‘Atlas Shrugged’ adaptation opens in theaters today

In 1957, writer and philosopher Ayn Rand published a book that she considered her magnum opus. Atlas Shrugged is the story of man’s mind and spirit escaping the bondage of a repressive society that demands mediocrity and punishes success. Though the story initially received a wide mix of praise and criticism, it became an almost immediate bestseller. In recent years, it has seen a sharp increase in popularity with more than 300,000 copies sold in 2009 alone. Consequently, there have been multiple attempts at creating a film version over the past several decades, but none have ever made it out of “development limbo” until now.

In mid-2010, filmmakers announced that “Atlas Shrugged Part 1” would be hitting theaters the following year. The film is directed by Paul Johansson (who also plays a cameo role as the mysterious John Galt, appearing briefly in silhouette form), and stars Taylor Schilling and Grant Bowler as protagonists Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden.

While this certainly seems to be a downgrade from past rumors of Angelina Jolie and Russell Crowe playing the parts, it hasn’t stopped long-time fans of the book and its message from eagerly anticipating the film’s release today (purposefully set on what is traditionally tax day).

As someone deeply interested in politics and philosophy, I took it upon myself to read Atlas Shrugged in its entirety this past summer, and although it took nearly all summer to finish (as it is nearly 1,100 pages long), I came to understand the book’s popularity.

It was easily the most challenging and powerful story I have ever read. I found the plot so intriguing and the characters so strong and relatable that I was naturally ecstatic when I first heard that a movie was in the works. Upon further investigation, however, I began to have my doubts.

As is to be expected from any film adaptation, “Atlas Shrugged Part 1” has done some molding with the original storyline, most notably that it is set in the year 2016, rather than the actual era in which the book was written. One can assume that this is to make the film more relatable to modern times and/or serve as foreshadowing for America’s potential future.

The film has also been constructed on a rather conservative budget of about $5 million. Now, I firmly believe that dialogue and story structure determine how good a movie will be, but when a story describes as many stunning visuals as this one does, the possibility of cheap, second-rate animation occurring on a grand scale is embarrassing to think about.

The chief concern from most Rand fans seems to be whether the filmmakers have a deep enough understanding of the book’s themes to translate them properly. The first unsettling sign was when director Paul Johansson mispronounced the author’s name, saying “Ann” rather than “Ayn” (pronounced “eye-n”) in an interview with Reason.tv.

Johansson has expressed that since the film is written as a trilogy, he will only be working on Part 1, which, hopefully, means a better actor will be taking on the active role of Galt in Part 2 (that is, of course, assuming Part 1 generates the kind of popularity needed to make Part 2).

Though the opening will initially be limited to select theaters (in Tennessee only in Knoxville, Nashville, Franklin, and Memphis) anyone can go online to www.atlasshruggedpart1.com/demand and demand it be brought to other towns (Cookeville currently has only 20-some demands, five of which are mine).

I could easily go on about why I’m somewhat skeptical of the movie living up to its potential, from the conspicuous absence of key characters, to seemingly inappropriate choices for the characters that are present.

Nonetheless, in spite of my characteristic pessimism I feel obligated to recommend this movie to all students interested in the philosophy of Ayn Rand, so long as the phrase “never judge a book by its movie” stays in your mind, and when the film presents its immortal query “Who is John Galt?” remember that the answer is probably not Paul Johansson.