An Open Letter to the Atlas Shrugged 3 Kickstarter
Dear Dedicated Filmmakers,
I want to start off by telling you that I really do admire what you're trying to do. No really. I know that I'm speaking here in the pixels of what you consider a liberal rag, but I swear to you that I legitimately love Ayn Rand's novel. I've read it a dozen times, and it still draws me in every time.
When I heard that you were trying to make a movie about it, I felt the exact same way I did when I heard that Watchmen was finally coming to the big screen, or Lord of the Rings. I was elated, but very cautious. How on Earth can you turn works of that scope into films?
I don't know, and to judge by the first two films neither do you, but hey, I'm really, really proud of you guys for trying. It's an accomplishment to say that you did it. Now I'm hearing that the final chapter, Who is John Galt? (Aside: Why are these not Non-Contradiction, Either-Or, and A is A?), is being partially crowdfunded on Kickstarter, and as Houston Press' regular Kickstarter correspondent I must weigh in.
See also: 10 Best Ayn Rand Tributes on Etsy
High as my hopes are for these films, they have been financial disasters, and I'm sorry, but a liberal Hollywood elite has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they failed. They've failed because you have completely misunderstood everything that made the novel great.
Yes, the book is held up as a Libertarian Bible and is a major influence on any number of conservative thinkers. You rightfully claim in your Kickstarter that the book is second only to The Bible in the number of Americans it has inspired... though according to the Library of Congress it is a distant second. That's fine, but what the hell is the book actually about?
I'll tell you... it's about a woman who learns to stand, and to let go of harmful influences that weigh her down from achieving her true potential. Everything else, the rhetoric, the Objectivism, the anti-government ranting, is just a backdrop for that most basic and tested of literary tropes.
That was Rand's genius as a novelist, you understand? That she could take things that nobody cared about and make them mean something because they meant something to characters that we could identify with. Dagny Taggart is a supremely talented and intelligent woman. The whole world stands in her way because of her gender, because of her views, and because she most of all refuses to even pretend to assimilate. Everyone but the most misogynistic of d-bags can get behind that. There may be no more American protagonist in the history of literature.
In assigning our trust and regard for her, the book manages to make us care about property rights and freakin' transcontinental supply lines. Yes, those things are extremely important, but they are also extremely boring. Except they're not. It's like when you start dating someone that has a passionate hobby that you're not familiar with. Suddenly you care because they care. Hell, look at The Fountainhead! It's a 300,000-word book about architecture, which is like the nerdiest of arts! You're with it all the way, though.
It's clear from your execution of the films that you're not really interested in this level of story-telling. Instead, you want to make a propaganda film, which is fine. Rand was using it as a tool to spread her philosophy, so there's a precedent. However, she understood something you clearly don't.
If you're going to lead people to your path, you have to give them a story. That's why Jesus did so many parables. That's not what you're doing. You're pretty much letting the story get in the way of what you really want to do, and that's take a Libertarian victory lap over how awesome greed and selfishness are.
Why else would you market the whole thing through Freedom Works, and now you want fans to pony up another $250,000 to try and market it further? The Kickstarter page is littered with snide references to how the mainstream Hollywood audience just isn't going to get it, so you have to rely on the largesse of wealthy patrons and now pretty much outright begging (And yes, only offering a DVD at the $100 donation level is in fact begging and insulting to the crowdsource model).
Have you ever considered that marketing it toward the other side is actually the point, that the reason that Atlas Shrugged is so influential is not because it congratulated people on what they thought but gave them a new way to think with a narrative? In fact, that was, I believe, the entire point of the novel. Dagny spends every moment fighting as hard as she can as each truth she encounters forces her to give up her illusions. Rand accomplishes that by giving the reader a place to start and a trail to follow. She created something.
"But you, you grotesque little atavists," to quote Galt, choose instead to offer an inferior product as did Orren Boyle, and yet reap the praise and rewards of Hank Reardon. You pander to an audience of echoes, and when you meet with financial failure insist that it's the world that is at fault and not you. Now you come for one final handout not even to finish a product, but to fund one last failed manner of selling it to no one who wasn't already involved in a tail-swallowing fandom of the source.
I find it truly sad that the people with the stubborn will to finally bring one of my favorite books to life so poorly understood its meaning. In the end, we are merely the worth of our production, and look what you've produced.
Sincerely, -Jef With One F
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