Atlas Shrugged: Part III – Who is John Galt? (dir.J. James Manera)

Posted: March 1, 2015 in Uncategorized

It’s almost cruel to criticize the “Atlas Shrugged” movies.  Whatever you may think of Ayn Rand’s novel, and it should be no surprise that I despise it, anyone can see that the films are not the best representation of the book.  The films have been uniformly poorly made and the budgets have been inadequate for presenting the filmmakers’ visions, resulting in films that look sloppy and amateurish, even when recognizable and occasionally respectable actors are in the frame.  The first of the films had weirdly composed framing and shots that were constantly underlit. I’ve seen amateur Youtube short films from pre-teens that are more competently directed that Part I.  Part II, the best in the series, still suffering from a budget too small for its story, but it had the best acting and most polished script of the series, making it the most watchable.  The cast has almost completely changed in each film, as have most of the crew save for the producer who owns the rights to the novel (and presumably rushed that first film into production to retain them).  Lastly, we have part III, and while better than part I, is sloppy and unintentionally hilarious.

The makers of Part III, subtitled “Who is John Galt?”, did not have enough money to follow the old axiom of Show, Don’t Tell.  Large chunks of story are communicated with awkward voiceover narration, sometimes over stock footage for footage from the film we have already seen, and instead of special effects scenes we sometimes get badly photoshopped still images to suggest things like a blown up bridge.  Much of the scenes take place in cheap, barely decorated sets with our modest cast sitting around talking about things in the most stilted way possible.  The acting ranges from wooden to hammy as hell, depending on the individual actor and whether or not they’re aware of how bad the film they’re in is.  Stephen Tobolowsky stands out as a person who knows he’s in a bad film but didn’t want to turn down an easy paycheck and so subtle hams it up.

The plot involves John Galt (Kristoffer Polaha), a poorly rendered two-dimensional Libertarian messiah who has built a utopia under a forcefield in the Colorado wilderness.  His philosophy is Ayn Rand’s philosophy, which when you dig underneath a fountain of words basically equates to “Selfishness is awesome, Altruism sucks. Fuck you, fend for yourself.”  While I can understand why someone who grew up in the Soviet Union would be wary of government, her gleeful hatred of anything remotely resembling helping another person is baffling.  As presented in the film, it mostly comes across as hatred of government safety regulations, which makes it even more ridiculous.  If the film’s anti-regulation ethos were put into practice, any drug, medical device, or product would be allowed to be sold and if it killed people, well, the free market would decide if it was good or not.  If it killed people, then people would stop buying it, and the product would be discontinued! Capitalism works! Sure, regulations about testing things before you can sell them might have resulted in zero deaths, but it’s not the government’s place to keep its citizens safe, right?  The film gives us a doctor who bitches that regulations kept him from producing a device he has in the film, which seems to be an X-ray machine app on a cell phone.  I’m not sure why regulations would keep it from being invented, unless the app causes Super-Cancer, but whatever.  The film also blames government regulations for a housing crisis when a character who was the head of bank claims that he only ever gave housing loans to people who could pay them back, until the government told him he had to give loans to the poor (never mind that this is not what actually caused the Housing Crisis which lead to the 2008 Great Recession).  In the word of “Atlas Shrugged” the government can never do anything good, and selfish Capitalists can never do anything wrong.

So, the Capitalists in Galt’s utopia set up a quasi-frontier village where the gold standard is used, homeschooling keeps the nasty government from telling you what to teach your kids, and people can presumably sell you unsafe food at highway robbery prices.  It’s weird that Galt only recruits the heads of companies and seems to think they can run a business themselves without any of the labor power that actually, you know, runs the damn business.  I don’t know about you, but I think Amazon.com could still run is Jeff Bezos disappeared, but if all the people in his warehouses disappeared, Amazon might have a hard time filling its orders.  The world of the film only allows for entrepreneurs and parasites, but sometimes a business can’t be run by one, lone person.  I also doubt a utopia of a couple hundred super-selfish people would run efficiently for very long.  If you’re the only person in the utopia, named Galt’s Gulch because that sounds inviting, who controls an important utility, such as water or electricity, you can charge as much as you want and bankrupt the entire populace in days or less.  If you have no regulations or legal structure to protect you, than a greedy business person with no morals who cares only about their personal profit can destroy you financially by preying on your basic needs.  This seems like a weird thing to strive for.

In any event, our protagonist Dagny (Laura Regan), when she’s not being unnecessarily carried around the woods by Galt, spends half the movie playing a weak Devil’s Advocate in order to allow Galt to profess his naïve and adolescent philosophy to her and the audience.  She later returns to the regular world, is upset to learn her brother (Greg Germann) allowed her company to be nationalized in her stead, and is suddenly on Galt’s side.  She also apparently falls in love with Galt, or something, despite their complete lack of chemistry or the film giving us a reason for these two people to like each other, and they have PG-13 sex atop a desk in a room located somewhere near underground train tacks.  O…Kay.

Eventually the government tries to keep a crumbling society together (Grover Norquist has a silent cameo as a cigar-smoking Socialist government official), but Galt delivers a speech on TV which seems to rally the people.  Why? I don’t know, especially since Galt tells the people to form their own communes away from society and doesn’t invite them to his own. Also, the film heavily abridges Galt’s speech from the book (which runs into 70 pages) so what the film let’s us hear is nothing that would believably stir a nation.  It mostly sounds like a bad Glenn Beck rant. Glenn Beck actually has a cameo in the film, as do Sean Hannity and Ron Paul.  Yeah.

Later, the government captures and tortures Galt. Why? Who knows?  The film never gives us a reason as to why the government doesn’t just kill him if he’s not a threat, and they’re not trying to get information from him.  The film hilariously tries to get us to believe he is tortured by some weird new technology called “Project F”, but really he’s just electrocuted slightly (his skin is not burned or singed).  As Dagny attempts to rescue Galt, she shoots an innocent guard dead for not allowing her access.  The reason the film gives, through that guard’s speech, is something about him being too weak to decide his own fate, which is weirdly hilarious because a) no one would talk like that with a gun to their head and b) it’s odd that the film thinks it’s good that he dies for refusing to not do his job.  It’s also weird for a Conservative film to be anti-torture and pro-striking. Granted, the film’s voice-over tells us about a different strike in which “Government’s Union Thugs” try to strike and have a confrontation between non-striking workers, so the film is about management or CEO/COO strikes and not labor strikes (or the film has a skewed view of how much labor power executives contribute), but the government-is-evil-because-it-tortures thing is weird.  Maybe if they just claimed to do “enhanced interrogation” of John Galt, it’d be okay.  Also, if I selfishly want to torture, isn’t that okay under Galt’s philosophy?  What if I charge admission?

John Galt is an asshole.  He’s a guy who left his job because he didn’t want his workplace to become a profit-sharing cooperative, and he has a device which could power the world without harming the environment or running out, but refuses to let the world have it because the government won’t allow him to make enough money off of it.  Imagine is Jonas Salk decided he wouldn’t let the world have the Polio vaccine because the government wouldn’t let him get rich off of it (for some reason.  It’s not like the United States nationalizes fossil fuels or drugs now, but Rand seemed to think it does).  If you meet someone in real life who thinks John Galt is cool, that is a person you don’t want in your life for very long.

Philosophy aside, because I could spend all day ripping apart Rand’s Objectivism, this is a stupid film.  Why is a Science Institute (called SSI…is this a dig at Social Security, which Rand hypocritically benefited from at the end of her life) acting like the CIA?  Why does the government only send 4 cops to arrest Galt, who is public enemy number one?  Why did Galt recruit a wine-growing Philosophy teacher for his utopia?  Why do Galt and Dagny fall in love and/or lust?  Did Dagny’s brother kill his wife?  If you sabotage your business before you leave it, can it really be said that the business can’t survive without you?  Wouldn’t leaving it intact and letting it fail in perfect operating condition make your point that a business can’t run without the mind behind it better?  What exactly are the government’s motives? They seemingly make bad decisions simply for the purposes of making them, with no reasoning given.  Why does Dagny need a walking stick in some scenes but not in others?  Why does the government need the inventor of a torture device’s signature before they can use it? Does the government not know how to forge a signature?  If the device is classified and no one will know about it anyway, what’s the point?  Why are super-secret conversations held in places where anyone can overhear them?  Why does a closed electronics store keep the TVs in its store window on at night? Why is Hank Reardon (Rob Morrow) no longer a main character, and barely in this film?

Theoretically, a non-laughable “Atlas Shrugged” movie could be made with the right budget.  It would probably have to be a period piece that took place in a futuristic 1950s-ish time.  Think “The Rocketeer” or the videogame “Bioshock” (which was an attack on Ayn Rand).  I’m not saying the material deserves a competent film made of it, but it’s certainly possible.  As it is, we have three poorly made films espousing a shallow, adolescent philosophy in an often-times hilarious manner.  Part III is not the worst of these films, but it’s MST3K-quality bad. In 2015, is there any excuse for a film released in theaters to be as bad as a 1950s Roger Corman film? D-

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