What Would John Galt Do?

A whole different way of looking at "WWJD"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Atlas Shrugged, the movie

Here are my thoughts on the movie, which I went to see on opening night. Most of this post is gleaned from email correspondence with my friend Paul Nathan, who lives too far from any of the cities in which Atlas opened to go see it.

The short version: It isn't perfect. It IS worth going to see.

With one glaring exception, the movie is faithful to the novel, at least as far as plot and dialog are concerned.

Any time a book is adapted to a movie, lots of stuff has to be left out -- theaters don't like movies that run much over 100 minutes -- and this one is no exception. Even though it only covers one-third of the novel, the film still feels rushed, a lot like it would feel to try to see Colorado by riding the John Galt line at hundreds of miles per hour. You ain't gonna see Colorado's real beauty, which lies in the small things such as blue Columbines in a grove of Aspens whose leaves are shimmering in the wind, and you won't see the real beauty of Atlas either because it lies in details that there simply isn't time to stop and examine.

The actor playing Hank Reardon seems perfect for the role. I saw an interview with him a while ago, and he "gets" the character as well as the message of the novel -- but the viewer never gets a clue of his guilt over being "rich", which is his fatal character flaw.

The actress playing Dagny doesn't play the role as hard-edged as I would like, but other than that she is nothing short of stunning. And anyone who is going to nit-pick over her hair color (yes, some people are actually doing that) needs to go get an enema. Nobody is complaining about Eddie Willers being a black man, and if we can deal with that we can sure as hell deal with a blonde Dagny.

The actor playing Francisco does a great job showing his internal agony, but has far too little time on-screen for anyone not already familiar with the novel to even understand who he is and why he's in the story, let alone ponder the mystery of what happened to such a fine young man.

The villians' characters suffer even worse from the time constraints. Even Wesley Mouch and James Taggart, who both get quite a bit of screen time, never get to show us the depth of their evil.

In spite of all that, the film IS faithful to the book except for Hugh Akston's character. What they did to him is just plain criminal.

They did a nice job with the Colorado scenery. The Rearden Metal bridge is photoshopped into some nice shots of the Royal Gorge, about a hundred miles south of here where I live. I joked to my friend, "It makes you want to move to Colorado, doesn't it?"

Dagny's movie-cliche "NO-O-O-O-O" scream at the sight of Wyatt's Torch is done so well that it doesn't seem cliche. It makes a perfect ending and they need to just chop the few seconds of film that follow it.

It is interesting how often the subject of Francisco's money speech comes up. Practically everyone I have talked to has asked about it, so allow me to deal with it here.

I re-read Part I of the novel a few weeks ago to prepare for the movie, and was eagerly waiting to get to that part. I never got to it. It must be in Part II, because I refuse to believe that there are any pages missing from my copy of Atlas!

That speech had better be in the next movie, or there will be Hell to pay! I have a mental image of Objectivist villagers with pitchforks and torches storming John Aglialoro's house if he leaves it out. It is ominous to me that in this movie, they DID leave out Francisco's line that defines Part I, which in the novel is titled Non-Contradiction: "Contradictions do not exist. If you think you are facing one, check your assumptions. You will find that one of them is wrong." If that -- the entire point of Part I -- is missing from this first movie, will they also blow Part II? I certainly hope not.

Brian Patrick O'Toole is a talented scriptwriter with real street cred in adapting novels to the Big Screen. However, he has said some things in interviews that tell me that he doesn't quite "get" this novel. He thinks he does because he's gotten the story, the narrative down pat -- but the fundamentals of Objectivism are clearly still opaque to him.

He only had a few weeks to write the script, and I don't think he had been exposed to Ms. Rand prior to taking on the project. Perhaps during the hiatus between this movie and the next, he will immerse himself in Rand's other writings so that he can grok what "Non-Contradiction," "Either-Or," and "A is A" really mean.

At least I hope so, because the success of Part II depends on a deeper understanding of Objectivism than what we've seen so far.

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