It is the opening line of the book. An enigma. A conundrum. A plea? A brilliant bit of storytelling, to be sure. If one is asking a reader to make a 1200 page commitment to a novel, one must seduce them right up front. Ayn Rand certainly knew how to do that.
Today, “Who is John Galt?” has become a password of sorts to those who know her work. It has also become a rallying point amidst fears that we might be slowly creeping toward the type of socialist, entitlement, incentiveless society that horrified her.
You now have a chance to taste a bit of her work. A film adaptation of Atlas Shrugged is currently in theaters in limited release. While it is impossible to bring the subtleties of the novel to the screen-the luscious character development, the complex meanderings of plot, the layers of philosophical wrangling-I believe the film remains true to the essence of her magnum opus.
While some of the casting decisions are less than stellar, I think Dagny Taggart is spot on. Elegant. Pretty…enough. Fiercely determined. Cool. Collected. With passion reigned in always just below the surface, but thrumming loud enough that those around her are properly intimidated. I love the look in Hank’s eyes when he speaks of Reardon Metal. Pride, wonder, love…all in one delirious jumble. I love the dinner scene with Ellis Wyatt when three people who are living life full throttle share ideas and unrestrained laughter over food and wine.
Hired personally by Cecil B Demille for her first job in the movie industry, it would be interesting to know what Rand herself would think of the film. She had studied at the State Institute for Cinema Arts, and her first successes in America came as a screenwriter.
I will be eager to see how film-makers play out the rest of the story. But, more than that, I find myself longing to plunge back into the novel again. To watch Rand bring these characters to life under my eyes. To feel the anxiety and terror and confusion of a world losing its most brilliant minds. To remember how easy it is to delude ourselves into believing almost anything if the words are just right. To get inside the mind of someone who sees the world with clarity and vision and dares to dream of what might be.
Who IS John Galt? It is a question that matters more than you know. Especially today. I invite you to find out.