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Okay, you got me. I admit it. I’ve never actually finished Ayn Rand’s classic novel Atlas Shrugged. I tried, three times in fact, and each time I got about a quarter of the way through the approximately eleventy-bazillion page novel and stopped from sheer exhaustion. It’s not that I’m not sympathetic to Rand’s message; I am. I want small government. I don’t want Washington to reduce us to a nation of trains chugging to and fro and mystery men making all the productive people of the country disappear like they all entered the Free Market Witness Relocation Program.

But I also want a story with a decently-paced plot, engaging characters, and a conclusion I can see without the aid of the Hubble Space Telescope. I got none of those things from Atlas Shrugged. What I did get was a paperback book so large that if would have made foot-deep crater in the sidewalk if I dropped it from a five-story building. So when I learned that a movie was on the way that promised to be very faithful to the text of the book, well, my excitement did not exactly abound.

I did get a sneak-peek at the movie trailer thanks to a screening by FreedomWorks at this year’s CPAC, but I admit I didn’t even watch all of that. It bored me. A man can only see so much footage of trains and peeky-peeks of a fedora-wearing, shadow-enshrouded John Galt before I started to wonder when the food would arrive.

As for the question, “Who is John Galt?”, I can safely say my answer has long been, “I don’t care.”

Clearly, however, I am in the minority among my conservative friends. I’ve read several reviews of Atlas Shrugged: Part I written by folks on the right since its release on Friday and I can safely say you can file most of them in one of two categories. Note here that I’m not going to generally include MSM movie reviewers, who would be inclined to crush the movie simply because of the source material (see Roger Ebert for an example of that closed-minded sort of “review”). I’m just talking about folks who are at least neutral toward Rand and her politics.

The first type of review is fairly glowing and generally focuses on the principles of the book instead of the quality of the movie or storytelling itself (see reviews by Jenny Erikson, Tabitha Hale,and Brian Calle). These reviews remind me of the many, many friends I’ve had over the years who have implored me to read the book, but never once told me I’d enjoy it because it told a good story, had engaging and well-developed characters, or an entertaining plot. They wanted me to read it because, well, I simply had to. They liked what Rand had to say for free markets and against heavy-handed government and that made the book entirely wonderful in their eyes and were overjoyed simply to see her work given respectful treatment on the big screen. You can see this in the audience ratings at Rotten Tomatoes.

The second type of review is not very glowing at all and deals with the movie as a movie (see reviews by Ladd Ehlinger via Stacy McCain, Kurt Loder, and two more excerpted here). This is the kind of review I would write if I actually went to see the movie, which I likely wouldn’t because I honestly have no desire to spend several hours and over ten bucks on something I already know I’m not going to like. After all, if I couldn’t get through the book, I’m certainly not going to make it through a movie that faithfully follows the book in nearly every detail. That doesn’t mean Atlas Shrugged is a bad book, but that, obviously, the filmmakers didn’t make a particularly good movie out of it.

Some of that is not their fault. Rand wasn’t exactly writing to entertain, she was writing to get across a philosophical point and, short of changing and/or removing large parts of the book, there’s no way they could turn that into an engaging movie for people who watch movies for entertainment. Had the filmmakers done that, you would have heard bloody cries of vengeance from hundreds of thousands of Rand fans across the country and we really would have needed the help of a witness relocation program.

With all that said, if you are a fan of Rand’s work or you think you might become one, then Atlas Shrugged: Part I is definitely for you. If you’re not familiar with Rand’s classic, you could do far worse than to get a 100-minute introduction with some pretty fair (if not widely-known) actors made by people who honestly love the source material and want to give it to you as straight as possible.

And if, after you’ve seen the movie, you spend a little time wondering who John Galt is and why you should care, well, that wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. Just don’t ask me. I honestly don’t know.

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5 Responses to “Why I Won’t See “Atlas Shrugged: Part I” But Why You Probably Should”

  1. @RickSheridan says:

    Three is exactly the number of times I've tried to read Atlas Shrugged. Can't do it.
    Glad that the movie is drawing attention to the principles Rand espoused but I know I won't see it either. The last movie I paid to see at theater was Finding Nemo. Been a while…

  2. TerryCSA says:

    The movie is better. It is clear, concise, and cuts to the chase. You really should see it.

    • Jimmie says:

      There's a problem. I can't identify a "chase". What, exactly, is the great story in the book that will entertain me and move me along through the philosophy?

  3. killtruck says:


    I think she was an interesting person. and I think her philosophy on small government is great, but she loses me on altruism being selfish etc. I understand what she's trying to say about the latter, and I've learned enough about her early life to see why she felt that way. I simply disagree, so I don't feel like spending any more time reading her.

  4. Ed Rasimus says:

    I think you are denying yourself a valuable experience if you don't read Atlas. Yes, as you say the size can be off-putting. I'll confess that when I first attacked it in the mid-'60s (about ten years after publication) I also bogged down about a third of the way through it and also didn't give a rat's rectum about whoever John Galt might be.

    But, recognize it is a period piece, It reflects when Rand wrote it and in those days trains were the mode of travel so it is natural that a major backbone industry would be rail. What will amaze you if you read it today is the precise parallels with what your government is becoming. Confiscation of our very ideas to redistribute them to allow for fairness so that everyone can "succeed" in competition which isn't competing at all.

    I don't have much confidence in the ability of the movie to really tell the story even IF all three parts get made, but you owe it to yourself to read the book.

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