Three Ayn Rand Movies: Atlas Shrugged, The Fountainhead & We the Living

How does the new Atlas Shrugged Movie compare to We the Living and The Fountainhead movies?

Ayn Rand’s ideas grew in depth, breadth and explicitness across her three novels: We the Living, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Concretizing them in a movie form grows progressively harder with successive novels.

We the Living dramatizes the sacredness of one’s own life and the destructive evil of dictatorships. The movie was made during Mussolini’s dictatorship in Italy in 1942, and the story of its making is fascinating in its own right. See here?

The movie does a brilliant job of dramatizing the novel, making it one of my favorite movies of all times. The production, executed under the spectre of a dictatorship, captures the resignation and despair of people living under a dictatorship superbly. This provides a drab foil that makes the radiant spirit of Alida Valli, as Kira, shine like a beacon. The director had to rely on the novel itself in lieu of a script when he found himself with an unworkable script and an impossible production schedule. Use of Ayn Rand’s words accentuates the drama, probably more so because they are in the subtitle form.

The theme of the Fountainhead is individualism vs. collectivism, not in politics but in men’s souls. The Fountainhead movie was made in 1949 with a screenplay by Ayn Rand. It attempts to dramatize the theme of the novel but the result is choppy.

While Gary Cooper captures the strong, silent character of Roark well, and it is good to hear Ayn Rand’s lines in the mouths of the actors, the director and the actors do not understand the characters deeply enough to make the lines sound authentic all the time. Roark’s speech, for example, where much of the explicit ideas of the novel are concentrated, sounds too wooden and strained and unintegrated with the rest of the movie. The movie suggests the novel impressionistically and in spurts but does not quite succeed in concretizing it.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s thought grew from the central concept of the virtue of independence in The Fountainhead in two directions: it delved deeper into the soul of man showing that thinking is the root of independence, and it grew outward showing the social/political/economic consequences of her core ideas. The sweeping theme of Atlas Shrugged is the role of man’s mind in existence.

There has been talk of making an Atlas Shrugged movie for decades. But the difficulties of concretizing the cornucopia of radical ideas underlying the novel, of handling the complexity of plot, of presenting Ayn Rand’s explicit ideas while not making them “floating”, and of somehow doing all that in a couple of hours of a movie were some of the problems that led to the numerous failures on multiple attempts–until now. John Aglialoro and his team must be commended for their audacity, tenacity and business acumen in making that happen.

How do they cut this Gordian Knot? Atlas Shrugged movie does not dramatize the theme of the novel, but scales down the theme, making it a political/economical/social one. It portrays the struggle of successful businessmen against corrupt businessmen who use the power of the government against them, as a mysterious stranger keeps draining the heroes of their allies. To make the movie believable, the director grounds the movie in today’s world–the look, the characters, the dialog and all. Ayn Rand’s characters are substituted by simplified culturally familiar versions of them: successful businessmen, controlling families, corrupt politicians, conscientious co-workers, crooked businessmen etc.

The production team has the mastery of movie making to dramatize this scaled-down theme reasonably well–visually, through plot structure and dialog. Characterization in the movie is mixed–while the bad guys are portrayed very well, the portrayal of heroes varies in quality in the following descending order: Rearden, Dagny, Wyatt, Francisco, Akston and Galt–but thankfully the bulk of action revolves around the better executed characters. My favorite thing about the movie is that it does a better job of concretizing the independent spirit of a Roark in the character of Rearden, than was done in The Fountainhead movie.

See my earlier review of Atlas Shrugged Movie at Atlas Shrugged Movie: a Roman Copy of a Greek Original

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