#361 – Dick Bernard: Atlas Shrugged Part I

I went to Atlas Shrugged on Monday afternoon at a local theatre.
My only certain prediction: Part III of this apparent three part made-for-the-theater movie will be released just in time to attempt to influence the 2012 election.
This is a hard-edged propaganda film.
It is pretty hard to make ruthless Capitalist Captains of Industry into heroic looking figures, but the film takes a shot at this (unsuccessfully, I felt).
I’d recommend people go see the film for themselves, so I don’t plan to give away much of the ‘story’, except to say that when one woman walked out about an hour in, I was tempted to follow her out the door. But I elected to stay it through. I’m glad I did.
There was no applause at the end from the dozen or so of us remaining.
Other than a waitress, I don’t recall seeing any workers in the film, except that it is clear that workers are slugs, except for a few superstars who are held in check by totally worthless unions whose henchmen (people like I was for an entire career, always men) are anti-progress disheveled gangster types imposing stupid work and safety rules.
Of course, Government itself is obstructive and evil and represented by nefarious types wanting to take us back to the good old days of collective farms. (If they thought it would work, the film producers would probably have used Communist terms like Commissar and the like. Even they must have thought that was a bit much. But they have some pretty good synonyms in both words and images.)
There is a certain audience – I think very limited in size – who will gobble up every word and nuance of this made-for-a-movie novel. They would be people like I sometimes see at my coffee shop, like the two guys after a Bible Study last week who are working stiffs but were complaining about how they dislike unions because they, the complainers, are superior to the shiftless rank and file and particularly union stewards.
While I know there is a tiny element of truth in their complaint, I can’t imagine even these guys taking much of a shine to the Capitalist King-Pins who are the obvious ‘stars’ of this movie.
(A favorite scene of mine is when one of the Tycoons is approached by his “tree-hugger” relative and asked for a handout for some cause or other. It is a Mr. Hard and Mr. Soft scene. In an instant the Capitalist offers $100,000 – one gathers it is a mere pittance for him – tax deductible of course. Tree-hugger demurs, saying that the ‘progressives’ – the word is intentional – he’s working with in Washington wouldn’t want the money to be identified with this specific Capitalist. Couldn’t it be sent another way? The story line is not completed in the film.)
To a certain kind of audience this will play well.
As for Ayn Rand (Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum), whose book “Atlas Shrugged” (1957) brings this to the silver screen, it’s worth learning a little bit about her, too. She had the misfortune of being 12 years old in St. Petersburg (later Petrograd, later Leningrad, now St. Petersburg again) when the Bolshevik Revolution upset her families applecart in 1917. The Revolution began in her home town. She came to the U.S. in 1925.
I’ve been to St. Petersburg (2003, two weeks after President George W. Bush made a visit), and I wondered to myself how things might have turned out differently had young Alisa really gotten to know why the Revolution got its legs in 1917. Revolutions aren’t child’s play, after all. They’re very risky business.
It doesn’t take long at the obscenely rich Peterhof or Catherine Palace outside St. Petersburg to get a sense of the kind of life the peasant class was forced to live in Czarist Russia. We spent several hours in both Palaces.
The run-up to revolution doesn’t seem to register, much, in Rand’s personal narrative. Her bourgeois family was a petty beneficiary of the Czars….
My thoughts went back to leaving Peterhof Palace in June, 2003. We were boarding the bus after several hours in the opulence of the Palace. Across the parking lot came two old hags – elderly women in rags, begging.
I couldn’t bear to take a photograph of them, but the image is burned in my mind…. Talk about compare and contrast.
See Atlas Shrugged Part I. See for yourself.