“Steve Jobs died,” says John Aglialoro. “But let’s say he disappeared and left a little note that said: ‘Who is John Galt?’ Hey, where the hell’s Steve Jobs? I don’t know. It’s only Earth. Did he get in a spaceship? Where’d he go? In 2012, we’ve got men and women going on strike.”
Aglialoro is the co-producer of the Atlas Shrugged film trilogy, and he is full of rhetorical questions. It’s Sept.18, and we’re sitting across a table at the Heritage Foundation shortly before the first-ever screening of Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike. Aglialoro’s co-producer, Harmon Kaslow, sits nearby, sporting one of the Atlas pins that sell for $14.95 on the film’s website. Washington is still talking about the video of Mitt Romney deriding the “47 percent” of voters too dependent on the federal teat to vote Republican.
So Aglialoro wants me to think of Atlas Shrugged as a history of the future. “Most entitlements are promises made by politicians to the unwilling,” he says. “We’ve got generations of people on welfare. That’s not because there weren’t job opportunities, or education, or anything like that. We’ve got a problem of greed on the level of the entitlement class. Not the producers and the entrepreneurs that are creating the tax revenue. They’re the 53 percent. If we get to the tipping point, 57, 58 percent, then you’re going to see people saying: How do I go on strike?”
In the novel, and in these films, the “strike” is the literal disappearance of industrialists and inventors. The 2012 edition of our political dictionary calls these people the “job creators.” They built that. And so on. The Bible-sized novel is broken into three long “books,” so Aglialoro and Kaslow have broken it, faithfully, into three two-hour movies.
In Part 1, released early last year, we met the rail company COO Dagny Taggart, the only member of her family business who’d rather take bold, sexy risks than wait for doughy bureaucrats to redistribute wealth for her. She meets Hank Rearden, a billionaire metallurgist who’s invented a product “cheaper, stronger, and lighter” than steel. They build a new line and name it after John Galt, a mysterious genius who—coincidentally!—was the first of his kind to vanish and leave a bunch of grubbing, venal government bureaucrats behind to “loot” his good works.
Since that movie came out, and made back around a quarter of its budget (“Zero percent on Rotten Tomatoes,” laughs Aglialoro), the Atlas story has mushroomed. Rep. Paul Ryan was picked to join Mitt Romney’s Republican ticket. A scandal-curious media dug into Ryan’s recent past and discovered that he loved Rand, loved Atlas, had given a speech about it to the Atlas Society—of which Aglialoro’s a member.
“The effect of Romney choosing Paul Ryan was bringing Ayn Rand back into the news,” says Kaslow. “From our perspective, promoting this movie, we need to connect the dots for someone who’s interested in economics, get him or her interested in the film.”