Atlas Shrugged Hits the Big Screen April 15, 2011

For those with a current libertarian inclination, an old flirtation with libertarianism or Ayn Rand, an interest in big fat bestseller novels translated well or ill to the big screen — or simply an interest in epic stories about politics, love, greed, and honor, this just announced.

Ayn Rand’s famous 1957 novel, Atlas Shrugged, will finally make it to the big screen on April 15, 2011.

It’s an independent production, with “a fresh cast” (no big stars), but it could be a cultural phenomenon.

Though I was born a mere two years after the publication of Atlas Shrugged, and even though my thinking has been considerably influenced, though not commandeered, by libertarian concepts, it was not until fairly recently that I finally read the novel, at the insistence of a loved one, who knew of my interest in the artistic rendering of integrity.

The novel tells the story of American financial institutions and industries gradually getting taken over by federal government planners (or “czars” in modern parlance that Ayn Rand wouldn’t have dare used in 1957 for fear of being absurd!) and the ensuing meltdown of the economy, productivity, and social and cultural institutions.  You can see the potential resonance in our current political environment.

I’m cautiously eager to see what happens.  Movies that try too hard at current-events relevance typically fail, or at best enjoy their fifteen minutes of brouhaha and promptly fade.  Some movies have no further ambition — but this one, I suspect, wishes to be taken very seriously.

Having read the novel, I take a contrarian view and sincerely hope the movie is not “true to the book.”  To be sure, there is a fascinating story here, and even though the characters can be a bit cartoonish, the portraits of integrity (and venality) are compelling.  But to be “true to the book,” the movie would have to be essentially a protracted philosophical tract with visuals concerning the incremental encroachments of socialist and collectivist misery.  That’s not good cinema.

The last two or three thousand pages of the novel is a sermon by John Galt.  I must say, that was a difficult slog.  I hope the movie encapsulates it in a couple of minutes, or dispenses with it altogether, and instead renders its message with brisk dialogue, poignant and tight plot developments, and appropriately epic visuals.  And I hope novel purists will forgive any such cinematic telescoping.

On another contrarian note, most celebrants of the novel are relieved that the movie coming out next April is Part One of a trilogy (it being impossible, in the purist view, to get that enormous novel into a single movie).  That concerns me.  I hold the probably minority opinion that protracted franchises (or overlong movies) based on novels often get worse and worse and should have been compacted, if cinematic artistry were the chief aim.  Literary and cinematic art are different animals.  The fear of offending a book’s disciples (with consequent bad buzz) causes moviemakers to stuff serialized (and overlong) movies with too many plot details and characters — material we might have enjoyed while turning pages, but that most people will not on the big screen.

The converse is also a danger: that too much telescoping will render the story a simplistic morality tale about the dangers of socialism, a caricature of political dialogue.  To some extent, that danger is inherent in Rand’s novel.  Her aim, as a political philosopher, was not textured and ambiguous characters, but political philosophy, with heroic protagonists.  Indeed, to appreciate Rand is, to some extent, to embrace the notion that caricatured heroism has gotten a bad rap.  I am not unsympathetic.

At this point, I know nothing about the content of the movie (as opposed to the novel) or any of its guiding production principles.  But I will be most interested in how the moviemakers resolve the foregoing political and artistic tensions.  And I will be most interested in the ensuing dialogue (excepting the infatuated and the hysterical).


UPDATE (2-13-2011): Here’s the trailer.


One Response to Atlas Shrugged Hits the Big Screen April 15, 2011

  1. Pingback: Ayn Rand Got Government Money, and the Tea Party Should Therefore Fold…? « The Prince and The Little Prince

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