Atlas Shrunk, Part 17: Every Twisted Remnant of Foundations Dug Out

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.


12 Responses to Atlas Shrunk, Part 17: Every Twisted Remnant of Foundations Dug Out

  1. Irfan Khawaja July 21, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

    My own take on why Atlas sucked, and why your suggestion probably won’t work, either.

    What we need is a re-make of “We the Living,” not “Atlas Shrugged.”

    • Roderick August 7, 2016 at 8:06 pm #

      If the story of Atlas is so inaccessible to a modern audience, why is the book still a bestseller?

      • Irfan Khawaja August 23, 2016 at 5:08 pm #

        Because a large number of its readers confabulate an interpretation that they think is there, are often led to believe is there, but is not there. The confabulated interpretation is: “I, the reader, am Atlas. And I’ve had it! Watch out world! I’m going to shrug!” That message is compatible with a lot of doctrinal commitments, from religious fundamentalism to fascism. It isn’t necessarily consistent with the message of the book, but one easy way to avoid that is to read selectively. Which is what people end up doing.

      • Irfan Khawaja August 23, 2016 at 5:17 pm #

        I guess I should add that a book can be a bestseller but go unread. Who knows how many people buy the book to figure out what all the fuss is about, but stop after page 47.

  2. Cameron Belt July 22, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    I completely agree, the milieu of the movies should really have been more of a 1940’s art deco, dieselpunk, alt history kind of feel. What we got was a mess. The other thing I would agree with is that this should really be a mini-series or even (this is stretching it) a 3 season show with 10 episodes per season (just the way the book is set up, with one episode per chapter).

  3. Brandon July 22, 2016 at 10:21 pm #

    The odds of successfully filming any story are hugely improved by throwing enough money at the project that it attracts top talent. Without those resources a film project can only go so far. That’s fine if the film happens to be something by Shane Carruth, but Shrugged is no doubt an epic, and needs the David Lean treatment. If they’re going to film it again they should try to raise a lot more money first.

    • Roderick August 7, 2016 at 8:08 pm #

      They were in a hurry to make the films before a contractual deadline at which rights would have lapsed back to the Rand estate. So that partly explains why the adaptation was a hash, and underfunded.

    • Irfan Khawaja August 23, 2016 at 5:13 pm #

      “David Lean treatment” is the right metaphor, but if you take it literally, you see the problem. Can you imagine the real David Lean ever having made Atlas Shrugged? AS inhabits a different moral universe than either Lawrence of Arabia or Passage to India. (Embarrassed to say I haven’t seen Doctor Zhivago, but my guess is that it doesn’t change anything.) I’m not sure David Lean would have been able to take Atlas Shrugged seriously. And the point extends beyond Lean himself. I can’t think of anyone of his stature capable of doing the job. That said, a David Lean “We the Living” might have been worth watching.

      • Brandon August 24, 2016 at 2:16 pm #

        Lean was interested in the smallness of the individual battling against and contrasted with overwhelmingly large out-of-control forces, for example Lawrence against the desert, the Arabs, the Turks, and his own British colleagues. Or, the characters in the Japanese prison camp in The Bridge on the River Kwai. They’ve got the other side and the forces of nature to battle, and it drives them all mad. Lean used widescreen framing to reinforce that theme throughout his movies starting with Kwai. If that theme is incompatible with AS, then Lean would be the wrong choice. I’d like to know more about what you mean by a different moral universe.

      • Roderick September 11, 2016 at 10:59 am #

        If you like the idea of a David Lean We the Living, you really need to see Zhivago.

        Incidentally, Zhivago has my favourite soundtrack music of any movie.

  4. anonymos August 31, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

    Off-topic: young homo sapiens vs The trolley problem

    Any chance to rewrite Atlas Shrugged as a nursery rhyme book?

    • Roderick September 11, 2016 at 11:01 am #

      This is what one of my colleagues describes as “being on the side of the problem.”

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