So apparently the makers of the Atlas Shrugged movie trilogy are finally admitting that it kind of sucked. And there are some sort of plans afoot to try again.
I’d love to see Atlas done right, perhaps as a Netflix series or the like. My chief misgiving is that those behind the potential remake are saying that the chief point of a film adaptation of Atlas should be “to accurately convey and propagate the message.” That makes it sound as though they see Atlas as primarily a propaganda vehicle for Rand’s philosophy.
That’s certainly not how Rand saw her work. As she notes in The Romantic Manifesto:
[S]ince every art work has a theme, it will necessarily convey some conclusion, some “message,” to its audience. But the influence and that “message” are only secondary consequences. Art is not the means to any didactic end. This is the difference between a work of art and a morality play or a propaganda poster.
This doesn’t mean that Rand didn’t hope her fiction would influence people’s philosophical ideas; of course she did. But she was able to achieve that goal only because it wasn’t her principal goal; the persuasive power of her fiction writing comes first and foremost from her artistic vision. To quote Manifesto again:
Let me stress this: my purpose is not the philosophical enlightenment of my readers, it is not the beneficial influence which my novels may have on people, it is not the fact that my novels may help a reader’s intellectual development. All these matters are important, but they are secondary considerations, they are merely consequences and effects, not first causes or prime movers. My purpose, first cause and prime mover is the portrayal of Howard Roark or John Galt or Hank Rearden or Francisco d’Anconia as an end in himself – not as a means to any further end. … The simple truth is that I approach literature as a child does: I write – and read – for the sake of the story.
Likewise, what I most want to see in an adaptation of Atlas – and most missed in the one we were given – is the evocation of the world Rand created, her “sub-creation” in Tolkien’s sense. (That’s why the naturalised dialogue and 21st-century milieu of the movies bugged me so.)
Now I’m not saying, as I’ve heard some others say, that an adaptation of Atlas should drop the philosophy and just focus on the story. The philosophy needs to be there, not because it’s true (after all, it’s only partly so) but because it’s crucial to the story.
I’ve also heard people say that a new film should change Taggart Transcontinental from a railroad to an airline, to make it up to date. Why should it be up to date? Let Atlas be its own distinctive sub-created Hopperesque alternative universe.