An 'Atlas Shrugged' Movie Gives Rand Enthusiasts A Chance To Spread The Word

Atlas Shrugged movie poster i i
The Strike Productions Inc.
Atlas Shrugged movie poster
The Strike Productions Inc.

Here in Washington, D.C., the debate about the role of government in our lives feels very immediate. The budget debate isn't merely numbers; it's big philosophies pitted against each other.

That's why the Randians are right at home in today's climate — the people who love Atlas Shrugged.

I met a bunch of them at a private screening of the new movie that comes out today. If you were wondering why people are so excited about the movie Atlas Shrugged: Part 1, then you've clearly never seen a copy of the book. It's monstrously thick, and the Randians want to spread the gospel of Rand without having to hand out a giant paperback to everybody.

For Randians like Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, who brought up Ayn Rand's Anthem at a Senate committee hearing about energy policy, they want something accessible. After all, that's the point of any philosophy — to get more people to see things as you do. That's why this movie is so important to so many: If it's successful, it could help make Objectivism — that's Ayn Rand's organizing principle, which calls for limited government — more mainstream.

At the Heritage Foundation in downtown Washington, however, it's the die-hards that I seek. The Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank that promotes limited government, and there's an A-list of conservative bloggers and wonks in the small auditorium where the screening is scheduled. "It happens that I read it every four years during presidential election years," says William Pascoe III, executive vice president of Citizens for the Republic. "For a guy like me, this is the equivalent of standing in line to see Star Wars in 1977. They better have done a good job."

"They" are the two producers hovering nervously in the back of the room, Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro. They know what this movie means to people. Pascoe, oblivious to the anxiety of the producers behind him, offers this stat that is oft-cited by Randians: "There's a very high bar here. Back in '90, '91, the Library of Congress did a survey of 5,000 readers to determine the most influential books of all time. [Atlas Shrugged] came in at No. 2, behind something called The Bible."

If you've never read Atlas Shrugged for yourself, we can sum it up for you. It's about a woman, Dagny, who runs a railroad company called The John Galt Line. She keeps being thwarted by regulators and unions. As the movie makes clear, Dagny's determination and disregard for red tape produces an incredibly efficient train line.

Producers Kaslow and Aglialoro sidle up to the stage as the credits roll. They peer out over the auditorium crowd. A hand goes up. "I'd like to thank the two of you," an older gentleman says, seated in the front, "for bringing this dream to fruition. I think you did Ayn Rand proud. I studied under Ludwig von Mises and knew Ayn Rand and that circle, and this is phenomenal."

If you didn't catch that reference, it wasn't meant for you.

Most of the comments run along this thread, and you can see the shoulders of the producers slump in relief. People keep asking how they can get the word out about the picture, which has limited distribution. Remember, this movie has no studio backing. It was financed and distributed primarily by one man: Aglialoro. He bought the rights 15 years ago, but Hollywood studios kept dropping the project, so he did it himself.

Which is sort of funny, because that's the plot of the movie.

"That's kind of what happens in Atlas Shrugged," I say to him. He freely admits that's a happy accident — he didn't set out to do it this way. In fact, he tried to get studio backing for years. But when he couldn't? "I did nothing that tens of thousands of other entrepreneurs do [sic]. It's America! That's what makes America great! But what do we do in this country, too often? We punish our creative folks. Government," he went on, easily slipping from the concrete to the philosophical, as Randians often do, "government should be the coaches for the economic quarterbacks who are the CEOs."

And yes, he got tax breaks for making the picture — the standard business deduction.

But he may not need much marketing. Aglialoro is banking on the impulse of die-hard fans like Pascoe who want to spread the Rand gospel. Pascoe, by the way, "loved it." And he is taking his mom tonight. "She's had a hard time," he says of his mother's experience with the book. "She's only gotten one-third of the way through the book in the two years that she's had it sitting there, so I'm taking her on opening weekend."

April 15 is a traditional day of protest against the government. You might see a bunch of protesters unwind at the movies this evening — with unsuspecting friends and relatives in tow who have a dusty paperback on their bookshelf but haven't ever read it — about to get their Rand on.

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