behind enemy lines

Atlas Shrugs in Brooklyn: Refuge for Park Slope Randians

Pity the Park Slope Randian. The brownstones are full of do-gooders, the best fresh produce is in a socialist grocery store, and the streets are lined with bike lanes, making stretch-limo parking unusually difficult.

There is one balm for besieged objectivists. The Park Slope Pavilion, the neighborhood movie house, was the lone theater in Brooklyn showing the film adaptation of Rand’s magnum opus Atlas Shrugged. The movie came to the Slope just as Rand would have wanted: on the orders of a solitary chief executive with a dream.

That, at least, was the explanation from Michael O’Brien, district manager for the company that owns the Pavilion, who was smoking a cigarette outside the theater before one Atlas showing this week. The company’s CEO saw a trailer and decided to give the movie a try. “He was expecting it to do better, I think, than it did,” O’Brien said. There had been about 165 paying customers since it opened on April 15 (the second-lowest total in the theater, ahead of only Your Highness). Inside the movie’s 9:35 p.m. screening on Wednesday night, there were only two: a gray-haired man and a young woman in fashionably thick glasses. They looked up in mild surprise as a third viewer sat down across the aisle.

The lights went down, and the film unfurled, an hour and 42 minutes of speeding trains, boardroom confrontations, and misguided generosity. Entrepreneurship was stifled, a lobbyist puffed a cigar, and as events neared their climax, the heroine exclaimed, “Why all these stupid altruistic urges?!”

Standing ovations have been reported in some theaters, but the two attendees remained in their seats deep into the closing credits. When they got up, the male half of the duo had a perplexed expression. He was Mickey Elias, 63, of 15th Street, and he had come at the behest of his date — his 14-year-old daughter, Irene.

I didn’t know what to expect,” Elias said. “I just made a pact with her at the beginning that we’d sit through the end.”

Perhaps it had been a learning experience?

Only in the purely academic sense,” he said carefully. “Because philosophically, I had no idea what was happening there.”

Not helping matters was the fact that the film had no real ending. It is the first part of a planned trilogy, and the big-screen fate of the remaining thousand or so pages of narrative is yet to be determined. But politically speaking, Mickey Elias (“I’m a child of the sixties. I’m somewhat left of center”) was not the movie’s target demographic. Irene, it turned out, was the Randian of the household, who first checked out Atlas Shrugged from the library to her parents’ bemusement, and has reread her favorite parts more times than she can count.

As for the movie, “I really liked it,” she said. “I mean, I don’t think they’ll be able to put out the second part, but if they did, I’d go see it.”

The Park Slope Atlas Shrugged experiment has since drawn to a close. O’Brien, the manager, said the movie’s local run would end Thursday after just a week of shows. “Because Friday, Madea’s Big Happy Family is going to do really well.”

Atlas Shrugs in Brooklyn: Refuge for Park Slope Randians