I saw the movie Atlas Shrugged, Part I (to be released on April 15) and I liked it a lot, just as I did the book when I first read it in 1961 while serving in the US Air Force near Washington, DC. (The maiden ride of the John Galt Line was back then the most riveting segment and it still is for me, in the film.)
I ran across Ayn Rand's ideas without much fanfare – I was in a theater group I helped start and run back then and we decided to put on The Night of January 16th, a curious little number in which after a fascinating trial (pitting independent entrepreneur against leach), a jury is picked from the audience after each performance. The cast and staff used to stay up until the wee hours debating how the verdict should have gone and why the jury went one or the other way.
After that no Ayn Rand for me for a year. Then I saw some mates reading The Fountainhead just after I read a nasty review of Rand's first major novel – there were others, such as the novella Anthem and the very well done We The Living before – The Fountainhead by of all people that snide novelist Gore Vidal.
The short of it is I read and liked the novel, again especially some features of it (e.g., where the importance of the human individual is asserted and defended). I was won over to Rand in part because I already held individualist views having survived a stint under Soviet communism – actually, as Susan Sontag so perceptively asserted many years ago, fascism – and a Nazi parent's brutality. Such collectivist, communitarian regimes held out no attraction to me by then. Yet I lacked the education to figure out just why a human individual should be acknowledged as the center of values and Rand helped me figure this out.
Right or wrong, I found Rand – whom I met, in 1962, for a 30 minute private chat but who banished me, too, later, from her group of close knit students – sensible, passionate, a bit bellicose, and all around very insightful about nearly all aspects of philosophy. Then came Atlas Shrugged for me, three years after its publication, and I read it on a single day in one fell swoop, that is how vivid and good a read the book was and, judging by its phenomenal sales worldwide, still is for its contemporary readers.
Of course, there was a lot more meat in it than that fantastic train ride. So, for example, I cut out Galt's brilliant speech, a long one that critics used so as to try to ridicule the novel, and with several buddies at Andrews AFB used to sit up weekends scrutinizing it. (Of course, no one much ridicules James Joyce's lengthy stream of consciousness in his avant guard novel, Ulysses, or some of the Left wing political monologues included in, for instance, Swedish writer Henning Mankell's The Man from Beijing. That's partisan literature for you – Rand infuriated both the Left and the Right and some never could treat her honestly.)
I saw Part I of the movie a few weeks ago and although it didn't grab me as did the book when I first read it – how could it have? – it is a very good picture; it's modern, serious, chuck full of poignant anti-statist and pro-capitalist dialogue (unlike most Hollywood products these days). The central theme is captured very well – about how when the mindful, productive, creative, and industrious folks in the land have had enough of the meddlers in Washington they go on strike and leave the place in shambles. The acting is good, much better than it was in the film version of The Fountainhead (with Gary Cooper and Patricia O'Neal – except for Cooper's superb courtroom speech) and the production values are outstanding. The train and the bridge, made of Rearden metal, are rendered flawlessly!
Even if billions go see Atlas Shrugged 1, 2 and 3, it will not, as the novel didn't (to Miss Rand's reported consternation), change the world – you would need attentive, thoughtful viewers for that and one can never guarantee this (a central feature of human existence). Yet it will brighten the day, even perhaps the week, for many who go see it and might inspire quite a few who are new to Rand to give her ideas a good study. I did and I never regretted it for a moment!