people expressed prejudicial concerns that the film would be a flop, because it was not a major Hollywood undertaking.

Due to the modest production budget and the limited time available to complete the filming, some critics have been either indifferent to or contemptuous of the endeavor.

Some blog writers actually hoped that John Aglialoro, a former founding contributor of the Ayn Rand Institute and now a trustee of the Atlas Society, would fail to meet his filming deadline, so that the movie rights would revert back to Leonard Peikoff, trustee of the Ayn Rand estate.

Other bloggers wrote that they wanted the film to fail simply because, were it to succeed, it would be an achievement for the Atlas Society, a competitor to the Ayn Rand Institute. My thinking has always been that the grandeur of this story could carry the film, just as Atlas, the mythological Greek god, carried the world on his shoulders.

Hank and Dagny in Hank's office

This is not the first attempt to produce a film of Atlas Shrugged. Ed Snider, a highly successful businessman and one of the original founders of the Ayn Rand Institute, tried to produce a movie version of the book in the 1980s in collaboration with Peikoff. Snider lost over half a million dollars in the process due to Peikoff’s apparent unwillingness or inability to see the project through.

Decorations at Columbus Circle, from the author's trip to New York City
Peikoff later sold the Atlas Shrugged movie rights to Aglialoro for a million dollars, granting him full artistic license. In my view, Aglialoro exemplifies the spirit of a Hank Rearden: taking on the Herculean task of adapting to film one of the most challenging books ever written and investing millions of dollars of his own money into the enterprise.

When I arrived at the event, I was surprised to see around 150 people in attendance.

At the same time, I was disappointed; I knew how many people should have been there, and why they weren’t.

The atmosphere, however, was incredibly positive. The speeches preceding the ten-minute movie clip were inspirational and passionate. When the preview began, I was swept into the world of Atlas Shrugged — the actors and the visual effects captured the spirit of the story!

I was immediately drawn into the context of an America that is in serious economic peril, a society on the brink of total collapse. The world looks dirty, corrupted, and cold.

Hank Rearden and Dagny Taggart at the 20th Century Motor Plant

Even if you have not read Atlas Shrugged, you will quickly know the difference between the heroes and the villains, the achievers and the looters.

Taylor Schilling plays Dagny Taggart
Still-frame pictures on the movie's Facebook fan page cannot begin to portray the total power of the film: the imagery, the background sounds, the music, the voices of the characters, and the thunder of the trains.

Taylor Schilling is a beautiful, confident, and thrilling Dagny Taggart.

Grant Bowler is a fantastic Rearden: his posture, his facial expressions, and his deep voice embody the strength of steel.

At the end of the preview, I was deeply moved as Dagny cries out a screaming and guttural “NO!” as she watches Ellis Wyatt’s oilfields burn.

The final clip showed a mysterious man ominously asking the question, “Who is John Galt?”

If the full movie is consistent with the preview, it will be a heroic tribute to Ayn Rand’s magnum opus.

Donovan Albanesi is the founder and president of The Culture of Reason Center, a resource and study center for students of Objectivism located in Dallas, TX. His website provides many interesting downloadable materials.

7 comments from readers  

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Thank you so much for sharing your enlightening experience with us.

I too am inspired and thrilled to see this film being made in a way that may prove to be much better than a typical Hollywood cast. The director sounds like he knows what Ayn Rand would want, and he is following some kind of muse that is turning out to be much more than anyone expected. I love the photos from the film; I think the cast looks the way I imagined characters in the book would look.

I think whatever flaws it may have, most die-hard fans will allow them in the face of this epic tale finally reaching its audience visually.
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Although unfortunate, most Americans are blind to the ever increasing encroachment of government upon our lives and its destruction of our freedoms, because relatively few Americans read, while most must be spoon fed information through movies and TV. Most who have read "Atlas Shrugged" are well aware of the destructiveness of government's lust for power and control, but thanks to Aglialoro, it is beginning to look like millions of ignorant Americans will see the danger with their own eyes!

Hats off to Aglialoro and his team!
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As a film producer myself, I am always baffled at the pessimism for this project. A few million goes a very long way in the hands of an indie producer and top-notch film can certainly be made for the--what is it the latest reported budget--five to fifteen million? Perhaps big numbers are thrown in front of us so often that cease to impress us. Hundred million dollar budgets (Waterworld, Avatar, ALL of the Star Wars prequels, etc.) are no protection against a film being a shit-sandwich. And modestly budgeted films occasionally surprise us with their superior quality.(Joss Whedon's Serenity, for example (35 million I think)).

If the script is even half as good as the novel and if the sound is clear and the image is in frame and in focus, nothing else matters. It'll be great. Once a story has your attention with decent dialog and a good plot, you become immersed in the film the way you do in a dream--and only a major goof, like seeing the film crew reflected in a mirror on set or a shit-bad piece of dialog (say, like Galt telling Dagny to stop thinking only of herself)--will wake you up. (It's the writing, stupid. If you've ever laughed your ass off while watching Southpark, with it's crappy animation, you know what I mean.)

And a little note about movie budgets: does any other industry in the world announce the manufacturing cost of their products? Do car manufacturers boast that the $20,000 car you drive in only cost $11,000 to build? What about the clothes you wear? Ever wonder why that's the case? Trick question: the answer is: it *isn't* the case. The released budget of a film is a number that reflects the production cost AND the marketing budget (often exactly equal to production cost so the distributor can claim that no profit was made so that there is nothing to pay the producer (s/he gets a profit from the post-theater release) PLUS a few million to round the number up to something impressive. A $100,000,000 movie probably really cost $40,000,000 to shoot.

In 2008, I shot a feature film (the trailer is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVgdTFaOtEk ) for $25,000, in two weeks at six locations with a cast of 35 and a crew of 15. If I do say so myself, it looks better than any $100,000 indie flick I've ever seen. The reason that's the case, mainly, is because producers of the $100,000 indies are lying about their budgets to raise the perceived value to prospective distributors.

Just like I will.
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Objectivists have been waiting a long, long time for this movie; it's thrilling that it's finally a reality.

From what I've seen so far, both Dagny and Rearden look just as I would've expected, so I think Mr. Agliarlo may have a MEGA hit on his hands due to his discerning vision of the novel's ideals.

Thanks so much for giving us this brief glimpse. I'll be buying my ticket just as soon as the movie opens "for business" - and I can hardly wait. :)
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Did they shoot the 20th Century Motor part at a shuttered GM plant? Life imitating art.
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This is great news, especially Taylor Schilling playing Dagny. She's a great actress, with the intensity to make the character live.

All I had heard about were the recent failed efforts to get the movie made. Angelina and Brad didn't quite seem to fit the bill, but I had my hopes up. And I have to wonder..........Who Plays John Galt?
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To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.