Atlas Shrugged 2 is like Dragnet, only the opposite. The names of the characters are the same. The faces have been changed to blame the innocent actors of the first film. In this sequel, everyone looks about ten years older than they did in the first, although the story is supposed to pick up immediately where the first left off. I guess that’s how statism will wear on you. Why not? President Obama has a lot more gray hair than he did four years ago, after all.
In some cases, the new faces may be an improvement. I was particularly impressed with the authenticity of Jason Beghe as the character of Henry Rearden. From his voice to his posture, he really carries himself like the kind of guy one could imagine running a steel plant. Unlike his counterpart in the first film, this guy feels like one who had to invest some sweat and blood to become the success that he is.
The new Atlas film also has a bigger budget and more special effects than its predecessor, and in many ways its messages about politics and society are very timely in this political season. It will certainly get you thinking about the problems of looking to the state to solve mankind’s problems through regulation and redistribution. But that doesn’t mean the film is necessarily more fun to watch.
The film finds the global economy on the brink of collapse. Unemployment has risen to 24%. Gas is now $42 per gallon. Brilliant creators, from artists to industrialists, continue to mysteriously disappear at the hands of the unknown, and the question on everyone’s lips is still, “Who is John Galt?”
The movie has been viciously attacked by film critics (the type who cuddle up next to a stuffed doll of Karl Marx every night) as a heartless propaganda piece. It received only a 5% approval rating from those highly brain-washed—er, I mean “highly educated”—professional movie critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but an 80% approval from audiences.
If you’re a conservative, there will definitely be several points made in this movie about small government and capitalism that will make you feel like cheering. We’re seeped in so much statism today that getting hit by a hard dose from the other end of the spectrum might seem good, eh?
Until perhaps you get to the whole sub-plot about Henry Rearden and Dagny Taggart’s adulterous affair that is threatening to push Rearden into a divorce. Social conservatives and Christians will likely have a problem with this aspect of the movie (and well they should!). It is a byproduct of the storytellers’ rejecting one form of secular humanism (Marxism) for another (Libertinism). When it comes to God and the family, Communism and Libertinism actually have a lot in common. Both worldviews would be happy to discard God and the sacredness of marriage to advance their systems of society. This is very troubling, and it is why many in the Libertarian movement have had a hard time winning over Christians, who otherwise would be very much in agreement over the problems with statism.
If you’re a conservative Christian looking for an educational film to share with your children, this Atlas is certainly educational, but be warned that in addition to the sub-plot about the adulterous affair, it also includes some offensive feminine immodesty, a high dose of feminism, and some language. (Ironically, the same Soviet system that helped launch the author Ayn Rand’s feminist career later tried to nip it as she was considered from a “bourgeois” family.) MovieGuide provides a full critique of the content, which I would recommend considering before seeing any film. But if you want to gain some insight into the debate between capitalism versus socialism today, or humanistic anarchism versus humanistic totalitarianism, this film is at least worth being familiar with.
Atlas Shrugged 2, based on Ayn Rand’s novel, shines most brightly when it is critiquing Marxist statism. (As an escapee from Soviet Russia, Ayn Rand had experienced the evils of Communism first hand.) It illustrates why it’s harmful not just to the individual but also to the whole of society to punish a person’s achievement by taking away more of his tools. Socialism, Winston Churchill said, “is the equal sharing of misery,” and that lesson comes out strong in this film. Also, it illustrates how Communism is built upon a false assumption about the nature of man: that man is not sinful at his heart and can be jump-started into generosity with a huge nudge from the almighty state.
But one wonders if that valuable message may be lost among other ones.
Riddled with Inconsistencies
The movie’s themes are oft riddled with various ironies and inconsistencies. The movie itself is something of a hypocrisy because while it has the characters of the movie say that businesses must operate for profit and cannot be run like a charity, the production of the Atlas film series itself has proven to be something of a charity. The first film was highly unprofitable, costing about $25 million to produce and grossing only $4.6 million at the box office, and the second is expected at this point to do about the same although that would only cover about half of the estimated production budget. This sequel was produced because certain wealthy businessmen, led by Cybex International CEO John Aglialoro, believed in its message enough to put up the money despite how poorly the first movie had done. The message was more important to them than the profit.
Another inconsistency appears in the plot itself. While Henry Rearden believes very strongly that it’s wrong (What moral standard is he appealing to?) for the state to manipulate him by seizing his stuff, near the end of the film he makes a phone call instructing his people to pay off whatever judges he has to so he can divorce his wife. So he’s apparently not against manipulating the political system himself. He’s just against others manipulating the system against him.
In an effort to seem to suggest that the rich deserve more because their position is not from luck but inherent superior talent and ability, the film, some may say, comes across as a bit elitist. When Dagny Taggart leaves her family’s company, the inexperienced personnel running the train business are unable to prevent a catastrophic train wreck that destroys hundreds of lives and leaves the transportation line blocked. To what extent is competency in leadership inherent and to what extent can it be acquired? The film hints at favoring the former because only those who have proven to be elite get to go to John Galt’s secret haven. Where does that leave everybody else?
If you take all the talented people out of society, will new talented people rise to the surface or will the society be simply dead in the water?
Other movie critics of more the socialist ilk have been much more critical of the film on this point. “Atlas Shrugged is premised on the idea that the world only has a few true geniuses,” writes Scott Tobias of the A.V. Club, “great industrialists, inventors, musicians, and artists, too, albeit plainly none involved in the making of the Atlas Shrugged movies—and ‘going Galt’ means they’re going to take their toys and go home. The arrogance of that is astounding.”
Is Money the Root of All Evil?
At one point in the movie, during a wedding reception for the rich and famous, some of the characters begin to debate the Bible verse 1 Timothy 6:10, which says: “[T]he love of money is the root of all evil” (KJV). This is one of the most-oft mis-quoted verses from the Bible, and it is usually misquoted to say that money rather than “the love of money” is the root of all evil. But Dr. Voddie Baucham, Jr., an author, elder, and preacher at Grace Family Baptist Church in Houston, Texas says that the way that verse is rendered from the Greek texts into most English translations is also not completely accurate either. According to Dr. Baucham, the proper rendering of that verse is that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. Not the one and only cause of evil.
In the debate over socialism versus capitalism, whether that verse is rendered properly could make a big difference. Certainly, many forms of evil are motivated by the love of money (greed), such as larceny, robbery, burglary, embezzlement, etc. But if one thinks that money itself is the root of all evil, then the simple solution to ridding the world of evil would seem to be getting rid of money! Marxism has suggested just that.
However, the Bible says a lot about the proper use of money. It says that money should be used to pay taxes (Mark 12:17), and to support churches (Luke 21:1-4), but that it should not be stolen (Exodus 20:15). Even more broadly, the Bible speaks about respecting private property in general, and not cheating people by misrepresenting an item’s value inaccurately. (See, for example, Isaiah 1:22 and Proverbs 20:14.) So the Bible does appear to support the political policy of capitalism.
Communists and socialists, on the other hand, like to point at passages in the Bible like Acts 2:44 that speak of Christians sharing all their property with each other, not having respect toward classes of people in wealth (James 2:1-9), and giving to those in need (James 1:27). These are also teachings of the Bible, especially applicable to genuine Christians, but throughout the New Testament these commands are directed to the individual person as something he has a personal responsibility to voluntarily do before the Lord. As 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.”
Nowhere does the Bible say that God wants the civil government to force people to share and care for the non-familial needy. Yet generosity is undeniably a part of God’s social design expressed throughout Scripture. Even in the Old Testament the widows, the poor, and the strangers were to be provided for by the farmers leaving behind the corners of their harvest field and anything else extra. (See Leviticus 19:9; 23:33; Deuteronomy 24:19.) While men of integrity such as Boaz are commended for voluntarily honoring this Old Testament Law (see Ruth 2:1-3), it does not appear that those who failed to follow it faced any civil penalty.
Where does that leave the characters of Atlas Shrugged 2? When the government attempts to seize property from his company, Hank Rearden of Rearden Steel says that he does not owe his fellow man anything. He can act solely out of self-interest through a capitalist system that happens to benefit his fellowman incidentally. But those who don’t benefit, or don’t benefit enough, can just get left behind. He refuses to become a “victim” to help others. Interestingly, later Rearden finally makes a choice to sacrifice his business to the ever-imposing state for the sake of saving the main character Dagny Taggart from ruin. He does this although it’s arguably not in his personal best interests. Is he doing this because he feels he owes his fellow man something? Or does he simply love Dagny so much that he is willing to make himself a “victim” to help her? Here lies another inconsistency in the message of the film.
It’s one thing to say Rearden doesn’t owe the state anything more than the comparatively small taxes Jesus Christ requires all men to pay, but the Bible makes it clear that all men do owe God an obligation to help their fellow man in need. This is our stewardship before God. Without the principle of stewardship to God, man has no obligation to help his fellow man. But that stewardship is directly between the individual person and God, not between the person and the state. Also, it is supposed to be motivated by love, not by coercion. It’s a part of living out the command: “Thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
Until the anarchists and secular-humanist libertarians acknowledge their stewardship responsibilities before God to help, indeed to love, their fellowman, even when it requires significant person sacrifice, they will continue to be derided by the socialists as heartless, self-centered, and greedy. Until the socialists acknowledge that God does not allow the state to force people to be charitable, that charity must come from a voluntary heart of love, then the capitalists will continue to deride them as bullying, lazy, and greedy.
Until both of these groups freely receive the Gospel, neither genuine love for one’s fellow man nor a proper respect for the limitations of the state will be achieved in a society. Because Jesus Christ never shrugs under the weight of the world. His blood and Spirit are sufficient to cleanse the sins of man and make him into a new creature (2 Corinthians 5:17-18).