Turn my heart to your decrees,
and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities;
give me life in your ways.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others Philippians 2:3
I was a teenager when I saw the film version of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountain Head. Drawn to it because it starred one of my favorite actors Gary Cooper as the individualistic architect, I was disappointed by the climax in which Cooper’s character blew up the large housing project he had designed. His dramatic defense in court was that lesser men than he had destroyed the beauty of his creation by their altering of his design, and so therefore, because he was the creator of the project, he had the right to destroy it. I knew nothing then about Ayn Rand’s philosophy, which she called “Objectivism,” but I did know that I disliked the architect’s action and egotistical defense.
Now, fifty years after the publication of Rand’s even more successful novel Atlas Shrugged, we have the movie version of the first third of it. Screenwriters Brian Patrick O’Toole and John Aglialoro have transferred the plot from the Fifties to the year 2016 (guess who might be ending his presidency then?) when the socialist-leaning government and a covey of mediocre business tycoons dominate a country on the verge of ruin. The film’s heroine is Dagny Taggart (Taylor Schilling), a young woman who wrests control of Taggart Transcontinental, the family’s railroad company, from her weak brother James (Matthew Marsden).
Threatened with ruin because of a series of accidents on its poorly maintained lines out west in Colorado, Dagny partners with steel tycoon Henry Rearden (played by Grant Bowler). He has developed a new form of steel ten times stronger and lighter than ordinary kind, so Dagny intends to replace all of her tracks with new rails made of the new steel. She is opposed by her brother, the consortium of manufacturers of regular steel, and the U.S. Congress, which they control.
Government scientific bureaucrats declare the new material unsafe; the railroad union head threatens a strike if the railroad uses the new “unsafe” rails; the government tries to ruin Reardon by passing a law forcing him to sell all of his other companies. Congress even levies a special tax on the state of Colorado (I know, this sounds loony!) And most disturbing of all, some of Dagny’s most able executives have been disappearing after they are approached by a shadowy figure. Somehow the question each asks—” Who is John Galt?” —is associated with each disappearance. Dagny and Rearden, the latter locked into a very unhappy marriage, become more than just partners, and when they face a major catastrophe threatening to destroy their plans, the film ends on a cliff-hanging note.
There was some talk by liberals of boycotting the film because of Rand’s extremely individualistic philosophy, but apparently some remembered how a similar attempt by their philosophical opposites against Martin Scorcese’s The Last Temptation of Christ had boomeranged. Anyway, they need not have worried, with the public shrugging off the film because of its implausible plot and mediocre production values. After a week on an art house screen in Cincinnati, the film closed and played for just two more weeks at a cheap seats theater. Too bad in a way, as the film could have provided an opportunity to discuss atheist Rand’s “Objectivism” philosophy, which could be boiled down to, “It’s all about me.” I have read that there are over 25 million copies of Ayn Rand’s books in circulation, with the Ayn Rand Institute having given away 300,000 copies of the novel in point. Clearly there are a lot of people out there who, like her, reject the Psalmist’s and the apostle Paul’s values, so I suspect we will be hearing more about the film when it comes out on DVD.
1. Check out “Ayn Rand” in Wikipedia, from which the following is taken: “Rand named her philosophy ‘Objectivism’, describing its essence as ‘the concept 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.’ In ethics, Rand argued for rational egoism (rational self-interest), as the guiding moral principle. She said the individual should ‘exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.’ 2. Compare the above to the passages from Psalm 119 and Philippians.
3. Also from Wikipedia: “In 1991, a survey conducted for the Library of Congress and the Book-of-the-Month Club asked club members what the most influential book in the respondent’s life was. Rand’s Atlas Shrugged was the second most popular choice, after the Bible. “ Why do you think the book has been so popular and influential? Because its underlying philosophy validates our tendency to place ourselves at the center of things?
4. What do you think Ayn Rand would say concerning Jesus’ invitation to take up the cross and that those who would save their souls will lose them, and those who lose them, find them?