Audiences applaud as the movie ends – with Ellis Wyatt having set his own oilfield on fire and gone off with the rebel messiah John Galt. His signboard of defiance to big government, “Take it. It’s yours,” brings railroader Dagny Taggart to her knees. Washington central planner Wesley Mouch has either killed Colorado’s ascendancy or delayed it. We’ll find out in Part II, next April 15.
The book is not great literature, and this isn't great cinema. But as an indictment of false collectivist compassion, it works. Let’s hope millions see it and wake up. In a March 2009 column entitled “When Will Atlas Shrug?”, I took note of the already stiff resistance to Obama’s redistributionist guilt trip. With the John Galt message in theaters, Americans’ defense of our liberties may stiffen more.
So far so good. Yet after emerging into the spring night and reassuring myself there was no smoke on the Rocky Mountain skyline from the torching of Wyatt Oil, I wondered how much real difference there is between the “Atlas Shrugged” movie and the sensationalistic sci-fi stuff like “X-Men” and “Priest” that we had just seen trailers for.
Fantasy is fantasy, after all: diverting at best, narcotic at worst. The energy time warp that could make Taggart’s trains dominant over trucks and planes by 2016, and the magic technology that could power Galt’s miracle motor, both of which “Atlas” asks us to believe in, only provide a stage backdrop for the superhuman intelligence, virtue, and charisma of John Galt himself.
It all requires the myth-spinner’s precondition, suspension of disbelief – and someone will have to tell me how that is helpful. The only basis for getting anywhere politically, economically, culturally, or morally, is practical realism about the limitations of the human condition and the imperfections of us all, not hero-worship and panacea dreams. Thirty disillusioning months of Barack the Great have surely taught us that.
Remember his megalomaniacal boast upon securing the Democratic nomination? “I am absolutely certain,” Obama said, that history will record “this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal. This was the moment when we came together to remake this great nation.” Right. Even if we did need the nation remade or the planet healed – and we don’t – this president has done neither.
Messianism is messianism: foolish at best, hypnotic at worst. The grandiosity of Barack Obama and the will to power of Saul Alinsky cry for relief. The country must be rid of them, and soon. But the antidote is not John Galt and Ayn Rand. The messianic similarities are too close. One political panacea can’t cure another.
The novel’s final scene (coming on film, year after next) tells how Galt “raised his hand and traced in space the sign of the dollar,” while nearby one of his disciples rewrote the Constitution. No sign of the Cross for the atheist Rand; no great reverence for the Founders either. Her secular religion, Objectivism, would improve on both. Right.
There is no political panacea, and most Americans know it. Those who regard this as a holy week with Easter and Passover know it best. Keeping faith, civically and spiritually, honors liberty better than any objectivist shrug. It will not be the “Atlas” sequel on Tax Day, but the president’s dismissal on election day, that heralds our 2012 renaissance.