In my reviews of Part I and Part II of the Atlas Shrugged film trilogy, I expressed largely favorable reactions to those films’ message and execution. Naturally, I was eager to see Part III and the completion of the long-awaited Atlas Shrugged trilogy. After I watched it, though, my response to this conclusion is more muted. The film fails to do full justice to the culmination of Ayn Rand’s magnum opus, where one would expect to witness the coalescence into an integrated worldview of all of the philosophical and plot pieces that Rand meticulously introduced during the first two parts. Atlas Shrugged: Part III is not without its merits, and it is inspiring in certain respects – especially in its conveyance of Rand’s passionate defense of the creator-individualist. However, the film is also not a great one, and the creators could have made Rand’s source material shine consistently instead of glowing dimly while occasionally emitting a bright flicker.
Strength 1: There is now a complete film series spanning the entire story arc of Atlas Shrugged. What Ayn Rand herself and many successive filmmakers could not achieve, producers Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro have been able to bring into existence. For decades, admirers of Ayn Rand’s work have lamented that no Atlas Shrugged movie had been made. The fact that this particular lament is obsolete constitutes major progress for Objectivism (where the rate of progress is admittedly extremely slow)
Weakness 1: Part III is, in my view, the most poorly executed of the three Atlas Shrugged movies, even though it had the potential to be the best. The extreme brevity of Part III – a mere 90 minutes, compared to 102 minutes for Part I and 112 minutes for Part II – orphaned many of the events of the film from their contexts, as compared to the meticulous rationale for each of Ayn Rand’s decisions in the novel. John Galt’s speech – which received some 70 pages in the novel – had been cut to bare bones and lacks the deep, rigorous, philosophical exposition that Ayn Rand saw as the substance and culmination of the novel.
Strength 2: As was the case with the previous installments, the film’s creators conveyed a plausible sense that the events of Atlas Shrugged could happen in our own world, or at least in a world that greatly resembles ours, as opposed to the world of 1957. In this sense, the film’s creators succeeded in conveying the universality of Atlas Shrugged’s moral message.
Weakness 2: Changes in directors and the entire cast for every single one of the Atlas Shrugged films greatly detract from the continuity of the story, especially for viewers who may watch the films back to back, once all of them are available on DVDs or other media.
Strength 3: The reactions to Galt’s Speech by Ron Paul, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck added authenticity and relevance to the film and reinforced the message that the conflict between value-creators and “looters” (cronyists or purveyors of political pull) is very much present in our era. In addition, whether one agrees or disagrees with these notable figures, it was amusing to see them in a dramatization of Ayn Rand’s literary world.
Weakness 3: The film fails to do justice to many important plot elements in Part Three of the book. Hank Rearden – my favorite character from the book and the most compelling character in Part II – barely makes an appearance. Cheryl Taggart’s suicide is only expressed in retrospectives of her realizations that drove her to this desperate act – while she is not actually shown taking any steps toward it. The fate of Eddie Willers at the end of the film is almost completely unaddressed, with a mere intimation that the protagonists have another man in mind for whom they plan to stop – but no validation that this would indeed be Eddie Willers. The treatment of Eddie Willers in the novel is ambiguous; Ayn Rand leaves him beside a broken-down Taggart Transcontinental train engine, abandoned by the railroad workers. He might be rescued, or he might perish – but he has not yet been invited into Galt’s Gulch. The film creators neither pose the ambiguity nor attempt to resolve it. For me, the fate of Eddie Willers – a sincere, moral, hard-working man who respects the achievements of heroic individualists but is not (according to Rand) one of them – is a key concern in Atlas Shrugged. I think Rand treated him with undeserving harshness, considering that people like Eddie Willers, especially if there are millions of them, can be tremendous contributors to human flourishing. The film creators missed an opportunity to vindicate Eddie and give him some more serious hope of finding a place in the new world created by the inhabitants of Galt’s Gulch. In Galt’s Gulch, the film shows Dagny explaining her plan to have a short railroad built to service Francisco d’Anconia’s new copper mine. But who would actually physically build the railroad and do the job well, if not people like Eddie Willers?
Strength 4: The film’s narrator does a decent job at bridging the events of the previous two installments and the plot of Part III. The events in the film begin with Dagny Taggart crash-landing in Galt’s Gulch, and even those who did not read the book or watch the preceding two films would be able to follow how and why she got there. The film is also excellent in displaying the corruption, incompetence, spitefulness, and callous scheming of the crony corporatist establishment that Rand despised – and that we should despise today. The smoky back-room scene where the economic planners toast to the destruction of Minnesota is one of the film’s high marks – a memorable illustration of what the mentality of “sacrificing the parts” for the whole actually looks like.
Weakness 4: While moderately effective at conveying narratives of events and generally decent in its treatment of ethics and politics, the film does not do justice to the ideas on metaphysics and epistemology also featured prominently in Atlas Shrugged. Furthermore, the previous two films were generally superior in regard to showing, in addition to telling, the fruits of the creative efforts of rational individualists, as well as the consequences for a society that shackles these creators. In the Part III film, many of the scenes utilized to illustrate these effects seemed more peripheral than central to the book’s message. Much of the footage hinted at the national and world events that take place in the book, but did not explicitly show them.
Amid these strengths and weaknesses remains an opportunity to continue the discussion about the undoubtedly crucial implications of Ayn Rand’s message to today’s political and societal climate – where there looms the question of how much longer the creator-individualists who power the motor of the world can keep moving forward in spite of the increasingly gargantuan obstacles placed in their way by legacy institutions. Any work that can pose these questions for consideration by wider numbers of people is welcome in an environment where far too many are distracted by the “bread and circuses” of mindless entertainment. Atlas Shrugged: Part III is a film with intellectual substance and relevance and so is worthy of a relatively short time commitment from anyone interested in Ayn Rand, Objectivism, philosophy, and current events. However, those who watch the film should also be sure to read the novel, if they have not already done so, in order to experience much greater depth of both plot and philosophical ideas.
* Gennady Stolyarov II is a science fiction novelist and philosophical essayist, and is Editor-in-Chief of The Rational Argumentator. He lives in Carson City, Nevada.