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For the book

  • Adorkable: Quentin once he meets Galt. Sheepishly notes that the reason he didn't wait for Dagny to get to the lab was because "...I forgot."
  • Alternative Character Interpretation: It is easy to interpret John Galt as a fanatical cult leader rather than the great industrial hero Rand meant him to be, since everyone in Galt's Gulch has nearly identical personalities.
    • In-Universe Example: Though they do seem to at least have varying opinions on Ragnar's tactics; those in the Gulch who disagree with his means grudgingly tolerate him and benefit from his activities since he funds their new start in the valley with money he believes was taken from the taxes.
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    • 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?
      • Or is he an anti-capitalist anarchist in reality, gaming the faux-cialists AND Galt before taking a third option?
    • Dagny Taggart is at the first glance portrayed as an intelligent, brave and hypercompetent woman, able to hold herself in a man's world as 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Critical Research Failure:
    • 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.
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    • 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.
    • None of the experts in Galt's Gulch are practicing their trade. An aircraft designer is now a pig farmer. A car manufacturer is a lumberjack. There is no discussion of how infrastructure to exploit resources is neccessary to those at the top ... which further undermines the idea that no one would know how to run a railroad without a genius CEO. In reality, the people at the bottom line who literally repair train tracks and engines would be perfectly able to keep the trains running. Ditto the lights in New York going out, because hello, electricians can repair wires and workman can repair dams, generators, etc. In other words, the worthless sheeple are the ones who would literally keep society and the infrastructure going because they know the nuts and bolts.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: If you're not on board with Rand's philosophy, the book can fall into this. On one hand, you've got a Fascist, but Inefficient government that ignores all evidence that their policies are destroying the nation. On the other side, you've got a Corrupt Corporate Executive and his followers who treat selfishness and greed as virtues and openly hope for the collapse of society so that they can build their idealized world order.
  • 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 (we only have his word to take on that subject, though, it's never confirmed or denied anywhere else in the book), but will instead be sold by fascist and communist dictatorships, so Ragnar sells it to the starving people himself. His prices are unclear.
    • He's far from the only example. All of the "heroes" actively do nothing to try to save the people dying due to the looters' incompetence, and in fact largely only make the problems worse.
  • 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.
    • Cuffy Meiggs is a villainous, stupid thug, but in a less strawman setting, could be re-interpreted as a two-legged middle finger to the upper one percent (actually, a trigger finger, pressed to a semiautomatic). He's a left-wing militant whose job is to hang around the industrial baron fat cats with his hand menacingly close to his gun, intimidating them, barking orders, making sure they play by the rules of the new socialist order.
  • Fair for Its Day: While opinions may differ considerably on the merits of the Objectivist 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.
    • Race gets a similar treatment. The book barely mentions race (it does refer to "Asians, Africans," etc, in vaguely dehumanizing descriptive terms, as the inhabitants of other, mostly impoverished continents), but no one refers to skin color, or the hundreds of years of chattel slavery (which is odd since "slave" and "slavery" are used metaphorically throughout to describe the circumstances of the main characters, especially Rearden). There is no indication that race is a consideration for any of the characters. While this is not unusual for 1950s literature in general, it does speak to Ayn Rand's belief that race was insignificant, and her disbelief in the power of things like institutional racism (she probably would have considered persons complaining of this kind of discrimination to be willing victims, giving themselves over to evil). The movie tried to update this for modernity by giving Eddie Willers a Race Lift, and Francisco, being Argentinian, is Ambiguously Brown, but it comes off as tokenism in The New '10s, by which point it was aleady falling out of style. That being said, in the context of Objectivism, race, like socioeconomic status, sexual discrimination, or really, any other context than your own intelligence or lack thereof, is no excuse for not pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.
  • 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 ; Galt is tortured with electroshocknote .
    • 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.
  • Harsher in Hindsight:
    • In one of the extensive flashbacks to their adolescent romance, Francisco and Dagny get into an argument, and he hits her. Dagny seems to see this as evidence of his passionate love for her. She does not tell her mother, or anyone else, and rationalizes that it's like an adventurous secret she shares with the love of her life, which no one else would understand. To be clear, this would be jarring even if the character were an adult, but at the time this takes place she is clearly underage, and that makes it even more disturbing. Fortunately for her, Frisco does not often behave this way, and this is the only instance of violence depicted in their relationship, but in Real Life plenty of people who experience and convince themselves it's love, and there's more awareness and understanding of this today than there was in Rand's time. A teenager choosing not to tell any adult (or even a peer, who might seek help) about being physically abused by their romantic partner is not something most readers take lightly today.
    • 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:
      One of them is a professor of economics who couldn't get a job outside, because he taught that you can't consume more than you have produced — one is a professor of history who couldn't get a job because he taught that the inhabitants of slums were not the men who made this country great — and one is a professor of psychology who couldn't get a job because he taught that men are capable of thinking.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Dr. Ferris uses Dr. Stadler's research on cosmic waves to write a convoluted book of philosophy to forward his own agenda. Fast forward to 2004, when What the #$*! Do We Know!? comes out.
    • Might be something of a stretch: that film was produced by a fringe new age cult and was never adopted as propaganda by a mainstream political movement, and has been denounced by both publicly and privately funded science institutions. It was very much meant to sell products to consumers, not as any kind of critique of capitalism or as a political movement. Rand, of course, was a lumper, not a splitter, whose rhetoric depended on stoking hyperbolic fears of boogeymen/strawmen. In the world non-Randian nuanced analsysis, there's a difference between capitalist new age cults and state-enforced religious doctrines.
    • 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.
  • Launcher of a Thousand Ships: Dagny
  • 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.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Dr. Robert Stadler starts out accepting the use of government force to establish the State Science Institute because he believes that most people would never value scientific research for its own sake voluntarily. He makes various concessions to the looters in the attempt to preserve the Institute, such as refusing to condemn the smear job on Rearden Metal, but the moment he truly crosses the line is when after finding out that Project X was based on his own work, he sells out an Intrepid Reporter begging him to tell the world what's going on before reading a speech, sold to the public as his own words, praising Project X as a project of great benefit to the nation.
    • Also, James Taggart's driving of Cherryl to suicide.
    • 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."
  • Protection from Editors: The reason for its length.
  • "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.
  • Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped: While the book's philosophical slant is an obvious and notorious case of snark bait, Rand's first-hand experience with Communism makes the book's portrayal of its' consequences all the more stark and powerful; see below under Write What You Know.
  • Squick: James Taggart and Lilian Reardens' sexual affair. Ergh. Gives one the screaming heebie-jeebies.
  • Strawman Has a Point:
    • 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, as well as democratically elected socialist governments, 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 socialists 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 ... Although it probably doesn't help Rand's case that many so-called "Communist" countries, including her native Ukraine, were really just State Capitalist, i.e. where the government runs the nation like a corporation with zero competition or oversight.
    • Depending on which historians you trust, this is Reality Ensues. Western countries, especially the United States, have a long history of deposing foreign governments they didn't like, including democratically elected ones.
  • 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 May–December Romance.
  • What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: Averted, Rand regularly took speed in order to increase productivity so she could meet deadlines.
  • 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.
  • So Okay, It's Average: A few critics, like Roger Ebert, expected to tear apart the first film's philosophy point by point, and thus hate the film utterly. Instead, they found themselves simply bored, not angry, and unable to discern what the film's message was. (Ebert didn't review the second film, and didn't live to see the third.)
  • WTH, Casting Agency?:
    • 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 (the second part has him played by Esai Morales, who is more believable as a contemporary of Dagny with whom she had a romance as a teenager). 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.)

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