ATLAS SHRUGGED: WHO IS JOHN GALT? is the final part of a trilogy of Ayn Rand’s famous pro-capitalist novel attacking big government. It picks up where the last movie left off. Dagny Taggart, a brilliant railroad magnate, finally meets John Galt. John has convinced some leading industrialists, inventors, intellectuals, and artists to abandon society and form their own secret anti-government conclave. Meanwhile, the socialist American government’s Head of State, Thompson, continues down the path of socialist control, which is destroying everything. Eventually, the government captures John. Thompson tries to make a deal with him, but is that possible?
The conflict between John and the government, especially his confrontation with Thompson, is the movie’s best, most exciting and most profound part. The romance between John and Dagny is less successful. Clunky narration doesn’t help. WHO IS JOHN GALT? has a strong pro-American, pro-capitalist, anti-socialist message, which is good. However, the worldview is humanist and has several lines of dialogue attacking biblical ideas, including the idea of forgiveness of sins. There’s also a lovemaking scene. So, strong caution is advised for WHO IS JOHN GALT?
(HH, PPP, CapCapCap, ACACAC, BB, C, Ab, FR, LL, VV, SS, N, A, M) Strong humanist worldview with a very strong Pro-American, pro-capitalist and anti-socialist viewpoint, but from a secular libertarian viewpoint, mitigated by a couple positive references to God from a couple characters, but also containing somewhat implied attacks in a couple lines on the need for forgiveness of sins and the biblical doctrine of the dignity of each individual human being because they are made in the image of God; 19 obscenities (all “h” and “d” words except for an SOB expletive) and one light “Good God!” profanity; strong violence in one scene when man is delivered electrical shocks several times by a machine and light violence, such as shots of an airplane crashing, woman is injured, guard protecting torturers refuses to disobey orders and is shot to death, man beaten up; partially depicted fornication in one scene with images of woman in bra lying down receiving pleasure, preceded by passionate kissing as the couple starts to disrobe; upper male nudity in sex scene and brief shots of woman in bra during the scene; alcohol use; no smoking; and, kidnapping, corruption, power-mad politicians and government officials.
ATLAS SHRUGGED: WHO IS JOHN GALT? is the third and final part of a trilogy of movies based on the famous humanist, capitalist novel by Ayn Rand. It’s the least successful of the three movies. The limited budget starts to show in WHO IS JOHN GALT? For example, the third act, which should be even more exciting, lacks the kind of spectacular Hollywood pizzazz that such a finish requires. Thus, it cries out for a bigger, extended gunfight or battle of some kind. In addition, the novel’s humanist/atheist worldview is stronger here, and the PG-13 version contains a partially depicted fornication scene. Although it would help to have seen the first two movies, it’s not really necessary. The story is still easy to follow, even if you haven’t seen them. In fact, MOVIEGUIDE®’s review companion liked the movie more than our reviewer but had trouble following part of the story in the very beginning.
WHO IS JOHN GALT? picks up where the last movie left off. Dagny Taggart’s jet plane has crashed into the force field protecting John Galt’s colony of fed-up industrialists, inventors and artists who’ve gotten tired of the American socialist government’s theft of their inventions and hard-earned money and property. John Galt greets the injured Dagny, who had been chasing him, and takes him to his beautiful lodge to recover.
While she recovers, John tells Dagny his story. His crusade to “stop the motor of the world” began while working as an engineer for a manufacturing company. The company and its workers had agreed to form a communist cooperative where everyone would be paid according to what they need, not how hard they worked or how much value and profit their work brings to the company. So, Galt, who had invented a miraculous energy device harnessing static electricity from the air, started convincing powerful industrialists, brilliant inventors and talented artists to abandon society and work in his colony hidden in the Rocky Mountains. As Galt’s colony expanded, so did the socialist government’s power over the country. As a result, another Great Depression began, along with a crippling of the country’s energy and transportation infrastructure. Instead of changing course, this only fed the zeal of the “Head of State,” Thompson, and his neo-fascist socialist minions to establish even more control over the country’s economic system and the citizenry.
John urges Dagny to take the colony’s libertarian pledge of self-actualization and join them. However, Dagny still feels loyal to the railroad company her great-grandfather built, which is now run by her incompetent brother, James. She decides to return to New York City to keep defending the company against James and the corrupt government officials now controlling him.
Meanwhile, John also decides to return to New York City to continue his efforts to inspire the people to adopt his pro-capitalist ideals and do what he can to stop the socialist destruction of American liberty. The budding romance between John and Dagny comes to fruition when she discovers him posing as one of her railroad workers during a government-inspired breakdown of her railroad. John tells her to be careful, because the Thompson government thinks she may lead them to him.
Sure enough, after John replaces a TV speech Thompson wants to make with one of his own, Dagny eventually leads Thompson’s henchmen to John. They take John prisoner and bring him to Thompson. Thompson tells John he’d like to make a deal, because John’s efforts to convince the people to join him is starting to have a big negative effect on Thompson’s control over the country. John tells Thompson he’s always willing to try making a deal, but will they be able to make such a deal? And, what will Thompson do if they don’t?
As one person commented after the screening of ATLAS SHRUGGED: WHO IS JOHN GALT?, the movie is designed to express the idea that personal liberty, private property, creativity, business, and charity must not be controlled or even regulated by government. This is where the movie shines the best. Several dramatic scenes do this quite well, if not brilliantly, especially the scenes where John Galt replaces Thompson’s speech to the nation with his own speech and Thompson and Galt finally face each other. These scenes also got some of the best reaction from the screening audience.
However, as Aristotle noted, story and character should take precedence over ideas. Instead of starting off with its strong suit – the conflict between John Galt and the Government, in the form of Thompson and his henchmen – the movie opens by focusing on the philosophical conversations between John and Dagny. The first act also spends a lot of time on John and his friends trying to convince Dagny to agree with their philosophy and strategy and join them at their hidden colony. Along the way, it becomes more and more clear that John and Dagny are made for each other, and the movie hints that a romance will develop between them. The hints are a bit melodramatic at times, however, and some viewers, especially those not interested in politics or economics, may feel as if they’re stuck in a corny soap opera.
A bigger problem, however, is that the movie too often interrupts the story’s flow with a narrator explaining what’s happening in the country. The narration is rather clunky. It could have been replaced by a newscaster explaining the same information, or by some lines of dialogue by a character. Too much exposition is a problem with other movies, not just ones with low budgets.
WHO IS JOHN GALT? picks up steam in the second half, when Dagny and John go their separate ways and return to New York. Things start to come to a head, and most of the movie’s best scenes take place in the second half. Finally, though it is indeed exciting and suspenseful, the ending could have used some more action as the good guys go on a rescue mission.
The best message of ATLAS SHRUGGED: WHO IS JOHN GALT? is its pro-capitalist, anti-socialist message. As noted above, the movie is most effective when it’s delivering this message, especially when the conflict and jeopardy kick in during the second half. One thing, however, that Ayn Rand’s novel and the movie don’t fully address is why so many successful businessmen, from Bill Gates and Warren Buffet to the founders of Google and some of the key players in Hollywood, are so supportive of bigger and bigger government. The fact that these businessmen apparently see bigger government as a way to increase their own power and profits doesn’t fully explain this weird, unexpected phenomenon.
Another thing this story doesn’t seem to recognize is the biblical notion that big government is bad because people are full of sin, so government power must be limited because it appeals to people’s sinful nature. This is one thing the Founding Fathers of the United States recognized, which is why they created a limited government and invented such doctrines as separation of powers, balance of powers and specific enumerated powers. Of course, if the people, their representatives and the courts don’t hold politicians to such doctrines, then the idea of a constitution becomes practically useless.
Ayn Rand and the filmmakers are right about their viewpoints about capitalism, private property, liberty, charity, and the evils of big government. For example, nowhere does the Bible give government the power to regulate business and private property, including family businesses. Nor is the government supposed to be in charge of charity – that’s up to families and individuals. In fact, God doesn’t give anybody the authority to take from the rich to give to the poor, though he does instruct the Hebrews in Deuteronomy 14:28,29 to take part of the money they send to the community temple to help the poor.
Sadly, one of Ayn Rand’s biggest beliefs was her belief in a humanist form of atheism that extols individual self-actualization apart from God. The pledge John Galt asks Dagny to say in the movie represents this belief. Other pieces of dialogue add to this faulty philosophy. For example, one piece implicitly attacks the biblical notion of moral responsibility to our fellow human beings, and another piece attacks the notion that people need forgiveness of sin. All this gives the movie a strong humanist worldview that’s Non-Christian and, in these two places at least, anti-biblical. Ayn Rand probably wasn’t aware of such biblical passages as 1 Samuel 8:1-20, where Samuel tells the Hebrews that God wants them to know that big government leads to slavery and tyranny, or 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, where the Apostle Paul says that adults should not be dependent on anyone and that “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”
To go along with this atheist humanism, the PG-13 version of WHO IS JOHN GALT? contains a partially depicted fornication scene between John Galt and Dagny Taggart. The scene is fairly racy, and a little bit corny (in the story, Dagny has two previous lovers before she hooks up with Galt). Despite this, there are a couple dialogue lines with positive references to God. They aren’t a major part of the movie, however. Also, the movie has some brief foul language, but it’s all rather light and as inoffensive as it can be.
All in all, therefore, MOVIEGUIDE® advises strong caution for the PG-13 version of WHO IS JOHN GALT? The filmmakers tell us they plan a separate DVD version of the movie that either doesn’t contain the sex scene or tones it down.
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