Capturing the spirit of Atlas Shrugged

(Originally published on The Atlasphere by Donovan Albanesi - Dec 20, 2010)

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.

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.

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.

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 ownmoney 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. 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.

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.