I was surprised and pleased to see a trailer for Rand’s great novel last week. It is a rare thing these days to view a Hollywood movie that celebrates rather than denigrates the virtues of entrepreneurship, capitalism and laissez-faire economics, while also delineating the dangers of command economics and the faceless tyranny of excessive government regulation. Here’s hoping this belated debut will do justice to Rand’s compelling and contemporarily pertinent tale.
Reading Atlas Shrugged was a seminal event in my own philosophical journey from quasi-socialist to a fiscally conservative entrepreneur. I come from an extremely liberal family. Norman Thomas, leader of the American Socialist Party, gave a presentation in my family’s living room in 1961 and my father was an acquaintance and fellow-traveler of Hubert Humphrey. During college and after I was directly involved in Democratic politics for left-wing candidates like Andrew Young, George McGovern and Jimmy Carter.
I was not alone in being jolted by Ayn Rand’s almost 1200 page novel. In 1991 the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month club did a joint survey and found that Atlas Shrugged ranked second only to the Bible among books that made a difference in people’s lives. As of Friday, the novel was still ranked number 79 by Amazon. It remains a hot seller almost 60 years after its publication–and this for a frequently dense and philosophical novel of similar length to Tolstoy’s War and Peace.
Martin Fridson, who reviewed the film this week in Barron’s (April 11, 2011, p. 23), reports the film is finally being produced by entrepreneur John Aglialoro, who acquired the film rights back in 1992. That it has taken him 19 years to get the film up speaks volumes to the Hollywood disdain for anything smacking of approbation for the courage and zeal of the entrepreneur. Looked at from afar, it appears to me that there is an unspoken reverse McCarthyism to contemporary Hollywood that cannot countenance a celebration of business. With few exceptions (Robert Duvall, Clint Eastwood, Jon Voigt, Kelsey Grammar come to mind), there exists a lockstep uniformity and a smug condescension, if not downright hostility, to any positive view of the benighted businessman.
In an article in the October 11, 2010 New Yorker, James Surowiecki quotes Edward Jay Epstein as saying, “Businessmen are now part of Hollywood’s ‘Axis of Evil.'” Surowiecki says businessmen are now default villains playing the roles once occupied by Nazis, Russians and tin-pot dictators.
Perhaps Atlas Shrugged will be a first crack in that pattern. The movie has a low budget (less that $20,000,000) and is being produced without major stars. Nevertheless, Fridson states, “Rand’s advocates will regard this film as an eloquent statement of her call for individual freedom. Moviegoers interested mainly in entertainment will appreciate its locomotive-like pace, and will be moved by searing images of America in a devastating depression in 2016.” Hmm. I hope that’s not predictive and I hope and pray the film will do the book justice.
Thank you, Martin Fridson.
P.S. On a note of splendid irony, Atlas Shrugged will open on traditional Tax Day, April 15, 2011.