If there was anything that Ayn Rand loved more than her friends’ husbands, it was the free market. This was not a view shared by the producers of Atlas Shrugged Part III.
Very few people asked for Atlas Shrugged to be adapted into a film, let alone three films. The first installment earned less than five million dollars at the box office, and only a few million more on DVD. It failed to recoup even half its budget and was critically panned across the board. Nevertheless, the producers pushed forward with their plan, even if they couldn’t bring back the director, most of the crew, and all of the cast. The second film was financed through a debt sale and filmed over a single month, the dying gasp of a dream that should have never been brought into reality. Part II debuted on three times as many screens as Part I, likely due to its release near the 2012 election and the hope that money could be made off of the politically charged subject matter. Nope. Part II bombed even harder than the first installment, barely squeaking out over three million dollars.
The promotional materials for Far Cry 3 have taught us that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. So, naturally, the producers of the first two Atlas Shrugged films made a third one.
“How?” you ask, and I don’t have a good answer. No one with any sense would invest in a project like this–the third film of a trilogy that twice failed to earn a profit and consists, notoriously, of the worst parts of the book it is based on. Atlas Shrugged isn’t a masterpiece from the start, but it falls apart spectacularly in the last third, mostly because of a 70 page speech by one of the worst Mary Sue characters to ever be realized outside of fanfiction.net.
Part III reportedly cost 10 million dollars to produce, which is considerably cheaper than the first two films but still 10 million dollars more than anyone should have been willing to pay. To top that off, a kickstarter campaign was drawn into the mix. Allegedly, none of the money was used to actually produce the film, which begs an important question: where did it go? The page is really vague on that–“expanding the production and marketing” is the official wording. The producers elaborate on this in their video and FAQ, stating that the main purpose is to allow fans to be “part of Atlas Shrugged history.”
In other words, the kickstarter was a way to take money from people who were willing to give it. And can you really blame the producers when there were six people who paid $7,500 to have their name written on John Galt’s wall in the film?
The idea of paying a bunch of money to get your name associated with the prime mover capitalist heroes of Atlas Shrugged is maybe the most amazing thing to come out of this whole series of terrible movies. It’s so dumb and it’s even vaguely even predatory, though I can’t feel sorry for the prey of this particular scam. And maybe, in the end, they’re onto something. Anyone who had their name put up on that wall has something in common with Ellis Wyatt: they basically set a bunch of money on fire.
In keeping with the fine tradition of continuity, the entire film has been recast once again. Gone is Samantha Mathis as Dagny Taggart, replaced by Laura Regan who you might recognize as (a) Harry’s wife on Mad Men or (b) the actress who portrays Robin Wright’s character in Unbreakable during flashbacks. That’s how little there is to say about her. Hank Rearden is no longer a mob boss, but played by Rob Morrow (in theory; we’ll get to that later). And the standout of Part II, Patrick Fabian, is sadly missing in action as James Taggart, but gleefully replaced by yet another in the revolving door of unsettling expressive actors, Greg Germann. Or, as you probably know him, Fish from Ally McBeal.
Everyone else has been recast as well, including Ray Wise as President Thompson. Which is a hell of a disappointment because President Thompson is actually in this film for more than a minute and Wise is sorely missed.
The film opens, like all good films do, with a voiceover explaining John Galt’s history. This film is subtitled “Who is John Galt?” so I suppose it’s time to get to the fucking point. Galt was a worker at the 2oth Century Motor Company when new management arrived with a new compensation plan: workers would be paid according to how much they claimed to need, rather than their contribution to the company. Never mind that this doesn’t make sense–why would management ever suggest such a scheme?–this is Ayn Rand world.
Galt refused to take part in the new payment scheme and instead of doing what any normal person would do to disrupt it–namely, claiming to “need” a therapy tiger to see if the company would provide a murderous, endangered animal as compensation–he walked off the job. He also told everyone that he would stop the motor of the world, which is how I end every conversation that’s gone poorly.
Because John Galt is now a central character of the story and can no longer be concealed in shadow or underneath a fedora, Atlas Shrugged Part III had the unenviable role of casting an actor into the role. Galt is built up so much by the book, the first two movies, and everyone who is really fucking into Ayn Rand that putting a real person’s face on the character for the first time in over half a century is a monumental task. Fortunately, they got the star of the short-lived CW series Valentine.
John Galt is supposed to be an incredibly talented electrical engineer–as well as one of the men behind the downfall of the entire world–yet he spends most of the film with a look on his face that can only be described as “vapid.” I don’t think that this is necessarily the actor’s fault To make sure that I wasn’t just projecting because of his performative country handsomeness, I reluctantly watched a couple of his scenes in the (also awful) TV show Backstrom. And he’s totally capable of pulling off expressions other than Totally Lost. He just never got the chance in Atlas Shrugged because he’s been told to emote literally everything he says as if it is incredibly profound.
Once we are introduced to our new hero, Part III picks up where the last film left off: with Dagny Taggart crashing her plane after flying through a hologram of a mountain and finding Galt and the other wealthy/productive folks who have gone on strike. Galt himself is the one to find Dagny and rescue her from the wreckage of the plane, immediately showing a kinship and affection for her that is usually reserved only for profits in the world of Atlas Shrugged.
Galt brings Dagny back to his house in Galt’s Gulch, the village built by the strikers over the last few years. He explains that everyone there works for their living, even if it isn’t in the profession they originally prospered. They meet Hugh Akston, a philosophy professor who now makes wine. In the original novel, Akston owned a tobacco farm but the filmmakers cleverly fudged that detail, likely because the tobacco industry became just about the biggest example of how industry can fail to self-regulate in they years since the novel was written.
They also meet Dr. Hendricks, a relatively minor character in the book, who exists in the film to take jabs at Obamacare. He is a neurosurgeon who now practices general medicine in the Gulch, which makes me think they didn’t recruit enough doctors. In the book, Dr. Hendricks went on strike because he was forced to treat patients who couldn’t pay; in the film, he all but uses the word “death panels” in describing how the government began dictating how he treated patients. Oh, and he has a magical x-ray devicethat could only be developed without government regulations.
Next there is Midas Mulligan, the town banker. His name is really Midas. It’s that fucking on the nose. And he’s played by Duck Phillips from Mad Men.
Come to think of it, almost the entire cast of Part III has appeared on Mad Men at some point: Dagny, Galt, Midas, Floyd Ferris, the new President Thompson all have bit parts on the show. I don’t know what this means other than a lazy casting director who had to find a bunch of white people on short notice.
Also Ellis Wyatt is back and he’s the world’s biggest cowboy stereotype.
The chemistry between Dagny and John Galt is as immediate as it is forced. Before she’s even recovered from her injury, he’s making puppy dog eyes at her like he’s suddenly no longer a mythical rhetorical question and she’s suddenly no longer a trespasser in his secessionist paradise. It’s hard to blame them for falling in love. Galt walked straight out of a Timberland catalog and Dagny is literally the only woman in Galt’s Gulch with more than one spoken line, so she’s probably looking pretty good to everyone at this point.
There’s only one thing standing in the way of true love for Galt and Dagny. No, it’s not Hank Rearden, who was Dagny’s love interest for the first two movies. We’ll get to him later. The problem is that Dagny wasn’t invited to the Gulch, and she’s not sure she can stay.
To live in Galt’s Gulch, all its inhabitants must forsake their connections to the outside world. They must give up on trying to help others and pledge to only live for themselves in the Gulch. This is clearly not a problem for a man like Ellis Wyatt, who torched millions of barrels of oil behind his house to teach the Earth a lesson about evolving a species capable of taxing income. But Dagny is different. She cares about her railroad and refuses to let it collapse under the control of her incompetent brother. Specifically, she will not let the Taggart Bridge–a rail bridge spanning the Mississippi–collapse and is determined to keep the trains running.
John Galt gives Dagny one month to live in the Gulch and decide what she will do. He hopes she will stay, and shares the rather disturbing fact that he has been watching her for a long time hoping that she will join them. You see, this budding relationship began as years of stalking. Galt watched her at work, secretly serving as an employee of Taggart Transcontinental. All the while, he was plotting how he would eventually win her heart without ever talking to her. And that’s totally cool because he’s John Galt. Also look at him.
Galt informs Dagny that to stay–even for just a month–she has to live by the rules of the Gulch. This means that she has to pay her own way and the only currency they use is in gold, so she’s effectively penniless. She offers to work as Galt’s maid for the month, cleaning his house and doing his laundry, because this is totally a good look for a railroad executive and this relationship wasn’t toxic enough already. Galt naturally accepts, because he’s been waiting literally years to have her in any capacity whatsoever.
Despite doing Galt’s laundry for a month while exchanging tortured stares, Dagny decides that she has to return to the outside world. She says she needs to save her railroad, but I suspect she leaves because the only wine in Galt’s Gulch is made by a philosophy professor and, seriously, can you imagine how terrible that stuff is?
But Dagny won’t be the only one returning. Galt announces that he, too, will go back to New York. All his prime mover buddies tell him that he shouldn’t do it–he won’t be safe, and they’ve recruited everyone they intended to recruit except for Hank Rearden (who we’ll get to later). Galt doesn’t listen to them. They ask him why he would return and he answers with “I’m going to get the only thing in the world I want” then he gives Dagny another lonesome look.
At some point Ellis Wyatt, Midas Mulligan, and the others are going to realize that John Galt destroyed society for a woman, right? They’re going to wake up in the middle of the night and realize that they have to drink wine made by a philosopher for the rest of their lives because Galt couldn’t find a way to just go up to Dagny and ask her on a date. And it’s going to wreck them, because they’ll come to the conclusion that they re-molded their entire existence and philosophy based on the most elaborate PUA stunt in history. That’s gonna be a scary day in Galt’s Gulch, let me tell you.
Galt and Dagny leave the Gulch, reaffirming their toxic relationship as Galt tells her not to look for him because he will always be watching her. He also makes her wear a blindfold as they fly out so she can’t identify where the Gulch is. This is not undermined by the fact that she found her way there in the first place because reasons.
Up until Dagny leaves the Gulch, the film largely ignores the events on the outside. They are described in dull voiceovers–the government continues its expansion of power, commodities become even scarcer, everyone is panicking as people tend to do when shit hits the fan–but nothing is ever shown. This is strange, because there’s a viewpoint character from the first two films who has been on the outside the entire time: Hank Rearden.
Rearden is central to the first two entries of the series, first as a suave businessman and second as the mob boss of the metallurgy world. But he is conspicuously absent from the first part of the film, which takes place entirely in Galt’s Gulch. Then, as Dagny leaves the Gulch, John Galt invites Hank to join the strike offscreen. Thus he is absent when Dagny returns to the East Coast for the second half of the film.
In Atlas Shrugged Part III, Hank Rearden is played by Emmy award-winning actor Rob Morrow, star of Quiz Show, Northern Exposure, and Numb3rs. He’s a talented guy but he’s also never been afraid of phoning in roles, so I have been anticipating his appearance in this series since the beginning. But I have some bad news for you, folks. Rob Morrow appears for the first time in this film at the hour mark. And this is his scene:
That’s it. Hank Rearden has basically been written out of this movie. He was the love interest for Dagny in the first two films–and there’s a ton of conflict potential here with a key member of the strike forming a love triangle opposite its messianic leader–but he’s just a footnote. Not even a footnote. A cameo. This isn’t the last time that Hank Rearden shows up in the film, but it is the only time we see his face for more than a split second.
Yeah, I don’t know either. Maybe that Kickstarter was to pay Rob Morrow and the funds were short.
Once on the outside, Dagny discovers that her brother has given into the nationalization of the railroads and all the other awful plots of the government. To make matters worse, President Thompson is a socialist monster who doesn’t even have the dignity to be portrayed by Ray Wise anymore, and is on a warpath to destroy everything good and pure about America.
We are introduced to a new character, Floyd Ferris, whose exact role in the government is not explained at all. Just like all the other villains of the series, he is impeccably cast.
What is Ferris’s job in the government? Unimportant. How does he relate to former villain Welsey Mouch? Why isn’t there just continuity with Mouch remaining the villain, when it doesn’t really matter? Go ask Ayn Rand. This is the new bad guy and he’s here to stay, because this is thankfully the last film.
Ferris’s first scene of importance involves him bullying the scientist who was portrayed by Quark from DS9 in the first film and The Doctor from Voyager in the second film. He’s no longer played by a Star Trek character actor, which is terribly disappointing, but his slow moral turn from the previous film continues. Ferris wants him to sign off on new research on something called “Project F” and he’s reluctant. So I guess he’s doing better.
There is no explanation of what “Project F” is, other than the harried scientist noting that it looks like a weapon. Apparently, it is some perversion of the cutting edge work of the State Science Institute. The scientist is reluctant to sign off on it, but gives in after Ferris glares at him for a few seconds.
It is not explained why this project needs the scientist’s signature, given that in the last film all intellectual property was abolished and turned over to the government.
Project F comes back later and it is amazing, so just remember this scene and how important the film wants you to believe it is.
While Floyd Ferris is bullying nerds on behalf of President NotRayWise, Taggart Transcontinental continues its rapid decline, mostly because this fucker is in charge:
Nationalizing the railroads didn’t save the company and now it’s time to cut rail lines. The people in charge–shadowy dudes who are always being followed by the ferret-like specter called Floyd Ferris–want to cut down service to the midwest. Dagny, ever the smartest woman in the room, realizes that this will end up starving the East Coast. But no one cares about that because everyone left outside of Galt’s Gulch is an idiot.
To make matters worse for James Taggart, his wife is dead. You remember the woman at Big Lots in Part II who helped him pick out a tie? Gone.
The death of James’ wife is literally never explained. She is shown discovering the fact that he is a fraud–that Dagny has been running the company this whole time. And then she is dead. Did James kill her? Did she kill herself in shame? Is this just a really weird coincidence? Never addressed. In the book, it’s definitely suicide. But there is no definitive answer in the movie. It’s a bizarre omission in a film full of them.
Dagny, meanwhile, struggles to fix the railroad yet again. She fights to prevent the line to the midwest from being cut and when an entire station in New York shuts down because of stalled trains, she heads out there herself (in formalwear) to solve the problem. That is when she spots John Galt in the crowd, wearing a Taggart Transcontinental uniform.
There’s no stopping Dagny now. She is going to fuck him in a closet adjacent to the railroad. No, really. That’s exactly what she’s going to do. They are going to have sex in a railroad maintenance closet.
Next comes the part of the film that I dreaded since I started down this long, dark path. Atlas Shrugged, the novel, features a seventy page speech by John Galt that would make the most dedicated objectivist declare that Ayn Rand should donate ink to charity rather than reprint the speech in every edition. It’s a long, meandering mess of a speech that could be trimmed down to a few paragraphs. Thanks in small part to whatever god is terrible enough to allow this film to exist, Part III does just that. The Galt Speech lasts only five minutes–which, granted, is five minutes too long–and then it’s over.
Here’s the context: President Thompson (still not Ray Wise, to my chagrin) prepares a speech to the nation which will be broadcast on all networks. Dagny, who is recognized as the only smart person left, is invited to participate but she walks off at the last minute. Galt pre-empts the speech with a pirate broadcast because he is an Objectivist Wizard, and proceeds to school the country on the need to live for one’s self rather than one’s fellow man. It looks something like this:
The world is captivated by Galt’s speech, because a man so ruggedly handsome would never lie to them and he allowed just enough light on his face to let us know that he is ruggedly handsome.
President Thompson and Floyd Ferris go into a panic. The people love John Galt. They’re chanting his name. They want the government to get out of the way. How do you deal with a movement like this? The President thinks he can make a deal with Galt, but first they have to find him.
Dagny realizes that they don’t have Galt’s best interests at heart, so she decides to track him down first. She has to warn him that they are on the way, not realizing that the government is following her and she will lead them straight to his hideout.
But how will Dagny find John Galt? The man is a legendary shadow. For a decade, his very name was a rhetorical question. Everyone asked “Who is John Galt?” because he was impossible to find to the point where no one was sure that he even existed. How can you even begin to track down a man like that?
Well, Dagny remembers that he worked as an employee of Taggart Transcontinental for a while and
JOHN GALT IS IN THE TAGGART TRANSCONTINENTAL EMPLOYEE DATABASE.
I cannot stress enough how ridiculous this is. This man (a) is the subject of a common saying that has spread throughout the vocabulary because of how unknowable he is, (b) has been the subject of multiple manhunts by companies and governments throughout the three films, (c) was the literal namesake of part of Taggart Transcontinental in the first film, and (d) is currently wanted by President Thompson and James Taggart, the CEO of Taggart Transcontinental.
And he is in the employee database, under his real name.
I have watched over five hours of people ask “Who is John Galt?” when any number of them could have searched his name and found his picture and address. IT WAS RIGHT THERE.
Presumably they were issuing payroll checks to John Galt and NO ONE thought anything of it.
Jesus Christ. JESUS CHRIST.
Because Dagny is literally the only person in the world capable of running a database query, her pursuit of John Galt ends up leading the government stooges right to his door. Dagny visits Galt, in his apartment which is clearly listed in his Taggart Transcontinental employee file, but their reunion is interrupted by Floyd Ferris’s goons. Galt is arrested and taken to President Thompson, who tries to work out a deal with the rebellious prime mover.
John Galt doesn’t take deals. He wants the government out of the way and he will not back down. Because of this, he is handed over to the State Science Institute, which somehow now has become a branch of the Justice Department, to be imprisoned and further questioned.
In the meanwhile, the Taggart Bridge has collapsed and Dagny is free to give up on the railroad. She recites Galt’s pledge to live only for herself, then begins to plan a daring mission to save Galt from the government because irony is dead.
Galt is hauled away by Floyd Ferris and James Taggart, who for a railroad CEO has a bizarre amount of access into the internal working of the government. They bring him to a stark looking cell in the State Science Institute and tie him up (shirtless of course) where they tell him that they will torture him until he cooperates.
At this point, I’m not sure what cooperation even means for the government and John Galt. The government doesn’t know about his static electricity motor, so it’s not like he has any knowable secrets he could hand over outside of (perhaps) the location of Galt’s Gulch. But that’s never asked of him, so it’s giving the film too much credit to assume something so reasonable.
Floyd and his cronies reveal the dreaded “Project F”, the weaponized device shown earlier in the film, which will be used to torture Galt into compliance. Remember: this was supposed to be cutting edge technology. The scientist who developed part of it had to sign over his rights to the invention. Clearly, this is going to be some high tech shit, right? RIGHT?
This movie isn’t even trying anymore. Project F is just electricity. It’s the same thing as hooking up a car battery to a pair of jumper cables and applying the cables to a guy while his feet are in a bucket of water. It’s torture scene 101, folks. This is technology that has existed in every third world country for decades and all you have to do is look at any gritty CIA movie to show it.
Atlas Shrugged (the book) had a sonic death ray that was used to level entire cities and a psychological pain device that is specifically horrifying because it does not cause physical damage. Like, the whole reason the Ferris Persuader–what has become Project F in the adaptation–is awful is because it (theoretically) can cause indefinite pain without killing the body.
When even Ayn Rand is being considerably more creative than you, you should just hang it up.
Fortunately for John Galt, Dagny and her buddies are staging a dramatic rescue. They infiltrate the SSI with a helicopter and a few black outfits. They effortlessly avoid radar and even sight detection. And when they land, there is a single guard protecting the most secret base of the totalitarian government, where both the President of the United States and the country’s most important political prisoner are both located.
Dagny shoots this guard, who is not even visibly armed.
The man who dies above is the only person standing between Dagny and Galt, because…
Fuck, I give up. There’s no sense in any of this. Starting with Part I, these films have gone from bad to worse to worst and I can’t even come up with a plausible explanation to anything that happens anymore. It’s ostensibly science fiction, but mere electricity is a taboo superweapon. It’s a thriller, but the biggest mystery of the entire trilogy could have been solved if someone just searched an employee database. It’s political philosophy but that requires taking some part of it seriously and that is impossible.
When I started watching these films, I said that Atlas Shrugged is unfilmable. But now I think that’s cutting the producers too much slack by suggesting that they merely failed to do something that anyone else would fail to do. Maybe that was a fair criticism of Part I, which was dull and uninspired. But Part II and III are disastrous. They could have been better. Hell, they could have just kept up the bland inanity of Part I.
I don’t see how anyone could have read the script for this final installment and given the greenlight to spend 10 million dollars to commit it to film.
Oh and Rob Morrow shows up for the second time, very briefly, to help rescue Galt at the end. He delivers his only line with his back to the camera so I doubt he was even on set for recording it.
I cannot be clear enough on this point: I have included every time Rob Morrow’s face is on screen throughout this entire film in two brief .gifs.
Dagny and Rob Morrow’s body double bring Galt to a helicopter which is allowed to take off because anti-aircraft weapons don’t exist in Ayn Rand World. Below them, the city goes dark as (presumably) society collapses.
Dagny cradles Galt in her arms as the helicopter takes off and affirms her love for him. I believe that the line is: “you’re my forever.” I feel really bad for Hank Rearden because, man, what a raw deal. He’s the main love interest for the first two films, gets written out, then has to save the life of the man who took Dagny away from him.
Then I realize that I’m letting Atlas Shrugged Part III make me feel something other than pure disdain and I decide that Rearden probably had it coming.
Atlas Shrugged Part III is garbage. Don’t watch it. These are the last shots of the film. They have not been altered in any way. They will serve instead of an epilogue:
Thanks for the review. I thought maybe I had missed some scenes and might have to go back and check. So I googled a question, found your site, and got my answers (well, not all exactly answerable). You confirmed that I didn’t miss stuff- the film just left things out or left parts dangling out there.