The Box Office Shrugs at Atlas Shrugged

The Box Office Shrugs at Atlas Shrugged March 18, 2013

Way back in 2011, I wrote about the hilarious box-office trainwreck (see what I did there?) that was Atlas Shrugged: Part I. Inexplicably, Ayn Rand’s dense, multi-hour soliloquies in defense of capitalism failed to translate well into the medium of film. The last news I heard after the movie’s belly-flop was that its producer, heroic rich guy John Aglialoro, was threatening, John Galt-like, to turn his back on our society of ungrateful looters and parasites and not make a sequel.

But it appears that he had a change of heart. Even I, who normally keep a wry eye out for all things Rand, hadn’t heard about this, but it turns out that Atlas Shrugged Part II was made after all. It was shot in a rush, with a completely different cast, and was hurried into theaters late last year so that it would be out in time for Election Day. And apparently it bombed even more spectacularly than the first one, making back just $3 million of its $10 million budget. (It also failed to get Mitt Romney elected, which I imagine its backers view as the greater disappointment.)

Now you’d think that, by this point, a worshipper of capitalism would recognize that the free market has spoken. Clearly, people just aren’t very interested in paying to see these movies. Then again, all Randian heroes have contempt for a world that scorns the noble endeavors of productive men, and Aglialoro is no exception. Because he confirmed last week that yes, he intends to make a Part III:

Aglialoro says the third and final installment is gunning for a summer 2014 release, and he says this time, things will be different, namely because he won’t be under such a time crunch… so he’ll be able to create “something closer to the book.”

“I wanted to get some things in that Ayn Rand said of her characters,” Aglialoro told POLITICO. “I want to take the time so that the screenplay can say things, so that it’s a conversation.”

Normally I’d say that a rich man by definition is always right, but I fear that this comment proves Aglialoro hasn’t fully appreciated the message of Rand’s work. One of her themes is that you don’t have “conversations” – in fact, there’s a crucial scene in the book in which heroine Dagny Taggart refuses to debate a muckraking anti-capitalism journalist. According to Rand, all opinions other than her own are anti-reason and anti-life, so engaging with them is precisely what you shouldn’t do. Instead, you should have monologues where you explain your philosophical viewpoint in agonizing detail while other people sit in silence.

And what if the third movie bombs as well? Well, if that happens, John Aglialoro has already made up his mind about who’ll be to blame:

“We’re not going to get critics coming on board,” Aglialoro said. “The academic-media complex out there doesn’t want to like the work, doesn’t want to understand it, fears the lack of government in their lives, wants the presence of government taking care of us. … The MSNBC crowd doesn’t like us.”

“The academic-media complex” is new, but other than that, this is weak sauce as far as persecution fantasies go. Look, John, I see what you’re trying to do here. I get that you want to rile up the Tea Party crowd so that they’ll go see the movie as a way to stick it to liberals. But let’s be honest, if you want to get elderly white Republicans properly infuriated, “the MSNBC crowd” just isn’t going to cut it. Why not say that your critics are against you because they hate money and freedom? That ought to inspire the kind of blood-boiling rage you’ll need to make them shell out 10 bucks for a ticket!

Honestly, mocking these movies is easy sport. But I’ve got a bigger target in mind. I mentioned a while ago that I’d read Atlas Shrugged in its entirety and that I wanted to write a chapter-by-chapter review of it. I’ve let that promise go unfulfilled for a long time, but no longer. Starting next week, I plan to begin writing that review. Stay tuned!

Image credit: Mvornehm, released under CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

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