The Second Most Popular Book of All Time1 Is the Worst Movie Ever Made2 Starring a No-Name Cast and Made By Self-Important Business Moguls on Their Own Randian Quest
I can’t be Objective about this. Here’s why.
There, all done reading my thesis? Yeah, right.
A Note on my Notes: Some of the supra-imposed numbering is out of order. I had to do some last minute editing. So, chronologically, it might not go 1,2,3… but the numbers still match their notes.
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I didn’t really want to do this. No one wants to spend their Monday night undergoing philosophical brainwashing via Ayn Rand. So, popcorn, something I never purchase, was a total necessity. Food lets me put distance between a personal sense of morality and basic biological functions, e.g. chewing. This is also the first movie I’ve seen alone. That seems somehow insane. But you be the judge of that. Another mistake: taking these notes for my review with my phone, it seemed really out of place here. I felt intensely judged by this overwhelmingly geriatric audience. Its weird to think I’m surrounded by people who somehow, for some reason, think Rand had it all right.
So, I sit immediately behind and rest my feet above three obscenely ugly adults. Imagine three squat, impish people – very small hands and feet4 – horn-rimmed glasses and thin, flat, permanently flop-sweat wet hair parted to the right. Just like grumpy old Rand herself. Three identical Randroids (Ha! Get it?), a female sandwiched between the two males. For an absolutely horrifying second I think of Rand’s own three-way sexual escapades and am overwhelmed with a psycho-sexual terror that Black Swan could only have prayed vainly to achieve.
Still, during the previews, my judging radar is spread to full array. A male voice above my right shoulder makes a comment that indicates this is probably the first movie he’s seen since The Fountainhead. He said, during the previews, “I haven’t seen anything that’ll make me want to come back”. As one says about a restaurant when you first try it out, nothing about the food made you want to go back again. But, I do this, we all do this – shit talk Hollywood and it was terrible Hollywood movies to be sure, the previews were.
As soon as things got rolling, an inescapable realization emerges: how did this movie get made? Jian Ghomeshi, of Q on CBC, interviewed (look for the April 15 show) John Aglialoro, the films main backer and a producer, about the film. Basically, Aglialoro claimed his movie had sold out in many theatres at non-peak hours, several days ahead of its release. Aglialoro also funded the movie out of his own pocket and secured backing independently after being rejected wholesale by all those who make movies. There’s a Randian parallel there. But not so much for the tax breaks he took to make the film.
Aglialoro also fumbled with the question of morality in Rand’s work. He basically argued that market forces will encourage Rand’s Nietzschean3 supermen to behave morally, which really is just rational self-interest, according to Rand. Morality, again according to Rand, could be dumping millions of tons of nuclear waste into a town’s water supply. So long as it doesn’t negatively affect you or your business, it’s A-OK!
The thought of this movie achieving the level of popularity claimed by Aglialoro is unbearable. Thankfully, there were only about a dozen of us when I went to see Atlas. A dozen old, unattractive, and sloppily maintained Randians. My M.O. when I walked in was to judge the auditorium. No one under 18. No one under 30, save myself. Probably, everyone was over 50. A few couples had showed up, clearly, the perfect date movie. Heavy philosophical bludgeoning by an author (in)famous for just that style of writing.
And all throughout the film, I catch grunting noises of agreement. Like white people during Church – which if you don’t know is exactly 180 degrees opposite of how black people are during Church, at least as the TV box portrays black people during Church. Hint: shouting “preach” at the pastor does not happen during White Church.
These noises come during particularly high points of heavy philosophical bludgeoning. As if the audience were indicating their excitement towards poorly argued uber-capitalist posturing. Perhaps these grunting ascenters also spend a whole lot of their free time reading up on economic minutia, reading technical manuals. But, whatever, so they’re excited to see their beliefs on the big screen. Catholics blindly loved the whole Mel Gibson movie – something else mentioned in the Q interview – and the Catholics totally overlooked the whole one-sided and overly gory fiasco of The Passion. Let’s allow the Randists their moment of triumph.
And I notice that no less than three old people walked out. Like, not to pee. They never came back. I doubt the movie broke Rand’s spell and instead just was so awful they could not stand to see their deepest held beliefs presented so poorly. Like you could present them any better, the movie is basically like reading the book out-loud to yourself. So maybe the walk-outs could have saved eight bucks and just read the book aloud and got disenchanted by themselves.
And I finally exit, at the end, with everyone else, the crowd sufficiently culled. I notice two key things about my compatriots in the brighter lights. One very old couple, clearly attending members of some local Objectivist Group, had dressed in true theatre best for this. E.g. they showed up at Muvico at 8:05 p.m. on a Monday like they were going to a real theatre (the kind where spelling it -re isn’t optional or British).
The other thing I realized, that the tri-couple in front of me was actually a nuclear family unit. Unfortunately (for him) that the under-18 boy in attendance with his ugly parents was so unbelievably ugly* that he seemed very, very old.
Maybe, I just don’t understand Rand’s people. I’m told Ron Paul is a Randist. His youthful fans are legion: also something I’m told. And yet no one under 50 at this show, admittedly at 8:05 on a Monday. But, my roommate claimed the same experience when he saw the Sunday matinée, a better chance to catch young intellectual secularists5 I’d say.
Though, is it too much to hope that this misguided logic will die out? That there won’t be any young attendants to carry the torch into tomorrow. Social welfare has really stuck its roots deep into the fabric of America. Will my generation and my fictional children’s generation reject taking care of the elderly and the sick and poor? Basically, do you think the New Testament’s all-of-the-sudden going to become unpopular with Americans? So maybe, then, there’s hope. That this ship will sink so hard that Atlas Shrugged: Part 1 will become an ironic statement like Mel Brooks’ The History of the World: Part 1.
1. See below quote:
Pascoe, oblivious to the anxiety of the producers behind him, offers this stat that is oft-cited by Randians: “There’s a very high bar here. Back in ’90, ’91, the Library of Congress did a survey of 5,000 readers to determine the most influential books of all time. [Atlas Shrugged] came in at No. 2, behind something called The Bible.” (Source)
2. Commercially. This movie isn’t for you. Wait, well… Are you asking yourself: will I enjoy this movie? The answer is no. It’s for Randists. If you have to question yourself (a) you aren’t a Randist and (b) don’t bother with this movie or the book its based on and (c) run like all hell from anyone who likes it enough to want to see it with you for a second time to, like, gauge your reaction and pull you into The Fold or whatever they call that cult of an economic belief structure.
3. Did I mention Rand hates Nietzsche’s philosophy? I did in my thesis you didn’t read. Still, everyone always notices the stark resemblance of Nietzsche’s own views with Rand’s entrepreneurial supermen. Just… just fucking read my thesis, it’s too much to have to re-explain here.
4. To be fair, nothing freaks me out like adults with tiny hands and feet.
5. Heads up. Rand was nothing if not irreligious, anti-racist and pro-gay. So, let’s not play out some stereotyped notion of modern-day conservatism. Which, you know, is the opposite of all those things I just said. Racist. Fundamentalist. Gay-bashing.
* On the use of the word ugly. It’s cheap I know, to castigate an individual on their physical appearance. Take note, however, that I mean this in the broadest sense. That these people chose to be ugly. Their clothes were loose and never even close to respectable ‘going out’ clothes – the boy was wearing a Free T-Shirt for X-sake. Horn-rimmed glasses and persistent flop-sweat is never a good look. Poor dental care hasn’t been acceptable in this country for a few decades. I’d say with a change of clothes, a shower, some hair spray and a few visits to the dentists and an optometrist we would have three normal-looking clones of Patton Oswalt. Admittedly, still kind of resembling a weird parody of Rand’s own sexual morals.