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Ellis Weiner

Ellis Weiner

Posted: February 15, 2011 04:17 PM

Fans of overheated melodrama, dorm-room philosophizing, relentless humorlessness, sex-as-rape, and crude science fiction--is that everybody?--rejoice: the movie of Atlas Shrugged does indeed exist, and is slated to explode in libertarian fabulosity at, or in, or all over, a theater near you.

Of course you can't wait. Who can? But we'll have to, at least until its premiere on April 15 (get it?). For now, at least, we have the trailer. Go here, if you dare.

As with all film adaptations of popular novels, from The Cat in the Hat to The Lord of the Rings, the faithful lie in wait to condemn the casting choices. You will be relieved to learn that, however much my personal imagination had been seized by rumors of Angelina Jolie's intention to play beautiful-brilliant-courageous Dagny Taggart, I can live with the actress who finally got the role. Taylor Schilling can do beautiful-brilliant-courageous as well as the next guy, and besides, it's Ayn Rand's ideas we're mainly concerned with seeing brought to the big screen, isn't it?

By "we" I of course mean "those of us who love, or who love to hate, the novel." Upwards of a thousand of the former are all over the trailer's web page, holding forth in that peculiar combination of arrogant certainty, indignant victimization, and pseudo-wised-up, cockily confident wrongness that marks the true Randroid.

The trailer isn't as ludicrous as one might wish (although it gives hope that the film--the first of three intended installments--will be), but the comments do not disappoint. Here you will find, to your amused horror, the inimitable online stylings of the cult: the odd, snooty-ootily formal prose, no doubt informed, in this case, by the bombastic, faux-eloquent tone of the novel itself; the unchallengeable quotations of the master (read: mistress); the ecstatic squeals ("I love John Galt!") of the eager acolyte; and the dismissal of troublemaking skeptics without actually addressing what they say.

(And when I say "dismissal" I mean it. So far I've posted three less-than-complimentary comments and all three were immediately deleted--and this, from a site dedicated to a film and a novel ostensibly championing fearless dissent and the sacredness of the individual vision. As the French say, it is to laff.)

The budget for all three planned movies is reported to be fifteen million clams--a fact that, in and of itself, means nothing. Excellent movies have been made for five million and less, while hideous gobbling turkeys have been (and are routinely) allowed to escape for $130 million and more. This is the director's first feature, but he's made commercials, and the trailer, at least, looks like a movie. The actors hit their marks, say their lines, and (as Spencer Tracy used to advise) don't bump into the furniture.

Interestingly, if that's the word, they've set the film in the present. Galt, Dagny, and the rest of the gang probably live and laugh and love in the same parallel-universe world of a Congress-free America and a collectivizing Europe that Rand self-servingly, and self-defeatingly, chose for the novel. But now we have people making urgent calls on cell phones about the importance--to the national economy--of railroads. But never mind. Like Rand's fellow-philosopher (Y. Berra) said, it's tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

Will, then, Atlas Shrugged Part 1 be a good movie? The honest answer is, we don't know yet. The other honest answer is, We hope not and can't imagine how it can be, given what those in the biz call "the original material."

Why do we hope not? For the same reason we can't imagine how it can be.

Because Atlas Shrugged is not just a ridiculous novel, it is a ridiculous novel that brings out the repressed worst in the poor, impressionable adolescents (of all ages) who read it and take it to heart. It is essentially the longest novel about a temper tantrum ever written (or, at least, published). In its fire-breathing harangues and nostril-flaring proclamations, its fans discover a confirmation of their pettiest, and most self-pitying, impulses.

It's not The Turner Diaries and it's not (to name another work of fiction) The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but it's a great big huge fucking mess literarily (sic), philosophically, psychologically, sociologically, and every other ogically you can find. Any movie version of it that is not itself a great big huge fucking mess will therefore have failed to remain faithful to its source, and leave me, for one, very disappointed and cross.

Then again, Atlas Shrugged is also the world's longest and least-illustrated comic book, and we all know how comic books can sometimes spawn decent films. True, comic books usually display a sense of humor about their characters, situations, and "philosophies," while, for all the virtues to be encountered in Atlas's 643,000 words, a sense of humor is not among them.

Still, let's adopt a wait-and-see attitude. Let's wait, and when the movie comes out, let's see it. Because, however much we don't want it to be good, we want it to succeed. We want the film to show enough box office mojo to prompt its creators to green light Part II. And then, in defiance of all common sense and good taste and intellectual honesty, we'll see that, too.

Because then they'll have to make III, which will include John Galt's 57-page, three hour Speech in which the demi-god hero derives a philosophy of seventh-grader entitlement from the axiom that "existence exists." It is an axiom with which, frankly, I take issue. I'm no phil major, but I don't think existence exists. It's like saying "what color is blue." I think everything in the universe except existence exists, although I could be wrong.

But that's the point. This is exactly the sort of conundrum I want them to address, at length, in Part III. If that doesn't spell "movie 2 die 4," or at least "movie 2 kill u w/ hil-ar-a-T," I don't know what does.