A name, John Galt, starts to buzz on the streets while the educated elite slowly disappear, spurring the question, "Who is John Galt?"
Not to spoil the book or film, Taggart figures it out.
The film rakes in a shockingly low 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a review from Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers that reads: "Ayn Rand's monumental 1,168-page, 1957 novel gets the low-budget, no-talent treatment and sits there flapping on screen like a bludgeoned seal."
The film might not be a box office success (it's only being shown in about 80 markets), but to some readers it keeps an important book alive.
Eric Brunner, the president of the Ayn Rand Club at UC Irvine, felt the film fell short in character development but stayed true to Rand's ideology.
He pointed out that Rearden's struggles with morality, a theme in the book, aren't reflected in the film.
"In the book he has a big moral dilemma about his [extra-marital] affair with Taggart. He's tortured about it," he said. "In the film, it's basically nonexistent. In the scene after they make love the first time, he wakes up and seems completely happy. You can't tell there's a conflict there."
Although many align Rand's philosophies with conservatives or libertarian politics, both Brunner and Alex Epstein, a fellow at the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights in Irvine, believe Rand wouldn't agree with that assumption.
The author wanted a free market economy, as do modern-day Republicans, but she also favored legalized abortion and sexual freedom, positions in conflict with today's GOP.
"Taken on the surface, 'Atlas Shrugged' is more appealing to conservatives than to liberals because government intervention in the economy is seen as profoundly disruptive," Epstein said. "It's not really a book about government. It's a book about what's the right way for individuals to live and how every individual has the right to pursue happiness — not just economically, but socially."
Although Epstein agreed the film leaves out key parts, he thinks viewers can still appreciate other themes from the film, such as the future of a highly regulated economy.
"The events of the book are eerily similar to the economic decline we see in the world around us," Epstein said. "Many think if she could see if this kind of thing was coming, then she could come up with a solution."
And the numbers reflect the interest. In 2009, "Atlas Shrugged" sold a record 500,000 copies.
"The book has been resonating with people for 53 years, which is pretty remarkable," he said.