I know. I am a naive fool, and about to get whalloped by posts that usually go on for pages with little of value actually being discussed. I don't care. I watched Atlas Shrugged (Part 1) and I want to review it.
The story seems to center around two individuals: Henry Rearden and Dagny Taggart: two business executives who enter into a financial (and personal) alliance to keep their respective companies afloat. Aggressive in pushing for a new railway using Rearden's new untested steel, they push for it despite intense political pressure to stop them, and unexplained disappearances of their best employees upon meeting a mysterious man named John Galt.
"My only goal is to make money" says Henry Rearden at one point, but his actions indicate otherwise. He abandons most of his empire in pursuit of the railroad. He is clearly motivated rather by a grandiose view of the world, and a desire to leave his mark on it. This seems to be the motivation of Dagny as well, although her character comes across as more desparate, since her empire is crumbling due to the incompetence of her brother and his cronies in Washington (the most notable of which seems modeled on Barney Frank).
On some level, I knew I was watching a bad movie, and I didn't care. I wasn't interested in the story really, but in the ideas. The place the movie falls down in particular is drawing up any compelling motivations for any of the characters who work against Hank and Dagny. Hank's cuckolded wife seems to have no character at all, and doesn't seem even particularly hurt or bothered by the utter contempt Rearden gives her. Dagny's brother seems to consistently make business decisions based on notions that frankly don't make any kind of sense at all. We don't really have any idea where the politicians get their power from, and who is buying into some of their harebrained ideas. This is not art, but propaganda.
I think the movie makes some good points, however crudely, about the way which people tend to forget the importance of respecting and rewarding producers in a society, especially people who find new ways of doing things. However, the reckless approach of the two main characters towards their enterprises seems like a recipe for disaster in the real world. We are told Dagny was an engineer briefly, as if that is supposed to mean she knows Rearden's steel will work. The laying of the track proceeds quickly, and she and Hank repeatedly ignore expert opinions that tell them that their train won't work. Deepwater Horizon (or even, heck, the Challenger) is still a little too fresh in my memory for their approach to be plausible.
I regard Objectivism as an easily refutable philosophy in the absolutist sense (not wholly a bad thing, since so many religions aren't refutable at all). The fact is, we are altruistic animals evolved to feel guilt and to limit and shame the actions of others, and there must be existential reasons why we evolved such traits. There is plenty to debate about the role altruism plays in our society, but to deny it altogether is to deny human nature, something an effective moral code would never do. I applaud it for original thinking and for recognizing that self-interest is not without social merit (not that Adam smith didn't do a better and more measured job of it some 175 years before), but in philosophical parlance, "Nice try."
Bottom line on the movie: it's probably worth a look for it's novelty value, and nothing else. There's really only one character in the film that is of any interest at all, and that is Ayn Rand, represented as she is in Dagny, Hank, and several minor characters. But one character does not a movie make. Fire it up on Netflix in a few months, or just let it be.
Atlas Snubbed - Christopher Hitchens destroys the cult of Ayn Rand