I went to see “Atlas Shrugged” last night, part 1 of the depiction of Ayn Rand’s novel. Meh. There were some nice scenes (the depiction of Reardon Steel and the steel bridge made on the John Galt Line was really elegant). A lot of the acting was very wooden. The movie was about as good as you’re going to get, but in the end the Gary Cooper depiction of “The Fountainhead” is still better for Rand fans.
In any case, I have four other suggestions if you want to see movies about freedom. These are not necessarily popular or well-known movies, but each of them is wonderful in its own way.
First, “Sometimes a Great Notion,” with Henry Fonda and Paul Newman, directed by Paul Newman.
“Sometimes a Great Notion” is based on the Key Kesey novel. I consider Kesey one of the great American authors. The central characters are Henry and Hank Stamper (Henry’s son, played by Paul Newman). The former is the Great American Individualist, a hard-working, profane, sometimes immoral hero and anti-hero played by Henry Fonda. The Stampers are lumberjacks in Oregon. They are the last holdouts as independents, resisting the tide toward unionization in the northwest. (Keep in mind that the unionization movement was primarily a response to the introduction of modern chain saws and other technological improvements, which union members saw as threatening their jobs).
The union, whose members include every neighbor of the Stamper family, try every trick they can to get the Stampers to join their strike. The Stampers refuse, primarily because they simply don’t like being told what to do. They are the great individualists, celebrating their right to do what they want with their time and their money. The result is union thuggery (just like we’re seeing today at work in Wisconsin and elsewhere), with goons burning Stamper vehicles and equipment in an attempt to impose collectivism.
The Stamper world is a complicated one. The characters, although they are heroes, are filled with contradictions, as are real-life characters (unlike, for example, the cartoon depictions in Ayn Rand novels). They are not uniquely moral. But at the end of the day, they just want to be left alone and represent some of the best qualities of hard-working Americans.
The story climaxes in a beautiful, gruesome scene that I cannot describe without ruining the movie. Trust me, it is one of the most powerful scenes on film. Rent this movie and see it. This movie is PG-rated and includes some violence and some salty language but nothing most latter-day Saints would object to.
“Serenity.” Even if you don’t like science fiction, there are many things to like in this movie, which is a continuation of the “Firefly” TV show that briefly aired about a decade ago. This movie is about a future in which humans leave Earth and populate a nearby area of the galaxy. New Earths are “terra-formed” using technology to make them inhabitable. The central planets are “civilized” — the distant planets kind of like the Wild West. The government is an elitist group called the “Alliance,” which is supposedly well-intentioned but spends most of its time imposing conformity on people who just want to be left alone.
As you might expect, the Alliance is filled with secret combinations. During this movie, we discover one of the worst ones. In an attempt to change human nature, the Alliance gave all of the inhabitants of one planet a drug to make them more passive. They had two reactions to this drug. They either became so passive that they didn’t care about living anymore and literally sat until they died. Or they had a negative reaction and turned into “reavers,” monster-like aggressive maniacs who mutilated themselves and spend their lives attacking others.
The crew of the Serenity discovers the gory secret regarding the Alliance’s plan. They are led by another great American (presumably) individualist, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, who makes his living as a pirate and transporter of illegal cargo. Reynolds is like the privateers of the 18th and 19th century, fighting against the system, living his own life, surviving by guts and glory. He is, again, a hero and anti-hero, likable for his innate moral compass and refusal to give in and become a government drone, but difficult to admire because of his ruthlessness, violence and lack of manners.
At the end of the day, Serenity is a movie about the Individual’s need to be free from the constraints of well-meaning but smarmy bureaucrats who run the Alliance. The heroes are people who decide not to be taken over by the collective. This movie is rated PG-13 and has a lot of violence and a few gory scenes. The reavers are pretty scary.
“Moscow on the Hudson.” This movie was very controversial among leftists when it first came out in 1984 because of its positive portrayal of American society compared to the Soviet Union (at the height of the Cold War). I saw it in college when it first came out, and I thought the acting was great and the message was wonderful.
Robin Williams plays a circus musician who gets to travel to New York on tour. He lives in a dour, cold, poor Soviet Union where all are constantly under surveillance or forced to rat on their neighbors. He spends all of his time trying to find the necessities of life, standing in endless lines or trying to buy black market gasoline. Bottom line: he is not free…although he does not realize how miserable he is until he travels to New York and sees the bounty and the freedom available there.
Much to his own surprise, Williams defects at Bloomingdale’s. His defection causes a scandal, but it is good, every-day Americans who come to his defense. He ends up living with a black family in Harlem and dating an Italian girl (played by Maria Conchita Alonso, in her first film role). He has a Cuban immigration lawyer.
The America created by director Paul Mazursky is a kaleidiscope of color and diversity and misery and fun. The poor truly do suffer. There is opulence but it is not available to everyone. Williams’ character is lonely and goes through rough times. But he works hard and at the end learns to love all of the variety and independence available in America. Most of all, this movie is a celebration of the spirit of free will, of being able to make your own decisions, even if they don’t always turn out the way you would like. “Moscow on the Hudson” is R-rated and includes a pretty graphic sex scene. Get an edited version if you can.
“I am David.” Almost nobody has seen this film, but it is wonderful and worth getting if you can. The story is about a boy who escapes a Stalinist labor camp in Bulgaria and travels to Denmark, where he hopes to be reunited with his mother. But this movie is really about the human spirit, which can never truly be free unless it is allowed free will and time with family members. This movie also shows that trust comes from freedom. PG rated with a few violent scenes but mostly very unobjectionable.
Feel free to add any movies about freedom you have seen.