Oscar Shrugged

LIBERTY — The First Galt’s Gulch Film Festival
Special report from the First International Libertarian Film Festival.

By Mark Skousen

GALT’S GULCH, COLORADO–What better location for the first libertarian film festival than Atlas Shrugged‘s Atlantis, the hidden valley high in the Rockies to which the world’s most productive individualists repaired when they went on strike?

Ragnar Danneskjold, the philosopher turned pirate, was the first to suggest the idea. “Gentlemen, we’ve been stuck here in this boring place for over 30 years, and the world still hasn’t begged us to return.” He closed the book he was reading, How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, and stood up. “Fellow libertarians, or classical liberals, or Objectivists, or whatever we are, I’m sick and tired of sitting around reading philosophic tomes and self-help manuals. Let’s have a film festival! Every night we’ll see a different picture.”

Francisco d’Anconia, the industrialist turned playboy turned revolutionist, seconded the motion. “Great idea, Rag! If I hear one more note from Richard Halley’s Fifth Concerto…”

It was the first time in years that everyone had agreed on anything. John Galt, puffing madly on a gold cigarette, insisted that each film be strictly benevolent and life affirming in nature. “Our standards must be objective!” he shouted. “A is A!”

Word quickly spread, and Galt’s band of industrialists, scientists, doctors, and philosophers met at Midas Mulligan’s private theater the next evening. His library consisted of several thousand films; most of them pirated by Ragnar Danneskjold. The theater was a cozy little screening room that held approximately 50 guests. Surrounding the theater were photographs and posters of famous stars, including Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, and Farrah Fawcett (signed “Please, Ayn, let me play Dagny”).

By 7:00, the place was packed. Luminaries included industrialist Hank Rearden, oil magnate Ellis Wyatt, composer Richard Halley, movie actress Kay Ludlow, and Dr Thomas Hendricks. The last to appear was Dagny Taggart escorted by John Galt. She was still in an arm sling, recovering from another airplane accident. “I’m completely helpless without you, John,” she whispered, staring dreamily into his blue eyes. “I’11 pretend you never said that,” Galt responded, blowing smoke in her face.

Ragnar Danneskjold started things off. To qualify as a libertarian film, he said, a movie should offer protagonists who are rugged individualists and non-conformists, questioning the rules of society. They must be independent thinkers who unabashedly support their own self-interest and are reluctant to meddle in the affairs of others. Naturally, they will be skeptical of organized religion. Libertarian heroes should be uncompromising defenders of laissez-faire capitalism. They should champion the right to pursue the creation of wealth without guilt. Finally, they must oppose state power in all its forms, including the evils and injustices of war.

“Given these qualities, it may not surprise you to learn that most libertarian films have unhappy endings,” he warned the audience.

“Isn’t that a contradiction?” asked Rearden. “Don’t we believe in a benevolent, life-affirming universe?” The others remained silent.

Ragnar announced that he had uncovered a dozen films in the Atlantis library that in his judgment contained libertarian themes. A film was shown each night, followed by discussion and sometimes-heated debate.

First Night: Shenandoah (1965), 105 min., color. Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. Starring Jimmy Stewart, Doug McClure, Katharine Ross, Patrick Wayne, and George Kennedy.

“This is a superb film that contains all the libertarian themes,” asserted Ragnar.

The storyline: The Andersons are hardworking, honest, independent farmers minding their own business, when the Civil War breaks out. The father (Jimmy Stewart) is a widower who honors his wife’s last request to attend church every Sunday and to say grace at dinner every night. While Anderson is skeptical of religion, he believes in honoring a contract, whether verbal or written. His libertarian prayer is a classic:

“Lord, we cleared this land, we plowed it, sowed and harvested it, and we cooked the harvest; it wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank the Lord just the same for the food we’re about to eat. Amen.”

This prayer is repeated at the end of the movie, but it seems rather hollow after the Andersons have suffered the pains of war.

The Andersons are anti-war, anti-draft, and anti-state. They are Virginians, so they won’t support the North, yet they don’t own slaves, so they refuse to fight for the South. They don’t believe in the draft, although they are free to volunteer: “My sons don’t belong to the state.” They don’t believe in the government: “We never asked anything of the state, and we don’t figure we owe anything to it either.” They are anti-war: “Like all wars, the undertakers are winning it. The politicians talk about the glory of it, the old men will talk about the need of it. … The soldiers, they just want to go home. ” They are isolationists:

“They’re on our land?” asks Mr. Anderson.

“No,” responds a visiting Confederate officer.

“Then it doesn’t concern us.

“When are you going to take this war seriously?”

“This war is not mine.”

The audience greeted this dialogue with thunderous applause. “Bravo!” shouted Hank Rearden.

When Federal agents come on the Andersons’ property to confiscate their horses, using authority granted by an Act of Congress, one of the Anderson boys asks his dad, “What does confiscation mean, Pa?” He answers, “Stealing.” The Andersons refuse to turn over the horses and a fight ensues. The federal agents are driven off. Eventually, the Andersons feel obligated to enter the war when the youngest son is taken prisoner by the Northerners. At the end of the film, they get a taste of the horrors of war. Two sons are killed and a daughter-in-law is brutally assaulted.

“In short,” Ragnar summarized at the end, “it is nearly impossible to escape the evils of war, even if you try to mind your own business.”

No one could argue with that, and the film festival adjourned with everyone giving Shenandoah five stars.

Second Night: The Americanization of Emily (1964), 117 min., black & white. Directed by Arthur Hiller. Starring James Garner, Julie Andrews, James Coburn, and Melvyn Douglas. Screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky.

The second film was more controversial.

“This is the best anti-war movie ever made,” proclaimed Richard Halley.

“How can you consider cowardice a moral imperative?” Again, it was Rearden who spoke.

At issue was the personal philosophy of Charlie Madison (James Garner). The story is about  “dog-robbers,” personal valets to American generals and admirals, in Britain during World War II. The plot focuses on the relationship between American Commander Madison, personal assistant to Admiral Jessup, and Emily, a British Navy staff member. Madison is a promiscuous opportunist who has no interest in the war and is, in fact, a complete cynic. Emily (Julie Andrews), on the other hand, represents the traditional view — that the Allies are fighting an honorable and virtuous war against the evil Axis and that all good citizens and soldiers must be willing to sacrifice for the good of the war. When Charlie offers Emily some Hershey candy bars (unavailable to the general public), she refuses. When he makes advances, she slaps him. “I think it’s profane to enjoy this war,” she tells Charlie. She notes that Charlie does whatever is necessary, including bribery, to get his way or provide black-market goods (filet mignon) and services (prostitution) for his admiral. “You’re a complete rascal,” she says. In response, Charlie calls Emily a “prig. ”

“This film reminded me of the book, Overpaid, Oversexed, and Over Here,” commented Rearden. “It’s a book about American GIs in World War II Britain. I’d hardly call them heroes. Does Charlie Madison have any scruples, any admirable qualities?”

“Yes, I’11 defend him,” Richard Halley said. “Charlie Madison is to be honored for his eloquent condemnation of war, the stupidity of war. Besides, I like the music.”

In response to Emily’s self-righteous stance, Madison states, “I’ve had Germans and Italians tell me how politically ingenuous we are, but we haven’t managed a Hitler or Mussolini yet. This war … is the result of 2,000 years of European greed, barbarism, superstition, and stupidity. Don’t blame it on our Coca-Cola bottles.” In a conversation with Emily’s mother, he declares, “I’m not sentimental about war. I see nothing noble in widows.”

“What are your religious views?” Emily’s mother asks.

“I’m a practicing coward. ”

Madison condemns war. “We must resist honoring the institution of war. … We must condemn the traditional heroism of self-sacrificing soldiers.” Rather, Madison elevates selfishness and self-preservation as supreme virtues. “It’s not greed and ambition that makes wars, it’s goodness. … As long as valor remains a virtue, we shall have soldiers.”

Later he proclaims the value of an amoral lifestyle: “Life isn’t good or bad or true, it’s merely factual. It’s sensual, it’s alive…. I want to know what I am, not what I should be.” As he leaves Emily, he tells her that he wants to be remembered as one “unregenerately eating a Hershey bar. ”

Most of the audience roared with approval. Dagny stood up in the darkened room, and it was her lips that said, “He is the ideal man!” John Galt remained silent.

In the end, Emily is “Americanized.” She adopts his philosophy regarding war. She goes to bed with him. Speaking fondly of Charlie’s memory, she says, “We no longer take pride in death in this house. What was admirable about Charlie was his sensation of life, his cowardly, selfish, greedy appreciation of life.”

As the applause died down, Rearden took exception to Charlie Madison’s character. “Despite Madison’s eloquent condemnation of war, what about Charlie himself? Is his denunciation of war simply a justification of his cowardice? The Andersons in Shenandoah were never chicken. They were willing to fight for what they believed in. Moreover, when he miraculously survives Normandy, will Madison be faithful to his bride? Or will he remain a wheeler-dealer in civilian life? Libertarianism must not be equated with a libertine lifestyle! Liberty does not mean license! Charlie Madison is not my kind of hero.”

But even as Rearden spoke, the audience was giving The Americanization of Emily a standing ovation.

Third Night: Hombre (1967), 111 min., color. Directed by Martin Ritt. Starring Paul Newman, Fredric March, and Richard Boone.

“I saw this movie years ago,” commented Midas Mulligan. “Hombre is my favorite western.”

The storyline: John Russell (Paul Newman) is an Apache-raised “hombre” returning to a white man’s world. Russell is not afraid to defend his honor or to use a gun.

“He’s not a coward like Charlie Madison,” yelled Hank Rearden.

“Hush!” shouted Quentin Daniels, clutching a bag of popcorn in one hand and a cigarette in another.

Russell doesn’t believe in getting involved in other people’s affairs. When a gunslinger threatens a man, demanding his stagecoach ticket, Russell does nothing to help the innocent man. After the event, a witness turns to Russell and says, “You should have done something.”
“Wasn’t my business.”
“But if he had taken your ticket?”
“He didn’t.”
“That soldier would have helped you.”
“I didn’t ask him for any. … I didn’t feel like bleeding for him, and even if it isn’t all right with you.”

On the other hand, Russell, raised by Apaches, defends the rights of Indians. “They live where they don’t want to live.” In the beginning of the film, when a cowboy insults a fellow Indian, he hits him with the butt of his gun.

Hombre does not live by the rules of gentlemen and society. He is an outsider. He feels no obligation to assist other passengers on the stagecoach when they are robbed and left helpless. He shoots two of the robbers, one armed, the other unarmed. He takes off immediately, leaving the others behind complaining that “we are all together. ” They finally catch up with him.

“Now that’s my kind of libertarian,” exclaimed Midas Mulligan. His eyes were wistful again.

When the remaining robbers return to exchange a hostage for money, Russell is uncooperative. They threaten to shoot the hostage. Hombre is undisturbed.
“All right, shoot her…. She’s nothing to me.
“What about the others!”
“They say what they want.

Russell has a code of ethics, however. He keeps the saddlebags of bank notes, which had been stolen from the Indians, not for himself, but to be returned to the Indians, the rightful owners.

At the end of the film there’s a stalemate between the robbers and the passengers. Everyone except Russell turns out to be a coward, unwilling to exchange the money for the hostage. Finally, the stalemate is resolved when Russell takes the risk and sacrifices himself. His heroic, selfless act results in his demise. He is killed.

“You see what happens when men abandon their self-interest and sacrifice for humanity? Is that what you call virtue?” It was John Galt who spoke, and three hours later he was still speaking. The others remained silent.

Fourth Night: Cool Hand Luke (1967), 126 min., color. Directed by Stuart Rosenberg. Starring Paul Newman and George Kennedy. Screenplay by Donn Pearce and Frank R. Pierson, based on the novel by Donn Pearce.

Ragnar introduced the film, another Paul Newman appearance as a nonconformist libertarian. “In this case, the film tells the tragic — no, I mean the benevolent and life-affirming story of an individualist who, like many freedom loving souls, has tremendous potential yet fails to achieve it.”

“I’ve never planned anything in my life,” comments Lucas Jackson (Newman). His record indicates that he started as a buck private in the army, earned a Purple Heart in World War II, yet ended his stint the same way he started — as a buck private. Why did he tear off the heads of parking meters in a small town, landing him in a prison camp? “Settling an old score,” he responds, implying an act of revenge against the state, perhaps motivated by the war years. Lucas Jackson’s problem is that he can’t conform to official authority, which he characterizes as “lots of guys laying down a lot of rules and regulations.” The rules are often bureaucratic and nonsensical. When Luke is put into the one-man box overnight, after his mother passes away, a guard tells him, “Sorry, Luke, I’m just doing my job.” Luke responds, “Calling it a job don’t make it right.”

In prison, Luke quickly becomes a leader. He’s the best poker player among the prisoners. He meets incredible challenges (“I can eat 50 eggs”) and never gives up, even when he’s beat (the boxing match).

Luke doesn’t blame others for his problems. “What I’ve done I’ve done myself” he tells his distraught mother. “Man’s got to go his own way.” Luke must work out his own salvation. But the unrepentant prisoner is skeptical of God and religion. He goes into a church alone. “Anybody here?” he yells. There is no answer. Life is unfair, he concludes.

“You’ve got to learn the rules,” he is told. But Luke is a social misfit–opposed not to ordinary people, but to the state. “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” says the warden in a famous line. Luke disrupts the state prison system and pushes state officials to the limit of tolerance. Finally, they destroy him.

“I remember someone like that,” said Hank. “Back at Rearden Steel.”

“I’m not sure I understand this film’s ideological context.”

The hesitant voice was that of Dr. Thomas Hendricks, the famous surgeon. “In Hombre, the libertarian is killed when he finally comes to the rescue of someone who needs help. In Cool Hand Luke, just the opposite occurs: the libertarian is killed when he refuses to conform to society. Libertarians can’t win no matter what.”

Galt’s eyes narrowed. “We never said our lot would be easy,” he said. “Here, Doc, have a cigarette.”

The evening’s performance ended with a question. “Which actor has done more libertarian movies than anybody else?” asked Ragnar.

Nominations included Clint Eastwood, Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, and Farrah Fawcett.

“Sorry, you’re all wrong,” Ragnar said. “It’s Paul Newman! Tomorrow we’ll be seeing his third libertarian film.”

Fifth Night: Sometimes A Great Notion (1971), 114 min., color. Directed by Paul Newman. Starring Paul Newman, Henry Fonda, Lee Remick, Michael Sarrazin, and Richard Jaeckel. Based on the novel by Ken Kesey.

“If you think last night’s film puts libertarians in a bad light,” commented Ragnar, “Wait until you see this evening’s picture. You’ll see what Paul Newman really thinks of libertarians.”

“Newman isn’t a libertarian!” yelled Kay Ludlow, the movie actress. “He isn’t even a good actor!”

“Perhaps so,” Ragnar replied. “As a matter of fact, in this film the Henry Stamper family, imbued with the libertarian philosophy, is placed in a highly unfavorable light.” The lights went down and the film began.

Henry Fonda plays an irascible, stubborn father who lives by the family motto, “never give an inch.” He heads an independent family logging operation in Oregon that is anti-union, anti-socialist, and anti-feminist (the women have little or no influence, and hardly ever talk). But they are hard working men of their word who don’t violate their contracts. Consequently, they become scabs when the rest of the community joins in a union strike.

The Stamper family is against anyone telling them what to do, whether a “commie, pinko” government or a threatening labor union. Hank (the oldest son, played by Newman) sardonically talks back to the union leaders: “You’re going to tell us when to stop cutting, who to sell to, and pat our little bottoms and tell us what good little boys we are.

In the final analysis, the family never gives an inch, but as a result Hank loses a father, a brother, and a wife. He also fails to help a theater-owner who later commits suicide. Despite paying this high price, Hank is defiant to the end.

“You must never compromise your principles,” declared John Galt at the end of the movie, “no matter what the price.”

“I’m afraid the price is too high for me.” Everyone turned and stared at the face of Francisco d’Anconia.

Sixth Night: Brazil (1985), 131 min, color. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Starring Robert De Niro, Jonathan Pryce, and Rim Greist. Screenplay by Terry Gilliam, Tom Stoppard, and Charles McKeown.

“This surrealistic story is the best dystopian film I’ve ever seen,” declared Ragnar. “The plot, full of black comedy, is far more entertaining and exciting than the stereotyped attempt to put George Orwell’s classic on the silver screen. The cinematography and production designs are dazzling. It’s a visual feast of imagination and creativity.”

Instead of being ruthlessly efficient, the central authority in Brazil gropes incompetently through a nightmare of paperwork, unreliable services, and a bloated and incredibly complex infrastructure. Nothing works — a vivid reminder of the old Soviet Union. Despite the government’s hoard of advanced weapons, the ubiquitous spy machines, and federal police galore, the underground survives and even thrives. The black market engineer (De Niro), referred to by state operatives as a “terrorist,” is never caught. However, a government clerk (Pryce), who holds fast to his ideals and his Dream Girl (Greist), is tortured and destroyed.

“Brazil paints a picture of the future that is much more believable than Nineteen Eighty-four,” Ragnar commented at the end of the presentation.

“Even more believable than Atlas Shrugged?” The darkened theater was too thick with smoke for anyone to recognize who said it.

Ragnar’s eyes narrowed, but he continued. “The storyline includes no-knock break-ins by federal SWAT teams, national ID cards required for all citizens, constant monitoring through X-ray machines, everyone living in tall apartment complexes, etc. But you also witness bureaucratic mix-ups, thriving black markets, and underground opposition. You can see it coming. It’s eerie.”

“Eerier than Atlas Shrugged?” But the theater was still too thick with smoke.

Seventh Night: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), 102 min., color. Directed by Michael Curtiz and William Keighley. Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Claude Rains, and Patric Knowles.

Ragnar bravely introduced the film. “Several pictures have been made about Sir Robin of Loxley, the outlaw of Sherwood Forest, including a recent effort by Kevin Costner, but nothing compares to the original, dynamic Errol Flynn version. He’s my kind of hero!”

“He’s the ‘hero’ that we tried to kill!” It was Francisco’s voice that protested.

“I remember that movie,” said Midas Mulligan.

Francisco remained silent.

Robin Hood’s oath, “To take from the rich and give to the poor,” sounds more like standard fare of the Clintonistas than a libertarian creed. But, like many libertarian heroes, Sir Robin is misunderstood–even by Ayn Rand. The real story, clearly revealed in this film version, is that Sir Robin of Loxley is not simply an outlaw who stole from the rich, but a fighter against unjust taxation and other acts of oppression by the forces of the state, Prince John and the Sheriff of Nottingham. Conforming to the legend, the twelfth-century Norman authorities impose unbearable fares on the Saxons, beating and torturing them, raping their women, and confiscating their property when they refuse to pay. A law is passed making it a capital crime to kill the king’s deer in Sherwood Forest, even if the hunter is starving. Robin’s band of merry men oppose this oppression, and their efforts to “steal from the rich” are in reality aimed at recapturing the tax monies that are rightfully theirs in the first place. The bold rascal Robin Hood isn’t a reckless outlaw, but a brave patriot. “I’II organize revolt,” he proclaims before Prince John and his entourage. “I’II never rest until I strike a blow for freedom.”

“You speak treason,” asserts Maid Marian.

“Fluently,” replies Sir Robin.

“There’s only one problem with this picture,” muttered Lawrence Hammond, the automobile magnate, glancing warily at Midas Mulligan, who had saved Hammond’s non-competitive business with a well-timed loan of a hundred pounds of gold. “What does Robin Hood do with the tax money he seizes? Does he keep it himself or does he return it to its rightful owners?”

“Better ask Ragnar about that,” said Mulligan. Ragnar had recently opened his own bank.

In this version, King Richard the Lion Hearted is being held for ransom in Europe, and the merry men decide to use the money to pay it off Richard is viewed as a benevolent king who ousts Prince John and reestablishes peace and liberty when he returns. Yet this is the same King Richard who has left England to lead the Crusades against the “infidels.”

Dagny ground her cigarette into her popcorn. “This is an unjustifiable act of religious intolerance and imperialism, an act that no libertarian can justify,” she declared. “Under these circumstances, The Adventures of Robin Hood, however well-performed, cannot be viewed as an entirely satisfactory libertarian film.”

“Aw, pipe down,” said John Galt. “I’11 do the talking in this family.”

“All right,” replied Ragnar, “if you don’t like this version of Robin Hood, you still might enjoy tomorrow night’s alternative. Stay tuned!”

Eighth Night: The Mark of Zorro (1940), 93 min, black & white. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian. Starring Tyrone Power, Basil Rathbone, and Linda Darnell.

“The story of Zorro has been produced on the silver screen numerous times, but nothing beats the 1940 version with Tyrone Power,” said Ragnar.

“That’s your opinion,” said John Galt.

Diego Vega, son of a rich plantation owner, returns from Spain to learn that his honorable father has been deposed as Alcalde of Los Angeles and replaced by tyrants who “make the people more industrious” by imposing heavy taxes (shades of Bill Clinton). Those who can’t pay are tortured and jailed (shades of Janet Reno). His father is an old traditionalist, a stickler for law and order, and refuses to fight back. “Two wrongs don’t make a right.

But the young, debonair, and tepid Diego becomes the brave, resourceful outlaw Zorro at night, recapturing the gold that the rulers have stolen from the “peons.” What does he do with the money?

“That’s what I’d like to know!” exclaimed Midas Mulligan. Ragnar remained silent.

“This gold was wrung from the peons, he tells the local padre. “It’s up to us to restore it to them.”

The story ends when the peons, under Zorro’s leadership, storm the mayor’s headquarters and reappoint Diego’s father as Alcalde.

“Fantastic!” exclaimed Midas Mulligan. “Clearly, Zorro does not suffer from bad motives, as is the case with Robin Hood — and some other people I might mention. I give The Mark of Zorro five stars.”

Ninth Night: Cash McCall (1959), 102 min., color. Directed by Joseph Pevney. Starring James Garner, Natalie Wood, and E.G. Marshall. Based on a novel by Cameron Hawley.

Ragnar stood in front of the crowded theater. “Attention all you unrepentant greedy capitalists Hank Rearden, Ellis Wyatt, Lawrence Hammond, Dwight Sanders! This is your kind of show!”

“And you too, Midas!” shouted Francisco. Francisco had a childlike, benevolent, life-affirming innocence, despite his enormous debts.

Cash McCall (Garner) is the quintessential misunderstood business tycoon. As a takeover artist and financier, a cross between Howard Hughes and Michael Milken, he is feared and loathed by the public, the media, his business partners — even school kids, who have made up a nursery rhyme about him. He is viewed as a vulgar, fast buck, unscrupulous, cold-hearted robber baron that takes over companies, lays off workers, and sells the enterprises at a hefty profit. At the beginning of the picture, McCall is being investigated by the IRS for tax evasion. Later he is accused by his fiancée, Lory Austen (Natalie Wood), of being unfaithful.

“I’m a thoroughly vulgar character, Cash McCall says, playing on his public image. “I enjoy making money. “So do I!” said Kay Ludlow.

“When the hell did you ever make any money?” asked Dagny. “You wouldn’t have gotten to your auditions if I hadn’t given you a railroad pass!” “Aw, pipe down!” interjected John Galt. “Give ‘er a break, will ya’?” Kay Ludlow smiled.

But the reality of the man is completely different from appearances. Cash McCall is, in fact, an efficient, shrewd businessman with a high standard of personal and business ethics. He admits that he is not a “company man.” As an independent financier, he likes to “buy old companies, whip them into shape, and sell them.” But there is nothing shady about him. He honors his commitments and doesn’t try to hide things. He gives potential sellers a chance to get out of his deals. Cash has an opportunity to take advantage of Lory when they first meet, but refrains.

Unlike many other libertarian films, this one actually has a happy ending.

“That’s the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen,” said Kay Ludlow. Dagny remained silent. She was remembering all the times John had refused to take advantage of her.

Tenth Night: Ben Hur (1959), 212 min., color. Directed by William Wyler. Starring Charlton Heston, Stephen Boyd, Jack Hawkins, Haya Harareet, Hugh Griffith, and Martha Scott.

“How in the devil could you include a religious film, Rag?” demanded John Galt. “You never really were one of us, were you?”

“But it’s so romantic,” said Kay Ludlow. “And so realistic, too!”

“Well, maybe you’re right,” said John Galt. “It might be benevolent and life-affirming.”

Dagny Taggart suddenly stood up. “Religion is the opiate of the masses. I’m leaving!” She put out her cigarette and exited the theater, followed by Francisco.

“Have an open mind,” pleaded Ragnar, oblivious to John and Kay’s increasingly harmonious ideological trends. “This movie actually has an underlying libertarian theme.”
The hero, Prince Juda Ben Hur (Heston), is the wealthiest man in Jerusalem, having obtained his wealth honorably as a merchant. He treats his servants as friends and stewards, not as slaves. When Ben Hur is confronted by the new Roman commander Messala (Boyd), his boyhood friend, he defends his country’s right to be free from foreign oppression: “Withdraw your legions, give us our freedom.” Ben Hur is opposed to violence, but will not turn informer and reveal the names of dissident Jews. “They are not criminals — they’re patriots” he explains.

Messala offers Ben Hur power and protection if he will betray his people, but he cannot be bought. “I’d rather be a fool than a traitor.

Ben-Hur has personal integrity. He refuses to kill Messala in cold blood, even though he has the opportunity. He becomes a Roman citizen when he saves the life of the Roman fleet commander Quintus Arias. But he returns his adopted father’s ring after coming back to Jerusalem. He will not take part in the Roman policies of slavery and tyranny.

“Still, he is a thorough-going, practicing Jew, a member of an irrational faith,” Rearden asserted after the film was over.

“It is the only thing that keeps him alive,” explained Ragnar. “The Jewish demand for revenge. It’s life-affirming.”

“Religion denies an objective, rational world — and requires faith in things you cannot see or feel,” insisted Galt. “That’s right,” Kay murmured.

“Granted, Juda Ben-Hur is a true believer in God, but he bases his belief on real evidence — such as the event at Nazareth where he is miraculously given water by the carpenter. That’s one of the most moving scenes ever filmed. And note how skeptical he is about the new Christian religion. He does not believe until he actually sees a miracle his mother and sister are healed of leprosy. Only then do bitterness and hatred leave his soul, allowing him to become a happy man again.”

The debate continued into the night in the midst of a smoke-filled room, although John, Dagny, Francisco, and Kay were no longer present.

Eleventh Night: Dark of the Sun (1968), U.K, 101 min., color. Directed by Jack Cardiff. Starring Rod Taylor, Jim Brown, Yvette Mimieux, and Kenneth More. Based on the novel by Wilbur Smith.

Ragnar Danneskjold was excited about the eleventh night’s presentation. “It’s my favorite movie — an action film full of violence, intrigue, and romance!”

“Better than Rambo, Dirty Harry, and Rooster Cogburn?”

“Much better!”

This is the story of four mercenaries, men who fight and die for anybody, for any cause, anywhere — if the price is right. In this story, they hunt diamonds, they hunt cannibals, and they hunt each other. Ostensibly, they are paid to rescue a community deep in war-torn Congo under threat of attack by vicious rebels, flesh-hungry cannibals; but they also have a clandestine objective of bringing out a load of priceless diamonds. The action is fast-paced, the music is haunting, and the train scenes ale unforgettable.

“This is my kind of life,” proclaimed Ragnar.

“I’d love to be on that train right now,” exclaimed Dagny Taggart.

“Me too,” said Francisco, taking the empty seat next to her.

The mercenaries are men without hope who discover that it is never too late. One finds the strength to die like a man, although he has lived his whole life in fear. Another rediscovers self-respect and the chance to start over again, and the third (Bruce Curry, a role magnificently performed by Rod Taylor) finds that he can love again. Still, the story line ends in violence and tragedy. He who lives by the sword must die by the sword. The question is, can there be any salvation for men who commit the vilest of sins?

“I told you most libertarian films have sad endings,” commented Ragnar.

“Can we expect anything different for us?” Richard Halley asked. Everyone knew the composition of his new opera, Frank O’Connor, was not going well.

Twelfth Night: The Fountainhead (1949), 114 min., black & white. Directed by King Vidor. Starring Gary Cooper, Patricia Neal, and Raymond Massey. Screenplay by Ayn Rand, from her novel.

Everyone applauded when Ragnar announced the festival’s last film. “It’s about time!” said Dagny Taggart.

“It’s about time!” added Francisco d’Anconia.

Ragnar agreed. “A libertarian film festival would not be complete without showing the movie version of Ayn Rand’s philosophical novel about Howard Roark, the iconoclastic architect,” he said.

Roark, like Van Gogh or Michelangelo, refuses to give in to popular artistic design: “I don’t care what they think of architecture, or anything else.” Roark’s standards are so demanding and provincial that he has great difficulty in finding work. “I don’t have clients in order to build, I build in order to have clients.”
“I don’t get it” Quentin Daniels interrupted. “I thought capitalism works because the producer responds to consumer needs. Is Howard Roark anticapitalist?”

“You have a lot to learn, young man,” responded Galt. “Roark sets the highest standard. If the public doesn’t buy it, he will do something else — just as all of you are doing other things here in Atlantis.”

“That’s right!” said Kay Ludlow.

“And what are you doing, my dear?” inquired Dagny.

“The Fountainhead is supposed to be symbolic,” Richard Halley added. “It’s about the moral strength of the individual against the mediocrity of the masses.”

“That’s right — mediocrity,” said Dagny.

“That’s right — mediocrity,” said Francisco.

Roark is the unbridled individualist, the “supreme egoist,” opposed to all forms of self-sacrifice or charity: “I don’t give or ask for help.” The final speech of Howard Roark, “The Individual vs. the Collective,” is delivered with great fervor.

“In a true libertarian society, there would be no government welfare system, that I know,” said Hank Rearden. “But are there to be no charitable organizations, no churches to help the needy?”

“Of course not, Hank. What’s got into you anyway? You’re starting to sound like your wife!” Kay smiled smugly at Galt’s words.

“It’s obvious that Hank is right!” shouted Dagny, snuffing out two cigarettes.

Francisco d’Anconia was disturbed about another aspect of the film. “Frankly, fellow libertarians, the sex in this movie stinks!  Dominique Francon appears incapable of showing real feeling and love. Sex with Roark is impersonal — only afterwards does she discover who he is. Who would want that kind of relationship?”

Dagny looked nervous as Francisco continued talking. “Can you imagine spending weeks alone in an empty country house? What a bore! To Dominique, freedom is empty; it is to want nothing, to depend on nothing. If this film were in color, there would still be no warmth.”

“Oh, who the hell wants color?” Dagny interjected.

Ragnar interrupted. “You might be interested in knowing that Miss Rand didn’t like the outcome of the film either, even though she wrote the screenplay. She wanted Greta Garbo to play the part of Dominique, and she hoped Frank Lloyd Wright would do the architectural designs. Some rank amateur produced some horrible modernistic work instead.”

“You mean she compromised her principles?” asked Rearden. No one replied.

On the thirteenth night, the audience gathered by the light of kerosene lamps. “How romantic!” said Kay Ludlow, but Galt did not reply. Dagny, too, remained silent.

After protracted debate about the morality of voting, an informal poll showed Cash McCall barely topping Shenandoah for Best Libertarian Picture. Paul Newman was voted Best Actor and Farrah Fawcett won Best Actress in a Future Libertarian Film.

John Galt reluctantly congratulated Ragnar Danneskjold for his choice of movies. “But of course,” he added, “the search for the ideal libertarian film won’t end until Atlas Shrugged has been produced.”

“And we can all play ourselves, Kay Ludlow sighed.

The throng of individualists trailed out into the fresh night air. In the distance could be seen the yellowish sign _ of a gold dollar, hovering high in the valley. A man appeared out of nowhere and approached the house, his glossy eyes looking straight ahead at John Galt.

He asked simply, “Who is Cash McCall?”


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