At Large

I Left the Theater Shrugging

The second movie in the Atlas Shrugged trilogy fails precisely because it succeeds.

By 10.31.12

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Perhaps the more interesting question is this: Would Ayn Rand have approved of the making of Atlas Shrugged Part II, particularly since investors seem unlikely to recoup their money?

Rand, famous for preaching ethical objectivism, and the centrality of the virtue of pride, also railed against the evils of altruism. Mr. Aglioloro mirrored this feeling in his speech before the film’s premiere, saying, "altruism is the mortal enemy of individualism."

To be clear, the bad guys in Rand’s novel aren't actually altruists, but thieves. Government agents try to persuade Rearden to sign over his metal patent to government science in the public interest; when that fails, they blackmail him. Guests at the wedding reception who complain that "we all know money is made by the strong at the expense of the weak" sacrifice nothing of their own. (Here the film comes closest to a thoughtful estimation of modern politics, and sometimes it rings of the rhetoric of our incumbent president.) By making out that the politicians are genuinely inspired by deep-felt sympathy for a pure doctrine of altruism, she caricatures them beyond belief.

But this does seem to raise the question: Is Atlas Shrugged Part II: The Strike a noble self-sacrifice on the part of its producers and financial backers? If it turns out to be a commercial disaster, and the market rejects it, will it still be, objectively, a good thing? Mr. Kaslow rejected the hypothetical in the question. "There are ways to measure success outside box office receipts," he said. "Besides, Atlas Shrugged was panned when it first came out, but it eventually became a bestseller. There are DVD sales, there will be people buying the book after they see the film."

 A full $20 million was invested in Part II, double what went into the first movie, and the higher production values show, even if the FX in one of the big action sequences looks like a scene from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The film's marketing people did an excellent job with publicity. The first film opened in 299 theaters, and the second opened in 1,012. So far, the market has judged the film and found it wanting. By October 28, it had taken just $3.2 million, or $3,166 per venue. If the final result is a commercial failure -- and that seems likely now -- it’s because producers idolized an idea at the expense of a movie.

On second thought, that sounds right up Ayn Rand’s alley.

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About the Author
Matthew Taylor is an editorial intern at The American Spectator, with a scholarship from the National Journalism Center. He is a graduate of Hillsdale College. Email him at taylorm@spectator.org or follow him on Twitter @mjohntaylor.