"Critics, you won," said John Aglialoro, the businessman who spent 18 years and more than $20 million of his own money to make, distribute and market "Atlas Shrugged: Part 1," which covers the first third of Rand's dystopian novel. "I’m having deep second thoughts on why I should do Part 2."Personally, I regarded the film as quite good, though not great -- certainly not deserving the excoriating reviews it received. Some sites and writers simply would not let up; they pounded the film repeatedly, looking for excuses to pile on at every opportunity.
"Atlas Shrugged" was the top-grossing limited release in its opening weekend, generating $1.7 million on 299 screens and earning a respectable $5,640 per screen. But the box office dropped off 47% in the film's second week in release even as "Atlas Shrugged" expanded to 425 screens, and the movie seemed to hold little appeal for audiences beyond the core group of Rand fans to whom it was marketed.
Aglialoro attributed the box office drop-off to "Atlas Shrugged's" poor reviews.
But this disproportionate bashing is revealing. Ask yourself how many other "mediocre" or even "bad" films have ever generated this level of untempered wrath, raging vituperation, incessant insults, and unrestrained gloating over their artistic or commercial shortcomings. Does this not suggest that something much deeper is going on?
If the film's critics (professional and amateur) truly believed that it was merely mediocre, then what explains their unrelenting, over-the-top spewing of venom? Similarly, if Rand and her ideas were simply silly, wouldn't her intellectual opponents just dismiss her lightly, without such ado? To the contrary, however: A Google search for reviews and commentary about Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged over the past several weeks shows that, for the commentariat, this was not just another opportunity to review another film, or to comment on a novelist and thinker; this was all-out warfare.
This earlier post suggests my own interpretation of the Culturati's otherwise baffling fixation on damning, mocking, and repudiating Ayn Rand, her ideas, her books, and this film. For Rand was not just any other philosopher or artist, nor is she treated as such. Ayn Rand was a Romantic visionary who spent her life crafting, articulating, and objectifying in fiction a new Narrative to guide our lives: a Narrative counter to those that have held humanity in their grip for thousands of years. If you grasp the all-consuming significance that Narratives play in our lives, then you will understand that everything is at stake when Narratives clash.
The Randian Narrative -- "of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute" -- challenges the Narratives that have dominated thousands of years of human history. For those wedded to the latter, her vision represents a grave threat to everything they are, everything they have, and everything they seek. This threat goes beyond politics or economic theories; it encompasses their most personal values, aspirations, ideals, lifestyles, vested interests, relationships -- the works.
It boils down to this: If Ayn Rand is essentially right, then most of what society has been committed to for centuries is utterly wrong. And that is why they could not permit themselves to give the "Atlas Shrugged" film a fair shake. It had to be driven off the screens of American theaters.
It is a shame that the movie is not even better than it is, because its flaws allow Rand's haters to hide their true motives beneath the mask of high-minded aesthetic criticism. Had it been a great film on purely cinematic grounds, then those motives would have been laid bare even more starkly.
But they are clear enough.
In any case, John Aglialoro should not long lament this vicious response to his work. Like Rand herself, he was challenging much more than Hollywood. His achievement in the face of overwhelming challenges and rampant hostility is extraordinary. He should take pride in the fact that he is introducing millions to Rand's name, ideas, and masterwork, many for the first time. He has aroused the curiosity of countless individuals who now will read the novel upon which his film is based. And the consequences will be far-reaching.
I am well-enough acquainted with John to know that this was one of his major objectives. Well, then: mission accomplished. I hope that once he has had time to gain further perspective, he will realize the full extent of what he has achieved. At that point, I hope he will consider producing the second and third installments of this grand story. Because I am confident that many others, inspired by his vision and valor, will step up to help him.
As for me, I plan to go see the film once again tonight -- and I will bring along some friends, too.