Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ATLAS SHRUGGED PART 3: WHO IS JOHN GALT?


It is not the movie that I would have made; but it was not my movie to make. If I had directed the effort, then other people would be criticizing my work.  It is easy to find complaints from fans.  Mine are below.  They stem from the fact that we all have had the film in our heads for years, even decades.  We all imagined it.  However, none of us actually realized our imaginings.  John Aglialoro did.  With productive investment from Harmon Kaslow, Scott DeSapio. Ed Snider, David Kelley and a large body of fans (among them my daughter), Aglialoro finally brought Ayn Rand’s masterpiece to the screen.
 
I watched it twice.
They strayed from the book for reasons other than the translation across media.  Catering to conservatives not only violated the philosophical premises, it actually denied them in real time.  To make the message acceptable, the essence was removed.  As delivered, Galt’s Speech was an amorphous expression of emotional individualism already known from
Ahead of me in line,
another generation of fans.
Anthem.  Galt’s Speech could have been cut to the necessary length and still developed its political message from the requisite metaphysics and epistemology.  Instead, they missed their real audience, catering to old people and conservatives when Atlas Shrugged in particular, and the works of Ayn Rand in general always have and always will belong to the young. 

Ayn Rand taught that contradictory premises result in conflicting and unreconcilable conclusions. One example from AS3 was the mother in the Valley who said that she chose to homeschool her children, rather than hand them over to a school that did not teach them to think.  Was there an alternative?  Any kids in the Valley would be “homeschooled” one way or another. There was no  public school for them to attend.  

Even though the heroes of  AS3 had several reasons to escape an oppressive society, you do not need to go to Galt’s Gulch to homeschool your children. 

Would it not be a huge mistake for her to keep her kids "at home" when they could be learning arithmetic at the Mulligan Bank?  The very idea that children should not work but be in school was an interventionist political plan to keep them from competing for jobs against unskilled adults.  As the d'Anconia mine is delved by human labor, perhaps the children could put in 12 hours a day to benefit from the experience of learning first hand about the early industrial revolution.  Well, perhaps not...  

[September 19. On the "Galt's Gulch" discussion board contributor LetsShrug pointed out that in fact, the scene is from the book.  I found it on page 730 of the New American Library paperback.  The mother says: "They're profession I've chosen to practice, which in spite of all the guff about motherhood, one can't practice successfully in the outer world. I believe you've met my husband, he's the teacher of economics who works as a lineman for Dick McNamara. You know, of course, that there can be no collective commitments in this valley, and that families or relatives are not allowed to come here, unless each person takes the striker's oath by his own independent conviction. I cam here not merely for the sake of my husband's profession but for the sake of my own.  I came here to bring up my sons as human beings. I would not surrender them to the educational systems designed to stunt a child's brain, to convince him that reason is impotent, that existence is an irrational chaos with which he's unable to deal, and thus reduce him to a state of chronic terror.  You marvel at the difference between my children and those outside, Miss Taggart?  The reason is so simple.  The cause is that here in Galt's Gulch, there's no person who would not consider it monstrous ever to confront a child with the slightest suggestion of the irrational." ]

On a deeper level, how does one person teach another to think?  You can transmit techniques and tricks and methods and tools and aids.  But the thinking must be discovered from the inside. The homeschooling scene was not an element from the work of Ayn Rand.  It was just another sop thrown to the conservatives. 
  • The coins obviously were not gold.  The props were brass.  Alongside Night had a real gold coin.
  •  We already met Jim Taggart before the marquee card identified him.
  • The names on the ceiling of producers who spent the first night in Galt’s home included many who were not in the book.  Among them was Ashish Gulhati, an open source hacker from India.  I am happy for him; and pleased that he was included. However, it was not canonical.  That being so, this was in fact a reward to contributors to the financing of the movie.
  •  Where did the Wyatt workers come from?
  •  Where did the d’Anconia workers come from?
  •  Cool as was his airplane – a Lockheed Electra? – Galt’s plane was not powered by his own motor.
  •  Dr. Robert Stadler was soft-pedaled, not identified as the government-funded researcher whose intelligence serves brutality, whose own contradictions made that not just possible but necessary.
  • When meeting Mr. Thompson, how did Galt have a cell phone in his pocket?  Why was he not searched? 
Also, contrary to the book, Eddie Willers was saved by the heroes.  In the book his fate was purposely left undetermined. Ayn Rand specifically intended that and explained it.
 
Every work is a matrix of trade-offs.
From Spaceflight Technology,  Howard Seifert, ed.,
New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1959.
The movie offered many more positives.  Kristoffer Polaha’s performance was masterful.  His facial expressions spoke volumes.  He “got” the part: he understood the context.  He carried Dagny into the bedroom and laid her down. “I can walk,” she said.  “I know,” replied.  In shot after shot, he is aware, intelligent, focused, and  yet envisioning a wider horizon.  In the scene where he is captured, he was amused by the mental simplicity of Mr. Thompson.  When Galt is being tortured and Dr. Ferris asks, “How are we doing?”  Galt’s facial reply is miles deep. 

Jeff Yagher as Jeff Allen was the capable, competent worker who is not an innovator.  When the switching system breaks down, he does not know what do to, and neither is it expected that he should.  But he understands what Dagny Taggart intends as soon as she speaks her first words of command.  Yagher was also the narrator.  That was a segue was from the story of the Twentieth Century Motor Company from Part II.  That, too, was a deviation from the book, but one acceptable as the translation across media.

The door scene was good.  When Dagny pleads with John not to return to the City, they are still symbolically separated by a gulf of misunderstanding. 

The scene in Galt's apartment when the Feds force the door to the motor was perfect, right out of the book.

The best choice was to present this as a love story.   Atlas Shrugged works on many levels.  The girl-finds-boy thread was a dependable trope for Ayn Rand.  Similarly, most readers easily see The Fountainhead as Howard Roark’s biography (which it is) but miss the counterpoint of Dominique Francon’s narrative.  Here, the female lead is front and center. 

Overall, this was a finesse.  The producers, director, actors, and cinematography team all achieved as much (if not more) on $5 million as the first installment (also a grand achievement) did on fifteen.  "Third time is the charm."    

ALSO ON NECESSARY FACTS

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