Though Fred Kinnan is regularly counted among the villains, he's invariably the voice of reason whenever the bad guys all get together. Further, he expresses admiration for John Galt—and then, once it becomes clear that Gall will not work with the looters, is noticeably absent for the rest of the novel. Anti-Villain who just admires honesty...or one of the good guys secretly working for Galt, working to speed up the crumbling of the looters' power base?
Dagny Taggart is at the first glance portrayed as an intelligent, brave and hypercompetent woman, able to hold herselfin a man's worldas the business community historically was. But as her story unfolds, she is pretty naive and immature. Her intelligence and education (in maths and engineering) serve her mostly in the technical field. Outside it, she is barely able to understand the perverted, manipulative people which abound in society, business or politics just as in Real Life. For her, everything is straight, linear, mathematically precise, counted in money, rails, locomotives, engines, buildings, generators. Like a teenager who plays a RTS videogame. Even her confrontation with Lillian Rearden over the bracelet sounds a bit like two teenage boys challenging each other to a fist-fight.
Anvilicious: Supporters, opponents and the author herself all agree that the book is as much a direct expression of the author's philosophy as it is a novel.
Artistic LicenseStrategy: How do the Looters actually keep control? They had proved themselves incapable enough they can't stop the single ship of Ragnar Danneskjöld from raiding outside their very ports. Their roads crumble, factories collapse, large swathes of the country are dropping back into wilderness. Wyatt has a revolutionary method to produce oil which they don't have, Rearden has a magical alloy impervious to HEAT shells, Galt has a limitless source of power and so on. If they wanted to actually take over the country in a few weeks, they could do it, the hard, painful way. Yet up to that point each and every of the heroes obeys meekly even the most stupid decisions of Mouch and Thompson. They don't even attempt to negotiate or blackmail. Only the apathy of honest people left the bastards in control of the economy for so long.
"We don't have to go to extremes," said Mouch hastily. "We don't want to frighten people. We want to have them on our side. Our top problem is, will they . . . will they accept it at all?" - Part II, Chapter VI
Critical Dissonance: Critics tend to loathe the novel's style, while a reader's enjoyment of the book generally has a direct relationship with that reader's political views.
At the beginning of the novel, Dagny's train is held up for hours by a red signal. She deduces that the signal must be faulty and that the train can safely proceed. This is because while certainly knowing the train schedule is useful (and in fact absolutely necessary for certain types of train control systems), the fact a train is not scheduled to be in the block does not mean one isn't there due to some unforeseen circumstance. Furthermore, while it would upset the point Rand was trying to make, knowing if another train is around shouldn't depend on the intellect of a senior official along for the ride. Train meets are supposed to be planned out ahead of time, and all crew members should know about them. What really makes everyone involved here Too Dumb to Live, including Dagny, the train crew, and Rand herself, is that a train occupying a signal block is not the only thing that can drop a signal to red. A broken rail, washed out bridge, or other critical defect can do so as well. The appropriate action in such a situation would be to contact the dispatcher or next station agent (by radio, or in the days before locomotives were so equipped, by walking to the nearest line-side phone box) and ask why the signal was dropped. Assuming no unexpected train was occupying the block, the dispatcher could then direct the train to proceed at a restricted speed allowing a full stop within half the line of sight in case a track defect was discovered.
Rand also seems to have mistakenly believed that gun silencers render the gun completely noiseless, without even the soft "fwip!" of Hollywood Silencers. Maybe it is just another example of the super science that exists in the novel.
Rails made of phlebotinum apparently cancel out the laws of motion.
The title is based on the common misconception that Atlas from Greek mythology carries the world on his shoulders. In classical mythology, he carries the sky.
Designated Hero: Ragnar plunders relief ships taking food to starving people, including children... because they are loaded with supplies bought with stolen money, and what will happen when there is no one left to steal from? Ragnar sincerely believes that the food will not be freely given to keep people from dying, but will instead be sold by fascist and communist dictatorshipsnote This happened in plain view in Real Life, but after Rand's death, so Ragnar sells it to the starving people himself. His prices are unclear.
Don't Shoot the Message: The reaction of a number of the book's fans to the film version. To some extent, the reaction of a number of Objectivists to the book as well.
Ensemble Dark Horse: Eddie Willers. He's a solid worker, devoted to Dagny, a good man through and through, and though not very ambitious, a man who will do all he can to keep running his small place in the universe. He might not be a superman, but he would have been an effective, honest worker according to Objectivist values. No wonder Dagny, Francisco, and that strange track laborer he eats with in the cafeteria every day respect him so much.
Evil Is Cool: Generally speaking, Rand does her damnedest to avert this by making most of the evil socialists egregious Straw Losers as well as mustache-twirling villains, but there are a couple of exceptions. Dr. Ferris dominates almost every scene he is in with his ominous presence, and even Wesley Mouch (who is otherwise far less impressive) gets to hold at least one genuinely cool Badass Boast as he socializes the economy through Directive 10-289:
Freedom has been given a chance and has failed. Therefore, more stringent controls are necessary.
Fair for Its Day: While opinions may differ considerably on the merits of the Randian philosophy as a whole, and leftists were not its greatest fans when it was first published, many feminists today tend to approve of the go-getter careerwoman protagonist, Dagny. A female railroad executive certainly wasn't typical of 1950s fiction.
Faux Symbolism: The story of John Galt has some similarities to the story of Jesus Christ in The Four Gospels; what makes this Faux Symbolism is that Rand was noted for her hostility to religion, so the similarities make no sense, except as an attempt to make the story seem significant by association.
Jesus gives The Sermon on the Mount that's known to the world; Galt gives a speech on the radio that's heard the world over.
Jesus announced in advance at the Last Supper that he would be betrayed by one of his Disciples; Galt tells Dagny in advance while they're at Galt's Gulch that if she continues the way she is going she will betray him.
Jesus is delivered to his enemies and betrayed by Judas for 30 pieces of silver; Galt is delivered to his enemies and betrayed by Dagny for $500,000.
Satan offers Jesus the chance to be king of the world if he will accede to his demand to kneel and worship him; Mr. Thompson offers Galt the chance to be economic dictator of the country if he will accede to his demand to get the country off its knees economically.
Jesus refuses the offer and tells Satan that he has nothing to offer him; Galt refuses the offer and tells Mr. Thompson that he has nothing to offer him.
Jesus is shown the kingdoms of the world by Satan; Galt is shown to to the world by Mr. Thompson at the Wayne-Falkland hotel.
Jesus is nailed to a cross; Galt is hooked up to an electric generator.
His torturers take his clothes. (In both stories.)
Jesus is crucifiednote one of the most painful tortures the Ancients knew; Galt is tortured with electroshocknote one of the most painful ways to torture someone without killing him outright.
Jesus escapes from his tomb; Galt escapes from the State Science Institute.
Jesus returns to heaven; Galt returns to Galt's Gulch, the Striker's version of Heaven.
"Funny Aneurysm" Moment: In the book two of the first countries to elect socialist leaders are Guatemala and Chile and the US government completely supports this. Much fun is had at the expense of the Chilean ambassador and his wife, who are referred to as a pimp and a prostitute and given filthy habits. Over a decade after the book's publication, socialist Salvador Allende became president of Chile, and appointed the poet and Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda as an ambassador. Neruda died an agonizing death from cancer a few days after Allende's US-backed death and replacement by the dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Objectivism was used as an attempt to reverse the failing K-Mart and Sears...and failed horribly in the process, sending them into an even further downward spiral. Stores and departments actively sabotaged each other, often hiding items the chain would profit the most from because it benefits someone else more, which would affect them negatively. Rather than boosting productivity like it was intended to, the objectivist philosophy turned it into a massive civil war.
The lights going out in New York City, after several real-life blackouts, including the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
The academics who have fled to Galt's hideout have backgrounds that are supposed to illustrate the, from the 1950s point of view, ridiculously over-the-top Anti-Intellectualism of the Socialist dystopia. Nowadays, they sound rather more uncomfortably close to real life:
A government plan to develop soybeans as a staple crop is mentioned alongside other wasteful expenditures of money by the looters. Cut to 2014, when soybean oil and other byproducts are ubiquitous, and the US alone produces around 90 million tons per year.
Ho Yay: Hank Rearden and Francisco d'Anconia. "Greatest conquest" indeed. According to Dagny, Hank's "fallen for him!"
Hank Rearden is "the only man [Ken Danagger] ever loved."
Inferred Holocaust: Actually stated. When the lights of New York go out, Galt's Gulch is the last industrial power on Earth.
It Was His Sled: Most people nowadays are aware of the strike and Galt's Gulch when they start reading the novel. Ironically, Rand originally planned to name the book "The Strike", but scrapped it when she thought it would give away too much of the plot.
Memetic Mutation: "Galtse"; an Interrupting Meme, where a innocuous looking forum post suddenly turns into John Galt's speech, and then proceeds to recite as much of the speech as the character limit will allow. It is usually employed as a means to troll other users by making them having to scroll for a while to get past the text.
Misaimed Fandom: The book is hugely and openly critical of torture and targeted killings, religion, and trusting feelings over evidence. And yet AIG CEO Bob Benmosche claims to be a fan, even though the villains of the book are CEOs who take government bailouts after causing an economic collapse through sheer ineptitude. Of course, Ayn Rand herself was known for flip-flopping in her own beliefs, especially later in life.
For Dagny, seeing that the looters are willing to torture John Galt is what finally makes her truly understand that they are beyond redemption.
Hank Rearden is considering whether Lilian actually wants him to have a miserable existence and suffer horribly, but he can't believe that she could be pure evil, because "to convict a human being of that practice was a verdict of irrevocable damnation... a verdict of total evil" and that "he would not believe it of anyone, so long as the possibility of a doubt remained."
Narm: When Dagny meets the woman who shut down 20th Century Motors and is forced to listen to her spew out a long stream of traditional communist schpiel, she thinks to herself "Remember this face; this is the face of pure evil"note This is what she didn't say about a tyrant like Thompson, a torturer like Dr. Ferris or a bastard like Bertram Scudder. Ever. The person she's talking to is effectively as stereotypical of a Dirty Hippy as one can get. Just imagine looking out into a crowd at Woodstock and seeing them as the face of evil.
Also, Cherryls suicide. One bad marriage has her jumping off a cliff, yelling about how she doesnt belong in his world. Seriously, why not just leave the jerk?
Puppy Love: Eddie/Cherryl is quite popular, even though they only officially met once during the book, and only in the context of discussing the real nature of Jim Taggart.
Rooting for the Empire: Some readers might support the Socialist government/looters because they find John Galt's own philosophy even less sympathetic, and/or even more unworkable in real life. Or they might just support Ferris, Kinnan, and Mouch because Evil Is Cool.
Science Marches On: Trains and radios being impressively important, a copper-iron alloy is set to replace steel, palm-activated locks are popular...and so on. The films justify the trains with a prologue indicating that airplanes have become impractical due to issues in the Middle East—and the US Government's refusal to drill here (as Ellis Wyatt notes).
"Seinfeld" Is Unfunny: As modern readers are probably familiar with heroes-posing-as-playboys like Batman, Iron Man, etc....the fact that Francisco is faking his fall from "great man" to "worthless playboy" isn't that big of a revelation, nowadays: modern readers likely brace for it.
So Bad, It's Good: Even among Rand's fan, it's hard to find someone who will defend this book as good literature. That said, it offers a considerable amount of Snark Bait and unintentional comedy, especially the part about John Galt's overly long speech.
Squick: James Taggart and Lilian Reardens' sexual affair. Ergh. Gives one the screaming heebie-jeebies.
Detractors of the book believe that James Taggart raises legitimately good points in his caricatured arguments.
Some readers may think that the "looters" in general have better ideas than the John Galt crew, even if they implement them horribly poorly. At least some of them seem to actually care about the poor, though their failed Socialist policies only make things worse for them in practice; by contrast, in Galt's utopia charity is expressly outlawed, with its citizens actively forbidden from helping anyone who cannot support himself, their own wives and children being the sole exception recognized by the law.
Real-life communist regimes, like the Soviet Union during its multimillion-death famines in the 1930s or the one in Venezuela as of 2019, usually blame their failed economies on evil capitalist spies and wreckers who sabotage their utopias. Predictably, the looters in Atlas Shrugged are no exception, blaming the Galtians for everything as America crumbles and grinds to a halt around them. However, this is actually more or less exactly what the heroes are actually doing, ranging from massive industrial sabotage (Ellis Wyatt burning the oil fields, d'Anconia destroying the entire infrastructure for copper extraction) to outright terrorism (Ragnar Danneskjold predating the seas and bombarding Orren Boyle's industrial plant with battleship grade cannons). So, in this case the paranoid communist tyrants are actually completely right about this: there really is a powerful capitalist conspiracy out there trying to destroy them. John Galt thinks their regime would fail anyway (and Rand implies he is right), but at the very least, he and his friends are certainly not helping matters ...
Tear Jerker: Eddie's last scene, as well as the deaths of Cherryl and the "Wet Nurse."
Values Dissonance: Jim Taggart's marriage to Cherryl is portrayed negatively, due to factors such as Jim having lied about his accomplishments to her, and eventually he is discovered to enjoy Cherryl's struggle and pain as she tries to understand him (and in the end, he commits adultery and drives her to suicide just For the Evulz). These are all very good reasons for the marriage being completely wrong... but the fact that Taggart is 20 years older than Cherryl is not even mentioned. Rand had personal reasons not to speak out against MayDecember Romance.
Write What You Know: Many fail to realize that when Rand describes the Scenery Gorn of the debilitated Crapsack World as it slowly collapses around Dagny and Rearden's ears, she's describing the many failed states of the Soviet Union she personally saw before she immigrated to America;
The road ended abruptly behind the turn of a hill. What remained was a few chunks of concrete sticking out of a long, pitted stretch of tar and mud. The concrete had been smashed by someone and carted away; even weeds could not grow in the strip of earth left behind. On the crest of a distant hill, a single telegraph pole stood slanted against the sky, like a cross over a vast grave. It took them three hours and a punctured tire to crawl in low gear through trackless soft, through gullies, then down ruts left by cart wheelsto reach the settlement that lay in the valley beyond the hill with the telegraph pole. A few houses still stood within the skeleton of what had once been an industrial town. Everything that could move, had moved away; but some human beings had remained. The empty structures were vertical rubble; they had been eaten, not by time, but by men: boards torn out at random, missing patches of roofs, holes left in gutted cellars. It looked as if blind hands had seized whatever fitted the need of the moment, with no concept of remaining in existence the next morning. The inhabited houses were scattered at random among the ruins; the smoke of their chimneys was the only movement visible in town. A shell of concrete, which had been a schoolhouse, stood on the outskirts; it looked like a skull, with the empty sockets of glassless windows, with a few strands of hair still clinging to it, in the shape of broken wires.
The Woobie: Steel tycoon Hank Rearden, believe it or not. Watching his mental strain when dealing with his unsupportive family and wife, as well as the government's policies which seem to be designed solely to choke him off from doing what he loves best, just makes you feel sorry for him.
Also Eddie Willers, Cherryl Brooks, and some named companies headed by generally decent people (notably the Atlantic Southern, which suffers one undeserved financial blow after another due to the looters' policies) all end up being this.
Tony. Just when he starts understanding what's really going on, he gets killed in a staged union riot.
For the films
Better on DVD: Many people, even if they disagree with a lot of Ayn Rand's political leanings have been quite patiently waiting for each film. The second one in particular has quite a few "more-from-the-book" Deleted Scenes, too.
Critical Dissonance: 11% of critics liked the first film, while 74% of users on Rotten Tomatoes did. Whether critics approve of the film may be related to their level of agreement with its messages. The same is true about the users. Most of the people that saw it on their own account already supported its messages, while critics had to watch it regardless. The second film had a stupefying 0% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with 16 reviews and an average 2.6/10 score as of October 18, 2012. Fans rated 82% Fresh with around 3,300 votes and an average 4.1/5. As of November 16, 2012, the film had landed a single positive review with a total of 21 critic reviews. 78% of 8,297 had rated it Fresh, with an average 4/5.
Don't Shoot the Message: The reaction of a number of the book's fans to the film version. To some extent, the reaction of a number of Objectivists to the book as well.
It Was His Sled: A man is convincing industrialists and other producers to vanish by convincing them that society is exploiting them. This was a twist in the book that didn't become clear till at least 500 pages in - the man's existence was unknown for much of the earlier parts, and once it was, he was portrayed as a "destroyer" who simply sought to attack industry. The film, however assumes that people already know this is the story's premise and reveals it in the official synopsis and opening scene. Indeed, Part II is even titled "The Strike."
Sequelitis: Both critic and audience reviews went down with each film, as did the budgets and the box office gross.
In terms of the actresses who played Dagny, this trope went from averted (Taylor Schilling was generally agreed to be well-cast, and arguably even the best thing about the first film) to borderline (Samantha Mathis's performance in the second film was seen as decent, but a little too meek and vulnerable) to played straight (Laura Regan's acting in the third film was widely panned, although she was nearest to the literary Dagny in terms of physique).
Particularly glaring in the third film: Laura Regan, age 38, looks about 28. Joaquin de Almeida, playing Francisco, is 58 and looks older. Dagny's first lover becomes a lot creepier thanks to this casting...
In a more general sense, this is almost certainly the first film trilogy to have every major role played by a different person in all three films. It's understandable that some of the lead actors in the first film (Schilling in particular) had moved onto bigger and better things, but none of the minor actors wanted to return either? (The given explanation was that given the very low budget, they couldn't afford them because they were established and would therefore need a bigger salary.)