A Comparative Analysis of
the Book and Movies
Context of the Book
Context of the Movies
An Analytic Comparison of the
Book and the Movie Adaptation
Summary of Analytic Findings
Suggestions for Alternative
Approaches to Adaptation
When Ayn Rand published Atlas Shrugged in 1957, it was her intent "...to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them" and "what happens to a world without them".
The book was first conceived in 1943 when a friend suggested that Rand would have more success popularizing her social philosophies if she wove them into fiction. Rand, not initially taken with the idea replied, "What if I went on strike? What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?" From this, the concept for the book was born.
Atlas Shrugged is the last of Rand's novels. After its publication, she continued to write popular philosophy, but never again in full-
The book immediately became a best seller, debuting at #13 on the New York Times bestseller list and peaking at #3, remaining on the list for twenty-
Latest figures list sales of Atlas Shrugged at well over seven million copies including a boost during the beginning of the recent Great Recession that started in 2007.
Context Of The Book
While the thematic insights and practical messages of Atlas Shrugged are timeless and appropriate to any era, the subject matter employed to convey them cannot be taken out of context of the age in which it was written.
When the book was published in 1957, American Industry was at its height, and railroads were perhaps the preeminent symbol of that achievement. School-
In 1957, the McCarthy Era had just ended in which honest hard-
Yet it is not just the age in which the book was published that provides the context for Atlas Shrugged, but the life experiences of author Ayn Rand as well.
She was born in Russia in 1905 and was twelve at the time of the revolution. As she had an early affinity for writing and began to write novels beginning at age ten, such a tumultuous political environment could not help but leave an impression, as did the ongoing carnage and atrocities of World War I.
Prior to the war, worldwide industry was ramping up with a force of mechanization never previously seen. The Titanic with its massive three story high engines made news around the world when she was 7. Machines used in factories and foundries became gigantic, yet all under the inventive control of man. And yet, with the war and its aftermath, it seemed man was being crushed under his own inventions by those in power who had no respect for the rights of the individuals stuck in the trenches of Europe.
At the age of twenty, Rand visited relatives in the United States and became so enraptured by that thriving land of possibilities she determined to remain and write screenplays. This was four years before the stock market crash of 1929. The Great Depression that followed spread around the world and lasted until the late 1930s.
Rand saw first hand the struggles of the poor and the rank and file to survive. She saw the results of a failed economy. And on the other side of the globe in Russia, she saw the failure of a philosophy that demanded work according to one's ability and recompense according to one's need. It was a system without incentives and, coupled with an oppressive government that did not tolerate debate, it led to a populace trained not to think but to merely obey, never to question and without the motivation to create.
When Atlas Shrugged was written, Amelia Earhart had conquered the skies, the world had seen another global war and Rosie the Riveter encouraged women to adopt a "can do" attitude. A new age of modern post-
It was in this environment born of personal experience with the achievements and tragedies of the first half of the twentieth century, and informed by her previous explorations of invention vs. socio-
The result was Atlas Shrugged: a masterwork that employs industry as the nexus point between the creativity of man and his raw animal sexuality -
While the book has a riveting plot that draws on influences ranging from Buck Rogers to Fritz Lang's Metropolis, the plot is merely the spine: the girdered superstructure designed to support Rand's philosophical contentions.
Some of these perspectives are presented through monologs pronounced by the principal characters (essentially essays in spoken form) sometimes lasting for more than a dozen unbroken pages. Others are expressed through the internal thoughts of these characters, questioning their own intentions, justifying their own actions, or seeking to understand others and to truly reveal themselves to themselves.
But perhaps the most intense exploration of her views on the relationships between government and industry and between the creators and the looters is hidden between the lines, in her description of the mood and feel of a dissolving economy, the gradual erosion of property rights and personal freedoms, the arrogant self-
Our heroes are those that maintain their individuality, continue to create, and learn to free themselves from the societally imposed guilt of being blessed with greater talents, abilities and opportunities that demands they bring themselves down to the level of the common denominator to be castrated so they do not rise above, yet expected to continue to produce because it is their obligation.
Taken as a whole, Atlas Shrugged is a landmark book: a clarion warning of the dangers of a democratic society that takes upon its shoulders the burden of protecting the common man at the expense of the uncommon man and does not shrug.
Context of the Movies
More than half a century had passed since the publication of Atlas Shrugged when the first motion picture of a three-
The United States is no longer an industrial nation, but a technological one; much of our heavy industry has moved overseas. The Soviet Union, the model of government against which Rand's thinly veiled attacks were directed, no longer exists as a nation. The reticence of the people to speak up against political authoritarianism has vanished in the age of social media. Advances in robotics, telecommuting, and human rights have altered the face not only of this nation but have rippled across the globe as well.
Recognizing this differential between the world of 1957 and of the present day created something of a dilemma for the filmmakers. They were faced with three basic options: One, create a period piece that would take place in 1957 in an alternate reality. Two, to shift the subject matter to be true to the themes, but to find them where they still exist in the modern world, rather than imposing them on the same subjects as in the book. Three, keep as much of the subject matter as possible but update the technology to make the story more current.
Each of these three choices has problems, yet these problems could have been solved. In the first case, a period piece, the problem would be to find ways of getting the audience to feel about industry, government, and science as people did in the late 1950s. This is actually quite easy to do by employing standard storytelling techniques, as we can see in period productions of A Christmas Carol, Titanic, or Saving Private Ryan. Simply put, an audience is ready to accept the rules of the play -
In the second case (finding the same themes in modern subject matter) the filmmakers would have had to replace railroads and steel with supply on demand systems and computer technology. Though more difficult, the same socio-
The third case, keeping the subject matter and updating only the look and feel, was the option chosen by the filmmakers. It might have been successfully handled if the original themes were still woven throughout today's scenarios. But, the filmmakers chose to explore the progression of the story through today's mores, which effectively muted, completely removed, or even reversed the intended message of many, many scenes.
More than anything, the failure of the motion pictures to satisfy critics, to achieve box office significance, but most important, the failure to carry Ayn Rand's message to the people of our time is due to this unfortunate decision.
The section immediately following provides an extensive scene by scene analysis of how the three movies compare to the three parts of the book: where they fail (and why), where they succeed (and why), and how the failures might have been avoided.
A detailed summary is then provided that distills the common threads that led to an unsuccessful adaptation into a clear picture of a flawed approach. The summary then discusses how a different approach might have succeeded.
And finally, two alternative means of adapting Atlas Shrugged into an effective trilogy of movies are presented, each of which holds true to the intent of the original and connects with a modern audience with the same intensity.
An Analytic Comparison of the Book and the Movie Adaptation
Time codes are from first frame of each of the three movies
To begin with, it was a mistake to start the first film with a documentary-
Clearly the reasons were to garner interest, create tension, establish a context of importance, and impart a sense of impending disaster (especially with the broken rail and the brakes shooting sparks on the locomotive), but in so doing, a large part of the intent of the book is disrupted permanently.
Stylistically, I disagree with setting the story in modern times with modern sensibilities. The grandeur of the book is due in large part to the throwback to elegance of art deco and the world of pre-
In the book, it is as if the Great Depression had never happened, as if World War II had not happened. It is a non-
Atlas Shrugged is, in part, a science fiction proposing new technologies, but much in the stylistic vein of Metropolis. And more so, it is the division between mind and material and the dominance and triumph of one over the other that sparks satisfaction of the productive drive.
Modern times offer no comparative to that sense of material inventiveness and mechanical competence that is so fundamental to the emotional argument of the book.
Including a headline about the pirate Ragnar Danneskjold is completely out of place in the timeline of the story. His first mention makes an impact in the book because we immediately ask ourselves, how is it possible that a pirate could be operating in "this" day and age? But in a movie set in modern times we simply state in our minds that it is not possible at all in "this" day and age. What is a marvel in the book is a speed bump in the movie.
The movie also opens so far into the story that Mouch and Wyatt are already involved. FAR too soon for them to be introduced. And to introduce them in the fixed form of a television panel looses the opportunity to bring them into the story with vigor (recall in the movie Jaws, where Quint is introduced by scratching his fingernails on a blackboard in the town hall meeting?)
One of the primary points the book seeks to make is how such people as Mouch can rise to positions of power. Introducing these character right up front and in the public eye removes that entire argument from the film.
Even if the film were to later shoot back to an earlier time (such as with a title card, "Two years earlier...") that does not undo the harm of showing that a low-
It is the surprise of his rise that drives home the fact, later stated in the book, that such a gathering of power by Mouch emerges from the abdication of responsibility by those around him (including Hank Reardon).
And finally, using an oil crisis as an excuse for the resurgence of the railways into our modern age does not work at all. Not because it is not possible, but because it is beside the point. When the book was written, trains were still king. Railroads were the blood of our nation's body and the esteem and glory with which children revered them and the sense of pride with which adults exalted them, could never be reproduced in a modern society, simply through a return of rail traffic due to an oil crisis.
At the time the book was written, the dominance of the railroad was unbroken. To say that simply by bringing back the necessity of them also recaptures that sense of undefeated triumph of industry dating back to the golden spike is a poorly considered position.
An audience can put itself back in time and contextualize how people felt about such things in the past, and accept that as its own standard for the duration of the movie. But to assume they will feel the same thing in our own times when the reason for that adulation of the great hubs of transportation have vanished to be replaced with Amazon.com's instant supply line is unfounded.
Indicating that Midas Mulligan is missing so early in the film again robs an element of mystery from the progression of events. So much more must happen with the tightening of the grip of those in power over the industrialists before the first disappearance to make us wonder what the connection might be between faltering industry and the increasing numbers of missing captains of industry, finance, and art.
It is a mistake to show the subway on a track before we see the Taggart Transcontinental Track. Our first exposure to track (assuming the inappropriate opening sequence is removed) should be one of magnificence, history, tradition, excellence.
Showing a train wreck just previous to this is also an error. How far you can fall is based on how high you are. Much too soon to show Taggart falling apart.
Jim's threat to Eddie about being replaced is overstated.
Eddie in the book overcomes his place to tell Jim outright about the threat of the Phoenix-
The confrontation of Jim by Dagny plays fairly well, though some minor aspects are a little off-
First shot in the film of the exterior of Reardon's Foundry show the name barely lit with a single bulb on the outside of the building. This is a misstep as the book often refers to the red neon name Reardon above his factories. He takes pride in his factories; pride is one of the "virtues" Ayn Rand lists near the end of the book. And it is this pride that is used against him to try and foster guilt and as leverage of those who cannot produce to help bring him down. Downplaying Reardon's name in the first exposure to it countermands the book's intent.
In Dagny's first face to face meeting with Reardon she says, "we need each other." I am not sure if that is in the book's dialog. If so, it is intended to show how she must grow to not be thinking in terms of need. But if it is not in the book, it is a thematic misstep for her to use those terms in discussing a contract -
The pacing and mood of that meeting is more akin to that in the book than all else that has happened so far in the movie. But, that little spark -
Since their relationship is so important, more of a connection needs to be drawn. It does not have to be completely telegraphed, but hinted at, as it would be with real people, "Now here is an unexpectedly intriguing individual..."
The meeting with Larkin, Mouch, Taggart, and Boyle is well played. The introduction of Francisco, however, is rather tepid. He needs to be more flamboyant and noteworthy -
The information that Reardon owns mines, mills and foundries is not made clear, so the talk of the equal opportunity bill does not clearly indicate how it will bring him down.
Owen Kellogg's quitting does work sufficiently well in the movie, except when the slide comes on saying he is missing. Seems incongruous since he is right there. Sure, the filmmakers meant that after he quit his job he went missing, but it doesn't play like that.
Dagny calls Reardon late at night. She tells him about Kellogg. She asks why so many men are disappearing. He says, "It will be okay, Dagny."
This makes no sense whatsoever. We have not been told that many men have disappeared, only two. What would prompt Dagny to call Reardon about it? She hardly knows him. Why would he try to comfort her? She didn't sound like she needed comfort. And why would be so familiar when they had only just met?
It seems like there is a whole scene missing in which they take the step from business associates to semi-
Efficient handling of the Anti-
The nationalization of the San Sebastian Mines is again efficient, but its impact is minimalized. We see only the local effect of Jim taking credit for Dagny's foresight, but other than that, we don't get the sense some people are practically jumping out of windows having lost so much. Underplayed, and thereby much of the growing tension of the piece (and the importance of Francisco) is diluted.
Good scene with Wyatt. He needed, however, to be a little more taken aback by her non-
Whenever the train yards are shown, it is from a distance, aloof, uninvolving. The power of industry, like those giant engines inside the Titanic, is what the book conveys, and these need to be up close so the audience can almost feel the vibrations, but the movie fails to capture it.
Hank and Dagny at dinner. Hank brings up the anniversary party and asks if Dagny got the invitation. This is a complete misstep from the book in which her attendance was a shock to him.
Dagny and Francisco at dinner. No spark, no energy, no subtlety, lacking in all the restrained fireworks of the book. Pointless other than the information that he intentionally defrauded others and intentionally lost money doing it at San Sebastian.
Francisco corners Reardon. There is no magic in his words, no sense of some hidden truth held back. The story feels more like it is hitting plot points from the book rather than capturing the intrigue of the way the book unfolded the growing mysteries.
Dagny trades Jillian for the bracelet. Dramatically it is all wrong from what the book intended. In the book, it is Jillian who makes fun of the bracelet in public at the party, in an attempt to belittle Hank, and Dagny steps forward to accept Jillian's rhetorical offer to trade the bracelet for diamonds. Here, the idea for a trade comes from Dagny so, rather than calling Jillian's bluff publically, she is now privately negotiating proactively. Complete undermines the point of the transaction and the evening and the importance of the bracelet.
All the rail replacement footage looks like stock footage. Only the voice over provides specific information about the Rio Norte Line. They call the new track Reardon Steel instead of Reardon Metal. This loses the magic of it. They do not show the new metal, which is supposed to be so spectacular to see with its blue and green glint.
Again, we see the train yards from the distance -
A choppy cut-
The attempt of the government to buy the rights to Reardon metal is again, a plot point. The nuances and niceties of the reasons the government wants to buy it, how it paves the road to where the government wants to go, are not present at all. The stated reason is summed up in the one line said about "If Reardon metal is good" then X and "If Reardon metal is bad" then Y. Not nearly enough of the sense of the growing threat. Makes it seem as if these issues are obstacles, not trends.
Inferred intimidation is putting the clamp down on Dagny's efforts to use Reardon Metal for the Rio Norte Line. Needs to be more specific.
Dagny is told by Dr. Sadler that the State Science Institute is the last center of science in the country. We have not been shown anything to indicate the closures of science and research centers. In addition, the general vice-
We finally get a look at Reardon metal rails and they look good. But all we saw before that was rusty rails. We needed to see this ten minutes earlier in the film when we first see the work on the Rio Norte line.
Exceptionally good scene between Dagny and Jim about her plan to leave the company to build the John Galt Line. Not sure her threat at the end is in keeping with her character in the book. I will re-
Dagny makes a sexual come-
In the book, she clearly loves Francisco from their childhood romance (and then loves both him and Reardon -
But in the book, her expressions of still loving Francisco are separate from her attempt to get money from him, though they occur at the same time. Here in the movie it appears as if she is leveraging sex to get the money. In the book, she calls upon their earlier love experience. Completely different in the movie and untrue to the book.
Reardon shows Dagny the motor in pictures he got from the abandoned factory. Says he'd like to check it out later after the John Galt Line is in place. This is wholly non-
It is Dagny's love for the inspired elegance of the motor that is a foreshadowing of and also lays the foundation for her falling in love with John Galt later. It is therefore also important that she find the motor herself. It cannot be her obsession if it is Hank's discovery and motivation.
Further, when he presents the pictures to her, there is no explanation why such a motor is so important -
Even in the book, it is not handled well that they should jump to the conclusion of what the motor is capable of doing. Dagny has studied engineering, but that does not qualify her to grasp a breakthrough of that level above common understanding. But in the movie, it is completely baseless on top of it being Hank's interest instead of hers.
Dagny tells someone on the phone about the date of the first train to run on the John Galt Line. But we have not been told that the Phoenix-
In the previous scene, as in the book, Dagny, when confronted by the union boss, says she will ask for volunteers to run the first train. But not shown is the scene in which Dagny finds out ALL of the crews volunteered. An important moment, lost. Also Dagny's interaction with the press just before the first train is truncated in the movie and loses much of its power. She is asked by the press, "Who is John Galt?" as happens also in the book. But in the movie everyone is hanging on her answer as if it is such great importance. Why? In the book her answer, "We are." is simple, snide, and arrogant, but not anything people where hanging on.
The bullet train in the movie version is so sleek that there is no fear it won't work. Missing again (due to setting it in present day) is the sense of great mechanical giant engines, like the engines on the Titanic -
The Reardon metal bridge looks great, but all the wonderful details about how it allowed engineering that couldn't have been done with normal steel was never mentioned, nor the majesty of having met the deadline.
Time wasted on the celebratory meal at Wyatt's home that might have been used to show how all three did not want to mingle at the celebration party for the locals and crew. They achieved this not for the people, but for themselves, and preferred to celebrate the same way. Again, an important brick in the wall of Ayn Rand's theme that was not placed at all, leaving yet another small hole.
Also missing has been any mention of how Colorado, the state most-
Having Wyatt approached to become one of the vanished the night of the successful first running is another misstep. In the book, Wyatt does not disappear, he remains and only leaves when his oil fields will be taken over. They he blows it all up and creates Wyatt's torch. Perhaps this will still happen, but it is important that Wyatt is NOT approached before then, if I recall the sequence of events in the book correctly. Wyatt seems more like Dagny than just about anyone, even Reardon, and it is important that he fight to the end to make it not seem without precedent that Dagny returns to fight to the end.
The trip to the 20th Century Motors factory is just a nice ride through the country. In the book, the roads are gone, the towns have been thrown back to the pre-
Also, the factory is cleaned out and clean as well. In the book, it had been vandalized, looted, wrecked and left full of debris, ready to collapse.
And finally, Reardon says the company switched to paying people flat rate according to their need, but does not mention working according to their ability, does not mention the heirs took over with their philosophy which is a microcosm of those now running the nation. It is an attempt to paraphrase Rand's philosophy, but no short cuts will do as it is in the subtleties that her argument regarding the sequence of the dissolution of a free industrial society is made.
Also, since John Galt was there -
They find Galt's motor and Dagny understands it. What misstep is this? She recognizes that it uses the Casimir Effect -
The whole sequence of tracking down who created the motor is completely off beat. First of all, everyone they talk to looks prosperous and happy. And the daughter of the original owner who is supposed to be almost psychopathic, simply hates her father as "evil." It looks like a pleasant day in the country, rather that a trip across a failed economy with people living in squalor with numb minds. This doesn't even come across as the same story as the book.
Also, the woman who tells them where to find Axton negates Dagny's first surprise of finding famous disappeared man working in a menial job in the book. This foreshadows both what she finds the great minds doing in Atlantis, but also that Galt has been working as a grease monkey at Taggart for 12 years. To lose that moment of recognition is to not light the fuse that leads to fully understanding of what a joyous life actually is.
Mouch announces the plan to equalize Colorado and to equalize industry. But it is presented as if he is the only force at work here. In the book, it is society itself that is driving this, but it looks like it is just a power play by Mouch in the movie. Rand's entire philosophy of how industrial civilization can crumble by guilt and the sanction of the victim is stripped from what we see in the film.
Further, Galt goes on to describe the place and what its government is like. This is so premature. We don't know about Atlantis until Dagny crashes, but now, it is no longer revealed like a bombshell, but we already know it is there, why people are vanishing, and what to expect the place to be like. This totally gutted the flow of mystery and tension.
Film two starts off with too many errors if it wished to be true to the spirit of the original. First of all, the opening with Dagny flying the jet in pursuit of another plane, is set up as a "teaser" -
In the book, having Dagny know how to fly an airplane is shock enough -
Laying the groundwork of her jet pilot ability might have been done over the course of the film since this scene takes place at the very end of the second section of the book. But by moving that action scene to the front as a teaser, no opportunity is left to provide a background for that ability and it is almost humorous to see her piloting that plane -
The text at the opening of the film just before the teaser says that railroads have re-
In the 1950s, private planes in rough terrain such as is shown would be at risk just to be there. And it would be relatively easy in that day to follow a plane without being detected. But with all the instruments in the jet, including the proximity alert that goes off in Dagny's plane, there is no way the first plane did not know it was being followed (unless later in the film when we get to this scene again in the timeline something conveniently disables their instruments, but if Dagny does not know this, she would assume they knew she was behind them and would not have followed so closely).
All in all, a very poor opening by filmic standards, and a multi-
This scene with Dr. Sadler getting a look at Galt's motor is way off-
This could not be more wrong in mood and thematic intent from the book. In the book, when Dagny calls Sadler to ask about who might help discover the secret to the motor, he has just come to realize he has lost control of the institute due to Ferris' book and Ferris' attitude. He has come to question who he has become. And he comes to talk to her, not knowing of the motor, in order to convince himself he still has value to someone.
When she tells him of the motor and he suggests who might work on it, he asks, almost in desperation, to see the motor before he goes, and Dagny allows this. He wants to convince himself the majesty of science is still alive in the world.
But, though the motor is kept in the tunnels and locked in a vault, it is not a high-
Finally, when he calls Quintin Daniels, he does it with confidence, cunning and power in his voice, whereas in the book, he provides the name almost as a last chance for redemption, but it is too little, too late for him.
Thematically in the book, Taggart Transcontinental is already struggling at this point, but the ultra-
Finally we have a scene that focuses on the thematics of the book, rather than just the plot. The entire conversation between Dagny and Eddie speaks to the heart of the matter, and the extended shot when Dagny looks out the window of the limo at the poor is the essence of the book. Honestly, if the first film had focused more on these non-
The next scene when Dagny kills the 93 flows SO much better than anything in the first film or the unfortunate teaser and Sadler scenes at the beginning of this one. If all the films had been made with the pacing and thematic focus of this and the previous scene in the limo, the book would have been very successfully translated to screen.
This "CNN/FOX" style commentary program is both clever and problematic. In the book, intentionally, there are no voices of dissent; it was written during the McCarthy Era in which dissenting voices were silent for fear of being singled out for retribution.
Further, Rand was born in Russia in 1905 and remained there through the revolution, which occurred during her school years. She left in 1925 after having experienced the crack down on dissention in her home country.
So, with the blacklisting of artists and the control of the media by the government of the United States in full swing while the book was being written, and having formative-
In fact, it indicates that people are afraid to say anything -
As a result, the notion that the Fair Share Law would be openly debated on a cable news program flies in the face of the predictions made by the book. And yet, in today's age of social media, of course it would be debated.
This then, is yet another reason why the book does not translate well to the present day: yet one more fear for society, one more thematic issue has been cut or altered, leaving the book's story progressively more threadbare.
Reardon and the priority of orders and his conversation with Dagny are spot-
The representative from the State Science Institute demands Reardon provide them with his metal, which he denies. Again, a perfect scene as intended in the book. Honestly, it is confusing how the good and bad translations of the book almost alternate. It seems, in most cases, the conversations have much improved over the first film, but the action-
Taggart takes Cheryl, the department store girl, to a Richard Halley concert. This again, is a total misstep. The book introduces us to the whistled snippets of Halley's unpublished Firth Concerto before we ever "hear" the Fourth. This serves as a mystery because Halley is the first disappearance we hear about in the very first scene in which Dagny is introduced.
The Forth and Fifth Concertos have are an almost spiritual mystery in the book: an analogy of the struggle and the fulfillment, respectively, that Dagny herself, and through her all who produce, must suffer through if they are ultimately to transcend their hobbling guilt.
The filmmaker's decision Halley's music out of the movie entirely until he becomes just another disappearance is to completely gut that essential aspect of the thematic argument: the book's creation of a motivation within every reader to break free of the shackles that allow us to be diminished by those around us out of obligation.
Just one more mystery and one more thematic thread missing from the tapestry.
No notes on several pedestrian scenes. Functional enough, though not inspired.
But at the wedding of Taggart and Cheryl, she comes off as elegant and quite comfortable in high society. The book is very clear to indicate that she is looked at by others in that group as not belonging, below them, and inappropriate in her looks and behavior.
For some reason, this has been removed from the narrative thread by the filmmakers, thereby robbing an objective truth from James Taggart's revelation to Cheryl in a later argument that he married her not for love, but because she was so low she would have to "love" him for his faults, not just in spite of them.
Very often in the films, the well-
Also in the wedding scene, Francisco is rather effective. His long oratory in the book is rather successfully edited down which is quite a feat, really.
Again, the scenes with Dagny and Reardon after the wedding and then with Reardon and his wife are perfunctory.
At Reardon Steel, the man from the State Science Institute puts the screws to Reardon, threatening him with jail time because of his off-
Dagny's meeting with Dannager. Good scene. Accomplishes all that was intended in the book.
Francisco's talk with Reardon at the mill is well played, and the special effects of the blast furnace breach are surprisingly realistic (having directed a film in such an environment myself, including jumping over rivers of molten steel as it poured out of the tap).
The book has a lot to say about Francisco's almost super-
As a side note, in the book, Reardon's disgust with Francisco's life-
This entire thread -
The trial of Reardon. This might have been a great scene as the dialog all the performances are all outstanding. But the crowd in the bleachers is far too willing to applaud and cheer when Reardon speaks out against the court. By this time in the book, the populace was already afraid to make its feelings known. But Reardon's unapologetic standing of his ground gradually brings the crowd around to his side until they courageously react against the court and in his favor. Further, the concept of the "sanction of the victim" had already been spelled out in the book by the time of the trial. It was explored as a central tenet of Rand's philosophy and then actualized in Reardon's approach to the court -
Lunch with Lillian and James. In the book, it is she who does a favor for him. In the movie, he asks the favor of her. Changing who is the instigator changes who should get what kind of comeuppance. Lillian cannot be quite the villain she needs to be for Reardon to be justified in his eventual cold dismissal of her unless she is the scheming manipulator who is being a turncoat against him by her own design.
It is later stated in the book that the reason she married him was to bring him down -
By having James be the instigator to bring Reardon in line, it completely ruins that rather complex character harmonic.
A quick shot of protests in front of the capitol building. There is a sign saying Reardon Was Right, with a chanting crowd. Totally against the book. The movie makes it look like the government and non-
Another protest with signs against directive 10-
The movie's message is that government and fat cats can bring down the whole country: economy, freedoms and all -
The train with Kip stranded just before the Taggart tunnel was used in the book as an example of how passing the buck upstairs to avoid responsibility can lead to disaster. It is a microcosm of how the entire nation has fallen into ruin due to giving responsibility to the person just over you in power, all the way to the top.
Here, none of that happens. Kip calls Taggart directly and Taggart makes the decision. Again -
This scene in which the train doesn't make it through the tunnel and everyone suffocates is perhaps the worst offender in not being true to the underlying message of the book.
Not only do we not have "passing the buck" as the motive force behind the disaster, but rather than having the actual cause be a combination of the failing ventilation in the tunnel due to the lack of spare parts due to the economy and also have the engine break down from the strain on the grade, instead, Kip's girl friend gets scared from the smoke coming into their car and hits the emergency stop brake button.
The film continues to focus only on plot events with almost criminal disregard for the underlying message of each scene and how it plays a part in making the case of the overall book.
Though it would not have seemed possible, the sequence in the book in which Dagny is alone at the family cabin, coming to terms with her pent-
Dagny's train breaks down on the way to Colorado. In the book, she encounters a hobo, gives him a meal and he tells her the story of John Galt. Here in the movie, he is a high-
Dagny buys a plane and flies to Utah to stop Quintin Daniels who has phoned her to say he is leaving, just like the other vanished individuals. As she lands, the other plane is taking off, and they are aware she is landing. She aborts the landing and follows them. This does not make any sense at all, since the other plane would never enter the Ray Shield if they knew she was behind them, and yet, based on the teaser at the beginning, inexplicably they do. Thereby, they give up the secrecy of their existence intentionally, which is completely wrong to the spirit of the book since no one is allowed to enter until they have made the choice to abandon the world and taken the verbal pledge. Alas, this one simply defies the logic of what people would reasonably do. Add that the spy thriller music as Quintin darts from his car to the plane, and the scene is completely ruined.
Now, even more inexplicably, she lands in a meadow in a jet that is losing engine power and altitude, it breaks apart on impact, and she survives. In the book, John Galt was flying the other plane. We later learn he has loved her from afar for twelve years. If he knew her determination from seeing her for that long and knew she was following him, it wouldn't take his brilliant mind to figure out that she would follow into the shield and likely crash. There is no reason that could possibly explain why he would not abort his trip to Atlantis until he could lose her in the mountains and enter unseen so she wouldn't be hurt. Totally unbelievable.
Little in the way of story comments up to this point. Mostly, some of the roles seem miscast, but that is not of concern in a narrative sense. Still, stylistically, the dinner at Mulligan's is far too reminiscent of Dorothy waking up back in Kansas and saying, "And you were there, and you were there...."
This is the only one of the three films to use narration as an exposition technique, and though it does effectively convey the information that needs to come across, it deprives the audience of the experience of learning that information for themselves by direct observation, and tends to pull the audience out of the film.
The film is definitely miscast. Dagny is not strong enough, Galt is not charismatic enough, Francisco is old enough to be Dagny's father.
The narration continues to be disruptive to the flow of the narrative, dragging the audience out of the suspension of disbelief every time it occurs. It then takes precious minutes for the audience to once more be drawn into the film but, no sooner has that happened but another piece of disruptive narration is employed, pulling it right out again. Furthermore, the dialog text of the narration is written in such a way as to appear to be a cover for bad storytelling as if the writers were unable to come up with a way to show something so they chose to stop the movie and say it instead.
A phone call by Dagny to Hank on the train back glosses over the whole celebration of reuniting with him from the book. Here, his off camera voice gives the impression is ready to join John and is already leaving with Francisco.
The narration that follows talks about the battle at the Reardon Mills as simply being a government take-
The whole explanation of the political machine that diverted railroad cars from Minnesota is missing from the movie, making it a simple bureaucratic boondoggle rather than a precise system of graft, corruption and pull as described in the book.
And the whole situation of having the farmers work so hard to feed a country that is on the verge of starvation during the coming winter and then having the fruits of their labor -
By this point in the book, many people are starving already, but we see none of that in the movie. The movie is just about a power play, the people who are being most hurt are almost invisible.
Cheryl Taggart's suicide is reduced to a simple line of voice-
So that essential part of the book's argument is surgically removed from the film, and in a minor nod, the plot point is noted as simply as possible. Even the short vignettes that follow regarding Cheryl's stat of mind fail to capture the true violation of the innocent spirit of Cheryl, nor to describe the real reason she could not live, nor to draw the parallel between her plight and that of the masses.
John Galt's speech is actually a brilliant reduction of the way over-
Dagny listening in on Thompson's interview with John Galt through her cell phone makes no sense. If it is simply a cell phone call, they surely would have already searched him. If it is some of his high technology, this needed to be established. But as it is, it comes off as simplistic and careless.
There has been no mention of Project X -
Having Sadler sign off on the torture device in the movie instead of on the sound weapon is a personal tragedy for him alone, but having the sound weapon deployed in a test in the book is a human tragedy. By virtue of the test of project X in the book, the potential atrocity of the torture device is inferred. Here in the film, it must stand on its own and is, therefore, weaker. And by revealing the torture device much earlier in the film than as a surprise in the Thompson / Galt conflict, there is not nearly as much shock when Galt is taken to it.
Again, we see no signs the economy is actually crumbling. The city looks and appears to function just as it does today, with bright lights and bums in alleyways. There is no sense of the crumbling of the societal infrastructure.
Then here, the narration says that the Taggart Bridge succumbed to government regulations -
No mention is made of how Dagny is able to contact Francisco by phone. Would not her phone be bugged? She shows up with a backpack ready to go. He tells her about the bridge collapsing and she gives the pledge as if the bridge had no significance to her.
In the book, she is ready to go, hears about the bridge when she returns to gather things from her office, reaches for the phone to try and solve the problem, then puts the phone back in the cradle with a great internal struggle. But in the end, she walks away, finally having not only made the decision, but affirming it with her ability to not try to save the one thing that was most important to her in the world. In the film, all that is lost, making it simply her love for John that makes her leave the world. That completely misses the point -
Having Galt strapped up as if he is being crucified is a cheap shot and detracts from the horror. In the book, he was simply strapped to a table. Also, if you have decided to do this in a technological world, rather than an industrial one, a simple electro-
Dagny's killing of the guard is as unbelievable as her giving chase to Galt in a jet aircraft. When have we seen her kill anything, much less anyone? This is also a problem in the book. Rand's belief that the suffering of all is due to those who will not take responsibility for their own lives. And so, the guard is intended to be everyman -
One cannot fault the filmmakers for perpetuating this incongruity from the book, but the staging of the killing is such that it does not seem necessary, and it might have been staged so it did, thereby lessening the impact of this speed bump in the story.
Normally, I don't comment on the soundtrack as that is a very subjective decision in filmmaking. But in this case, the choice of a slow waltz for the rescue of Galt from the SSI is one of the poorest musical decisions in the entire series of three films. Would it not have been better to have the scene play out against the last part of Richard Halley's Fourth Concerto of struggle, and the end to the beginning movement of his fifth concerto of triumph and freedom?
In the helicopter, Dagny tells Galt "You're mine forever." It is incomprehensible that a story about taking a pledge about not living your life for anyone else nor asking them to live for you would end with a possessive controlling statement such as this. It is the antithesis of what the entire story is about -
And then, the final lines of dialog that should have summed up the power and vision of the book are presented as, Dagny: "This is the end." (as the lights of New York go out). Galt: "No, it's the beginning." There could be no more cliché dialog at the close of a movie than this. But, considering the extensive list of missed points, undermined intentions and gutted messages, perhaps only a closing statement this tepid would be sufficient tie it all of the errors and missteps together.
Summary of Analytic Findings
When considered all together, the flaws in the movie adaptation of Atlas Shrugged clearly suggest a pattern that is simply repeated over and over again. This pattern reflects the perspective of the filmmakers: what they felt to be the important elements of the original story and what attributes they either thought to be inconsequential or simply did not see.
Primary among these is the almost total absence of a theme in the movies. To Ayn Rand, theme was the most important aspect of the book: in fact, her reason for writing it.
Rand stated that the primary theme was "...to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them" and "what happens to a world without them."
The important of theme to the book should not have been hard to see. After all the first chapter of the first part is entitled "Theme," which should have been a fairly obvious clue that theme should have been the number one focus of any adaptation.
Yet in the films, the economic and social ramifications of over-
Nearly every scene in the book has a thematic component by design. Dozens of topics and sub-
But the film is nearly devoid of these and, even if they are mentioned or briefly highlighted, they are not slowly, almost subliminally advanced as they are in the book, which seeks to illustrate how such manners of socio-
The symbols of the book (i.e. the dollar sign, the economic vitality of the mills, the sexual vitality of heavy machinery and, conversely, the boarded up shops, the darkening streets, and the increasingly morose mood of the people) are only included in the films as the symbols themselves, but without exploring what they were put there to symbolize in the book.
Still, theme is not the only aspect of the book that failed to translate to the finished films. Character motivation is another casualty of the adaptation. Scenes in the book such as the argument between James Taggart and his wife Cheryl when he finally admits to the reason he married her (to have her continually demeaned by her inability to come up to the standards of the elite so she would love him for his faults, not just in spite of them) are barely present in the film version at all.
Cheryl's suicide is a direct result of her extraordinary prior efforts to become the kind of person she thought her husband wanted, only to find out in the argument the horrible truth that he wanted to keep her down to feed his own needs. Without that information, there is simply no motivation for her suicide.
Perhaps most disappointing was the lack of any mention of the childhood summers spent together with Dagny, Eddie, Francisco, and James. This group of four established life-
Time and again, the movies present the characters appropriately going through the actions as delineated in the book, but never provide even a clue as to their internal reasons for doing so or the tolls and elations they feel as a result of those actions.
But the emasculating of the book does not limit itself to just theme and character motivations. The genre of the piece is also nearly stripped from the subject matter as well.
In the films, the sense of the throbbing vitality of engines, motors and factories is simply not there. The science fiction aspects pertaining to the miracle of Reardon Metal's properties and the horrific potential of the mushroom-
Substituting for the subject matter and style that gave personality to the book, sleek jets have replaced propeller aircraft, flat-
If theme, character motivations and genre elements were excluded, what then did the filmmakers choose to include? Simply, plot. All of the key events of the book appear in the movie trilogy as well. Some have been altered to update them to a story set in modern times, others have been re-
Consider the scene in the book in which Dagny leaves Taggart Transcontinental to sequester herself in the family cabin. In the book, this is the setting for a crucial internal battle in which she seeks to break free of her ties to the railroad and to understand the reasons she cannot.
She falls asleep on the floor after crying, screaming and nearly going insane. But she pulls through, and her need to create, to actualize, rises again within her, indicating that those attributes are inherent and not dependent on the specific job she had done at Taggart.
And so, she repairs the derelict cabin, clearing brush, and building a stone pathway to the road using leverage techniques to move stones far heavier than she could carry. She devises a method for bringing fresh water down to the cabin, and even lays out mental plans for fixing the road that runs through town so that is would not flood and become impassible during the rains.
In the movie, she shows up at a well-
This failure to grasp the real purpose of each scene in the book and the failure to appreciate the multiple threads of meaning running from scene to scene, are the real causes of the failure of the movie adaptation of Atlas Shrugged.
Suggestions for Alternative Approaches to Adaptation
Recognizing the reasons for the failure of a movie is one thing. Devising a way to do it more effectively are quite another. But, it would not be appropriate to conclude a thorough comparative analysis without at least providing some direction for any future attempts to adapt this landmark work.
Scenario One: The Period Piece
Perhaps the easiest approach is to present the story as it was written, simply condensed to fit the time available. This should not be a difficult task, as Ayn Rand tends to return over and over again to the same character, theme, and genre points, so excessively in fact that it actually becomes a stylistic flaw in the book. Removing a few of these and sensitively shortening others would do no harm to the intent and would pick up the pace in an appropriate manner.
The biggest challenge would be to put the audience into the mindset of the readers of 1957, so that they accept the same mores, and expectations and, most important, the same feelings about industry and the threat of oppressive regimes.
Again, this should not be overly problematic, as the book itself remains exceedingly popular and speaks as well to the readers of this age as it did sixty years ago. As long as the thematic, motivational and stylistic elements are maintained in the adaptation, immersion into the spirit of the piece should happen automatically to views of such a filmic adaptation.
Scenario Two: The Updated Piece
To truly update a work such as Atlas Shrugged, one must move away from the subject matter of the original to discover the equivalent topics of today that hold the same meaning for a modern audience as the book did for the readers of its time.
For example, railroads are no longer the symbol of American industrial supremacy that they were at the last mid-
Web sites, online videos, streaming providers, networks, cable content producers and social media are the life's blood of our modern society. Commerce with companies such as Amazon.com has packages delivered to your door the very same day you ordered using your smart phone.
If Taggart Transmedia were the company that held the nation together, an adaptation could call upon the sexiness of celebrity and the virtual motor of commerce to illustrate how society could come under the thumb of those who control the means of communication and how the financial foundations of our economy would falter and stutter to a halt if the supply-
Simply put, there are ways to successfully adapt Atlas Shrugged to the visual media, be it a single film, a trilogy of films, or even a mini-
In terms of a methodology, the first step in any successful adaptation is to break the original book into individual scenes from beginning to end -
Next, the primary purpose of each scene needs to be determined and indicated. One must ask, why did the author write that scene -
Then, using a four-
These are the best practices for beginning any adaptation. If they had been followed for the three films in question, the result would likely have been far more effective and satisfying. If they are followed in any future adaptations, the end product should be much closer to the book in both intent and achievement.
About the Author of this Analysis
Melanie Anne Phillips is the co-
Melanie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright Melanie Anne Phillips
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