Atlas Shrugged, Part 1

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Atlas Shrugged, Part 1
Official poster
Directed by Paul Johansson
Produced by Howard Baldwin (executive), Harmon Kaslow, John Aglialoro
Written by Ayn Rand (novel), John Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O'Toole (screenplay)
Starring Taylor Schilling, Grant Bowler, Matthew Marsden, Michael Lerner, Jon Polito, Edi Gathegi, Jsu Garcia, Graham Beckel, and Paul Johansson
Music by Elia Cmiral
Cinematography Ross Berryman
Editing by Jim Flynn, Sherril Schlessinger
Distributed by Rocky Mountain Pictures (in theaters), Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment (DVD and Blu-ray)
Release date(s) April 15, 2011
Running time 97 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $6.5 million (est.)
Gross revenue $4,563,873 (as of May 15, 2011)
Official website
Allmovie profile
IMDb profile

Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 is a 2011 motion picture adaptation of the first third of Ayn Rand's novel of the same name. Instead of setting the film in the period of the original novel, this film sets it in an America of 2016, after five more years of the administration of Barack H. Obama (presumably to be renamed Mr. Thompson). This film demonstrates the predictive value of Atlas Shrugged as prophecy, in that its opening scenes include uncannily accurate depictions of actual events that took place six months after the film's theatrical release.

Plot Summary

In 2016, the United States of America has followed a nearly inexorable economic decline. With all oil imports cut off, Americans have abandoned airline travel and rediscovered the railroads for the carrying of passengers and freight. The Taggart Transcontinental Railroad has re-established its old passenger services, but much of its track is in shocking disrepair, this although James Taggart, President of the TTRR, has insisted on laying rail to Mexico (now called the People's State of Mexico) to take advantage of the latest mining project of the famous Argentine copper magnate (and incorrigible Latin playboy), Francisco d'Anconia. And while James Taggart insists on trading favors in Washington, DC, his sister Dagny insists on running a railroad the old-fashioned way: by working hard to deliver good service.

Accordingly, she places an order for new rail from the Rearden Steel Company, headed (and wholly owned) by Henry Rearden, one of the few men left in the world who believes in an honest day's work. Another such person is Ellis Wyatt, a former customer of the TTRR whom Dagny is determined to win back.

While Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden strive to build a showcase project, in the original "can-do" American spirit, James Taggart continues to play political games. Unfortunately for Jim, and a complete mystery to Dagny, Francisco d'Anconia is playing games of his own: driving mines that he knows are worthless, knowing that the Mexican government will nationalize them (which it does), and taking pleasure in seeing Jim and his friends lose their shirts by betting on his business acumen, which he does not care to exercise any longer.

And unknown to almost all of them, a mysterious interloper, calling himself John Galt, is enticing the most productive people left in America to go on strike...

Cast of Characters

  • Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart, his sister and Vice-President in Charge of Operations
  • Edi Gathegi as Eddie Willers, her special assistant
  • Ethan Cohn as Owen Kellogg, an able manager who quits the TTRR and says, "Who is John Galt" by way of explanation
  • Grant Bowler as Henry Rearden, founder, owner, and President of Rearden Steel
  • Nikki Klecha as Gwen Ives, his private secretary.
  • Christina Pickes as his mother
  • Rebecca Wisocky as Lillian Rearden, his unloving wife
  • Neill Barry as Philip Rearden, his ne'er-do-well brother
  • Patrick Fischler as Paul Larkin, a not-quite-friend of Rearden
  • Michael Lerner as Wesley Mouch, Co-ordinator, Bureau of Economic Planning and Natural Resources
  • Joel McKinnon Miller as Herbert Mowen, a businessman who refuses to work with Rearden Metal, fearing controversy
  • Jon Polito as Orren Boyle, President, Associated Steel Company
  • Armin Shimerman as Dr. Potter, a subordinate of his
  • Graham Beckel as Ellis Wyatt, founder, owner and President of Wyatt Oil
  • Geoff Pierson as Midas Mulligan, founder, owner and President of the Mulligan Bank
  • Jack Milo as Richard McNamara, a contractor
  • Dave Goryl as Jay Knight, a celebrated newscaster with the "NNT" network.

Motivations of the characters

Dagny Taggart obviously wants to save her railroad from financial ruin. The only way to do that, as she sees it, is to restore the quality service that the Taggart name once stood for, and win back customers who have gone elsewhere.

James Taggart wants to trade government favors to save himself the necessity of effort. He couches his motives in altruistic terms, the sincerity of which is unproved at best.

Henry Rearden wants to make money, and is not afraid to say it. But his troubled home life puzzles him. He allows his ungrateful relatives to hang onto him—and then Francisco d'Anconia decides that he wants to know why.

But what game is d'Anconia playing? Why does he deliberately make a thoroughly bad business mistake, just to deliver a sucker punch to politically minded men like Jim Taggart?

John Galt's motives remain the deepest mystery of all. But by film's end, we know his purpose: the complete and utter destruction of American society, or rather the quasi-socialistic state that America has now become, and the supplanting of it with a new civic, economic, and social order. Its name is Atlantis, a name that translates as "that which belongs to Atlas." His method: to encourage the most productive people in America to go on strike, and refuse to support a society that taxes them to death.

One other character gets no screen time, but bears frequent mention in newscasts and newspapers: Ragnar Danneskjøld, a buccaneer famous for hijacking "government relief" cargoes that are the new foreign aid in this era. But is Danneskjøld a buccaneer—or a privateer?


The obvious theme is the proper (and improper) role of government, and whether good, quality work or government favor-trading will be the way that men will live and work together. It is also a graphic demonstration that the government way does not work. The sight of a collapsed freeway that no one bothers to repair or even to clear away, is a metaphor for this decay. What's more, the opening sequence ends in a train wreck, and that itself is a metaphor for a larger disaster to which the government's policies must inevitably lead.

The film's heroes, Dagny Taggart and Henry Rearden, try to fight the socialistic tendencies of the government and those who seek to trade favors in it. But Dagny's old friend Francisco d'Anconia is not interested in fighting: he wastes vast parts of his personal fortune on business ventures that he knows that the favor-traders will invest in, just to make them suffer when:

  1. a totalitarian government nationalizes them, and then
  2. those same ventures turn out to be worthless.

John Galt has his own solution: tell society's heroes to jump off the train and let it go to wreck. That is something that Dagny and Henry cannot—yet—bring themselves to do. But Dagny catches a hint that John Galt will come after her someday, just as he has come after many other prominent and productive people. But by film's end, Dagny Taggart is ready to find him—and kill him.

Novel adaptation

This film obviously has its basis in Ayn Rand's original novel, Atlas Shrugged. More specifically, it covers the first third of the novel. It begins with a wreck on the Rio Norte Line and ends with the horrific lighting of "Wyatt's Torch," a series of shale-oil well fires that will keep burning for years afterward.

Similarities and differences

For whatever reason, Atlas Productions decided to set the story in a future America, not the original period. For that reason, though the novel keeps nearly all the characters and their names, it does not keep all the situations.

Situation/feature Novel Film
Period 1955-58 2016-19 and following
Favored mode of travel Railroads, because airline travel was not yet widespread Railroads, because the country has abandoned airline travel. The reason: motor fuel cannot be had for any price less than $37.50 per gallon. One can only imagine what the price of aviation kerosene might be. The opening montage shows the scrapping of a commercial airliner, either the Boeing 727 or the MD-80.
Favored mode of mass communication Radio Television
Likely status of the United States Navy Never expanded beyond First World War levels Contracted to before First World War levels. In this scenario, the American left has achieved its dream of slashing the budget for the American armed services. Only they get more than they bargained for: they have gutted the Navy, so that the once-mighty United States Navy cannot cope with one man, with one ship, who seizes foreign-aid cargoes with absolute impunity.
Nature of the revolutionary motor at the Twentieth Century Motor Company An electrostatic motor A quantum motor. The explanation given in the film is less than accurate; it uses terms like "Casimir Effect" and "Atmospheric vacuum" in an attempt to explain something that the script writers probably did not understand. (Its attempt to substitute helium atoms for the nanoparticles on which a real quantum motor would depend has earned much of the scorn of Mainstream Media critics—not that the critics themselves would grasp the concept of a quantum motor.) Nevertheless, a quantum motor, using quantum vacuum and Casimir-Lorentz forces, would be feasible.
Foreign affairs All governments, other than that of the United States, are "People's States." Therefore, all are in worse shape than is America. The Middle East has "imploded." This suggests that the Arab countries, and the Republic of Israel, exist in this story just as they exist today. The difference: all trade and other relationships with the oil-exporting countries have ceased, and even the Petrodollar System has collapsed—totally. Some countries do rely on whatever handouts the United States can produce—but United States currency is no longer sufficient. Hence, hard-goods relief shipments—and Ragnar Danneskjøld's opportunity.

The other differences between novel and film are distinctly minor.

Art anticipating life

In an uncanny example of "art anticipating life," the film's opening montage contains a scene of a public protest march, in which the marchers carry signs saying "A Job is a Right" and "Capitalism Does Not Work." Participants in Occupy Wall Street have carried signs having similar or identical messages. The remarkable relevant fact is that Occupy Wall Street followed the release of Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 by about six months.


The film had its American premiere on April 15, 2011—Tax Day. Mainstream Media reviews have been uniformly scathing. Alternative-media reviews have been mixed. The film made back only about three-quarters of its budget in its first theatrical run.

On November 8, 2011, the film released to home-viewing in DVD and Blu-ray formats. Unaccountably, the first copies of each version carried this blurb:

Ayn Rand's timeless novel of courage and self-sacrifice comes to life for a new millennium...

A sharp outcry among fans of the original work forced Atlas Productions to recall all copies still on store shelves and replace them with new copies not having the offending blurb on their covers.

Awards and nominations

This film has received no nominations.

Future plans

Recently the producers secured outside financing to make Atlas Shrugged, Part 2 despite the losses on Part 1. Other unconfirmed reports state that they intend to make the film longer than the 97 minutes of Part 1, and to replace the cast.