Kevin Sorbo is the new John Galt in Alongside Night
By Thomas M. Sipos
In the near future, the U.S. government grows ever more oppressive as it tries to avert economic collapse due to its excessive taxing, borrowing, spending, and regulation. Meanwhile, a morally principled group of anti-government cadres prepares for a freer, post-socialist America.
Atlas Shrugged? No, it's Alongside Night, a 2014 indie film written and directed by J. Neil Schulman, based on his 1979 libertarian sci-fi novel of the same name.
The two novels do differ on some ideological points. Atlas Shrugged promotes Ayn Rand's Objectivism, a philosophy that supports small government. Rand expressly rejected anarchism. By contrast, Alongside Night advocates Agorism, a school of anarchism founded by the late Samuel E. Konkin III.
In Alongside Night, the fate of America's economy and political system hinges on Dr. Martin Vreeland (Kevin Sorbo), a free-market American economist who's earned the trust of Europe. If Vreeland agrees to head the U.S. economy as Treasury Secretary, Europe will continue to accept a hyper-inflationary dollar. If he doesn't, the Europeans won't, and the U.S. defaults on its debt.
The heroes of the Agorist underground want Vreeland to reject the job. The U.S. government will kidnap and force Vreeland to take the job if necessary. Which, again, sounds a lot like the government in Atlas Shrugged trying to force John Galt to run the U.S. economy.
When I interviewed Schulman in 2014, he explained the difference between his and Rand's novels. "I had the advantage of reading Atlas Shrugged before I wrote Alongside Night. I learned the lessons Atlas Shrugged had to teach me, but Rand is only one of a lifetime of my intellectual, literary, and cinematic influences. Also, Alongside Night is not a grand anti-Marxist satire like Atlas Shrugged, but uses the storytelling techniques of science fiction to portray what I believe to be a real-world strategy -- Agorism -- as an effective way to survive, prosper, and rebuild a freer future."
How does Agorism (derived from the ancient Greek word, agora), differ from other libertarian and anarchist philosophies?
According to Schulman, "Agorism has the same economic worldview you'll see in other libertarian movements -- anarcho-capitalism and voluntaryism -- but adopts a jiu jitsu strategy of avoiding, rather than seeking engagement with the state, and using all means of compliance-refusal to build alternative markets and resilient, self-protecting lives."
In Alongside Night, Agorist cadres offer to protect clients' lives and property for a fee, presumably even from the state. They propose to replace the state's military and police with private security forces (i.e., mercenaries). An Agorist cadre leader explains that if you don't approve of the job they do, you can fire them.
Is that realistic? Marx promised a communist state that would "wither away," but Lenin and Stalin declined to do so. Once the Agorist revolutionaries attain power, will they ever allow themselves to be fired?
"Men with power do not," says Schulman. "But Konkin's organization is based on serving a customer base and providing a set of contracted-for services. If he violates his contracts and goes statist, he loses both his customers and contractors, and is out of business virtually overnight."
Yet won't unprincipled mercenaries find wealthy people willing to contract for amoral thugs? The film's Agorist revolutionaries are all idealistic and honest. Schulman himself plays a character who could have stolen a stash of gold coins, but doesn't, "because it doesn't belong to me." Vreeland's teenage son won't even download copyrighted material without paying for it.
Well, he is a Ron Paul fan. (Alongside Night is full of libertarian references and imagery.)
Like all utopian societies, Agorism seems to rely heavily on its adherents' idealism. Yet when economies collapse, people grow desperate, cynical, and dishonest. Feeling robbed and betrayed by a dog-eat-dog society, they feel more justified in defrauding others. But Alongside Night's pristine Las Vegas streets are free of riots. The "laissez-faire" protesting chanters are civil and clean. None of the vandalism or violence of the then recent Occupy Movement.
Where are the Marxists, nihilists, and opportunistic gangstas?
"In the novel, I had the freedom to establish, in an extended news conference, that these competing groups existed," Schulman explained. "In the 112 minutes of the movie, I could only show the events the characters I follow engage in, and the news conference is shortened for dramatic reasons."
Alongside Night is low-budget, a topic and term that irks Schulman. "In the age of digital filmmaking, any mention of budget is just a way of implying that mindless, mega-budget studio blockbusters are more worthy of two hours sitting in a theater, than independent films which have dramatic, intellectual, and political values blackballed by studio development executives before they ever see the light of day." He adds in his defense that "Alongside Night has name actors from high-budget movies including Contact, Starship Troopers, Green Zone, and Men in Black 3. We had a wonderful aerial unit and visual effects teams."
Yes, there are aerial shots. And recognizable faces from the B-list (another term likely to irk Schulman). Even so, Alongside Night looks low-budget, in a Roger Corman sort of way.
That's no insult. Critics have praised Corman, and even Ed Wood, for tackling topics, themes, and ideas that the major studios of their time shunned. Similarly, Alongside Night's greatest strength is its unconventional and provocative ideas. Its greatest weakness is its lethargic pace. Running at nearly two hours, it can easily lose 20 minutes without losing anything.
It also has many oddball scenes, such as the agorist mall where anyone can purchase hard drugs and nuclear weapons (see below). Although nothing compares to the "passing of the baby bassinet through the FEMA trapdoor scene" -- that's destined to be a classic "bad cinema" moment.
While he won't discuss numbers, Schulman says his film was financed by Patrick A. Heller, a precious metals and coins investment advisor. Schulman says that, "Alongside Night was film entirely in Nevada, a right-to-work state which allows union and nonunion personnel to work side-by-side. We operated on a contract with the Writers Guild of America, East [Schulman's union] and SAG-AFTRA. But we hired both union and nonunion cast and crew.
"My tips for 'low-budget' filmmakers: Look at Iron Sky if you want to see a movie that looks like it was made for 100 million bucks, but was made on a Kickstarter-driven budget. It's not how much money you have to spend. It's how much creative talent you bring to bear.
"We used half a dozen different cameras. Kent Hastings and I edited on a juiced-up Mac Pro in Adobe Premiere, but our various VFX teams used lots of different computer systems and high-end software packages. Our movie features Kevin Sorbo, whose Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was number one worldwide for five years."
J. Neil Schulman was an award-winning novelist, who was especially proud of his Twilight Zone episode, "Profile in Silver." He died on August, 11, 2019, at the age of 66.
Although his books are available in print, he made Alongside Night available as a free pdf download, partially to spread his ideas, and partially to promote his film. The film itself is available for purchase on DVD, or can be seen for free on YouTube.
Thomas M. Sipos writes satirical novels and film criticism. His website is CommunistVampires.com.