Public Editor

Ayn Rand goes to the movies

Ayn Rand is a polarizing figure. How’s that for understatement?

I spoke to a reader this morning who was pretty upset that the film “Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?,” based on Rand’s most-acclaimed novel, wasn’t listed in the “Now Showing” grid of movies in the FYI section.

The movie is currently on two screens in the area, but my caller pointed out a few others that are in the grid are playing on only one or two screens as well.

“Isn’t that an example of bias, of The Star not liking libertarian politics?” she asked.

I can understand people who might perceive it this way, and readers’ subjective impressions count for a lot. I do note, though, that the movie is listed in the “Special Screenings” column just to the left of the grid, and it did get its own small item on Sept. 12 as well.

However, the filmmakers didn’t screen it for critics, so no reviews were available on its opening day. And the film is the third in a trilogy that has been a decided commercial flop. Its score on Metacritic right now is an 11 (”overwhelming dislike”), and its Rotten Tomatoes aggregate is a big fat zero. Ouch.

(A secret in the media business: No advance screenings often mean the studios want to avoid negative reviews.)

However, you also don’t have to read very far into the reviews that have been published to see that a lot of them critique Rand’s politics as harshly as the movie making. I get why that upsets some people, who tend to lump “the media” all together.

There are many layers to this question. I haven’t seen any of the “Shrugged” movies, but I do have to say that the trailers and the fact that an almost entirely different cast plays the lead roles in each installment are pretty clear indications that we aren’t dealing with a very professional product here. It was self-distributed, and part of its very small budget was raised through a Kickstarter campaign.

Although I can’t see into these movie makers’ minds, there is also an intentional marketing strategy behind some movies and books that embraces their outlier status. The fact that mainstream media “ignore” a book or movie that was never really pitched to them becomes a very effective back-door advertising method sometimes.

Rand’s objectivist philosophy is much maligned (and often radically and ignorantly misinterpreted) by her critics. And it must also be said that her fans also misunderstand some of her views and elide scrutiny of her internal inconsistencies, or parts of her viewpoints that clash violently with early-21st-century conservative/libertarianism.

Viewed on its own merits, I don’t think “Atlas Shrugged: Who Is John Galt?” probably would have been much of a contender for coverage even if it wasn’t a polemic. But the fact that it is makes readers question how it’s covered, and that’s fair.