Atlas Shrugged Movie: Ten Million Dollar Questions

What will be the impact of the Atlas Shrugged Movie on our culture?

I am raising questions about the factors that will shape the magnitude of that impact, and am answering them before the release of the movie. It is in the hope that doing so will get more people thinking about this opportunity and preparing for it–which will enable them to devise their own strategies for making the most of it.

1. How does the movie compare to the novel?

My answer here: Atlas Shrugged Movie: A Roman Copy of a Greek Original

2. How does the movie compare to We the Living and The Fountainhead movies?

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

3. Will people not familiar with Ayn Rand’s work get the movie?

To be effective, a movie needs to stand by itself as a good movie, qua a work of art, regardless of its message. By that standard, I would give the movie a 7/10 star rating. While it does not have the irresistible force of a great movie, I expect that many people will get the message of the movie.

4. Will it strike a chord with the Tea Party movement?

The timing of the release of the movie couldn’t have been better. It’s message, being primarily economic/political/social, will resonate with the Tea Party movement–the extent of resonance limited only by movie’s artistic quality, not its message.

5. What will people, not already familiar with Ayn Rand, walk away with?

They will walk away with the social/economic/political message of Ayn Rand.

6. If someone likes the movie, how can you get them fired up about going on to read Atlas Shrugged?

Strategy: To draw attention to the intellectual/psychological/spiritual/philosophical depth of Ayn Rand using the movie as a springboard.

What questions can you ask to get them interested in reading Atlas Shrugged?
- What makes the heroes like Rearden, Dagny and Wyatt different from James Taggart, Orren Boyle and Wesley Mouch?
- What motivates Rearden & Dagny?
- How is Rearden’s & Dagny’s manner of thinking different from that of the looters?
- What do you think Dagny is going to do next, as everyone she worked with and liked keeps disappearing?
- Do you really want to wait for two years to find out what happens next?

What comments can you make to intrigue them about the content of the book?
- The movie could not really show in depth what makes Rearden or Dagny tick–the novel shows that in detail.
- The relationship between Dagny & Rearden is far more complex and fascinating than is portrayed in the movie.
- One of my favorite part of the novel was the character of Francisco–who was not portrayed adequately in the movie. Here is what Francisco is really like…

[I was planning to write a more detailed answer to this question--but many people around this world wide web are doing that already, and those efforts should expand after the release of the movie.]

7. Will the movie help the spread of Ayn Rand’s ideas?

Definitely. It will do so at least modestly well, if not very well.

8. What can I do to help promote the movie?

The Strike Productions is doing an excellent and innovative job of promoting their movie. You can see how you can help by visiting them here.

9. Will the movie be successful enough that we will see Parts 2 & 3 made in the near future?

Yes, I thinks so. There is a lot going for the project; I am optimistic.

10. What will be the impact of the Atlas Shrugged Movie on our culture?

When you consider that this is likely to be a trilogy, with each of the parts having its own multi-year production cycle, movie release publicity phase and DVD/Netflix release phase, it will provide an additional sustained publicity for Atlas Shrugged for almost a decade! The cumulative effect of such a publicity on the top of already massive sales of the book, and an increasing acceptance of Ayn Rand’s ideas as a part of our intellectual landscape will accelerate the spread of Ayn Rand’s ideas.

But the spread of ideas is not a deterministic process–its direction and speed depends on how well individuals bring their skills to bear on the opportunities that are available to them.

[Are there any big questions I am missing? Please let me know.]

Additional Questions as a result of comments received:

a. Why is the movie a powerful addition to the means of transmission of Ayn Rand’s ideas?

See the comment by Angela Burton below.

b. Aren’t you concerned that the popularization of a not so perfect Atlas Shrugged movie will undercut Ayn Rand’s message in Atlas Shrugged by diluting it?

No. Atlas Shrugged is a written work, widely available to anyone who wants it. The power of ideas in it, executed with magnificent artistry, makes it a tall, bright, immovable beacon for anyone who wants to see it.

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8 Responses to Atlas Shrugged Movie: Ten Million Dollar Questions

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  4. ATLAS SHRUGGED – a movie – a cinema. The context of the Times demands an excellent technological presentation woven with deepest understanding of Art. The potential to do so lies in the novel and it is evident the present production has in a way expressed it. To be able to predict in minutes what is written over decades are read over days on a subject of mankind and his journey of a million years is remarkable and worth measures of praise.

  5. Co-producer Harmon Kaslow tells me this week the goal is to put Part Two into production in June 2011 for release on April 15, 2012, and Part Three a year later. He also says that while Mr. Aglialoro “has the funds” to do this, they plan to do so only if it’s justified by audience response. While such a schedule would be daunting for a typical studio production, it may be credible here because (without meaning to be disparaging) the current production has more the look of an above-average made-for-cable “mini-series.” In fact, for all that this is “stripped-down Rand,” I doubt this impressive a film could have been made even a dozen years ago, without the benefit of 21st Century digital technology.

    I must also note a curious gap in the discussions to date, possibly because they have been more among readers than devoted movie-goers. Since the days when the studio (Biograph, actually) declined to release the name of Mary Pickford for fear a “star” could demand a higher salary — and fans defied them by demanding more movies featuring “the little girl with the golden curls” — movie audiences have responded, positively or negatively, to the presence or absence of a larger-than-life “star.” Some studio carpenter landed a supporting role in “Star Wars.” Did anyone think the name “Harrison Ford” would mean anything a year after that low-budget space opera opened and closed?

    While some might argue Rebecca Wisocky’s rendition of Lillian Rearden as The Perfect Bitch is the more polished little jewel of a performance, here, the popular success of this film — beyond the first few days when the Randians will presumably pack the theaters — will depend in large measure on the casting of Taylor Schilling as Dagny Taggart. And — whether they were brilliant or lucky, whether unlikely director Johansson elicited this performance or merely turned on the cameras and said “Go” — this is where lightning may very well strike. Because audiences who don’t give a darn who Dr. Ferris is are very likely to say, “Whoa, who’s THAT?” … and decide that Taylor Schilling is a star.

    – V.S.

  6. Angela Burton says:

    I have a theory that goes against everything an objectivist believes, but nevertheless: I submit that somehow Ayn Rand is guiding the production of this film, that the only thing that makes any sense in the face of “they had a short time to make the film, they had a low budget, they found relatively unknown actors to play the parts, and most people who have seen the advance of the film love it,” is that the spirit of Ayn Rand is with us, and that the effect will be as profound as what we now see in the middle east, which is revolution because of the information age, facebook, twitter, etc. Ayn Rand’s ideas will fly around the world, and just as in the past her ideas affected so much of the civilized world, now her ideas will impact like the force of a tsunami. The reason for this will be that Ayn Rand’s ideas are not the ideas appealing to the intellectual, her ideas appeal to the basic heart of people, they appeal to what is most basic in a human being, the desire to be free, to rise up to the highest level, to celebrate life and individualism together with all people’s of the world. As contradictory as this may sound, inherent in Ayn’s philosophy is the wonderful human heart pumping at full speed and creating in viewers the urge to say, “Here, watch this.” I can only hope that the DVD will be available quickly for those who have no other way to see it. For those who have no way to view it, there will be communal gatherings, in public places, and everyone will be exposed to the wonder of freedom and individual liberty. For that is what Atlas Shrugged is all about. Strangely enough, just as the missionaries traveled the globe, wanting to share what they believed to be the truth of their passion, Ayn’s ideas will now circumnavigate the globe.

    When I first read Atlas Shrugged back in 1959, I was not an intellectual, I was a college student, and someone handed me her book and said, “Here, read this.” I found myself holed up in my room for three days, unable to put the book down. It changed my life, it changed my thinking, it made me feel as if anything were possible. I submit to you now, that this miracle of the film, this Atlas Shrugged Part 1, is going to be passed around to every area of the globe and that nothing again will ever be the same.
    Reading a 1200 page book is a monumental task for some. Watching a film is a relaxing time where ideas sink in almost without effort. There is no comparison. The time is ripe and the film is here. The power of the film will be known by the force of its opponents who will do anything to destroy it. Therein will lie the truth of this moment.

    There is no point in analyzing whether it is good or not, whether it is artistic or not, whether it has merit or not. It is a force, and that force is going to make itself known.

  7. Robert, to answer your questions: 1) As to the limitations of the movie medium itself as opposed to the limitations of the production team, see my comparison of the Three Ayn Rand Movies. 2) I think that each part of any movie trilogy is presented as a free-standing piece of art, and therefore can be validly judged by itself. 3) I had fairly low expectations for the movie, and ended up liking it more than I thought I would–so I do not think my assessment was due to high expectations.

  8. Shrikant, I much appreciate your efforts both to analyze the film’s strengths and shortcomings, while simultaneously remaining supportive of it. I have not yet seen it, and of course I must reserve my opinions about its quality until I do.

    But I just got a call from my best friend, like me an Objectivist for well over forty years. He saw a special screening of the film at a private home, with a group of like-minded viewers. They absolutely loved it. He thought the characterizations were spot-on and the production values superb. My overall impression from his comments: While the psychological, philosophical, and “spiritual” elements that you thought were absent from the film were not explicit, they were nonetheless present implicitly throughout.

    If true, this would be a significantly different take on the movie from your own. Perhaps it is a question of expectations. I never expected that a cinematic adaptation of Atlas Shrugged could or would possibly provide all the rich psychological/spiritual depth of the novel. Film is a completely different medium, one limited to revealing psychology through dialogue and action, without literature’s additional advantages of presenting internal monologues and introspection. If you think back to the book, so much of the psychological and spiritual insight we gain arises from our getting inside the heads of Dagny and Rearden, in particular; we extrapolate their exalted sense of life to the other primary heroes, Francisco and Galt, and understand their motivations at a profound level. The only other way to get a sense of what makes these characters tick is from their long soliloquys, which, onscreen in a theater, would be dramatically inert and lose the audience.

    So, my question is: How much of what you find missing from the movie is due to the inherent limitations of the film medium itself, rather than any deficiencies on the part of the cast and crew? Another question: Is it entirely fair to offer such criticisms to this one film, when it is only the first installment of a trilogy? After all, Part I is merely the setup of the story. Many of the greatest psychological revelations occur late in the novel. Can’t we assume that, with at least four more hours (or more) to come, the production company will be able to flesh out more fully what is only implied in Part I?

    Again, I don’t have the benefit of having seen the film, as you have. But Atlas Shrugged–Part I has thrilled a number of longtime Objectivists whom I know and respect. Are your differing assessments of its merits due more to differing expectations, than what is actually up on the screen?

    In any case, I’ll let you know what I think sometime after April 15.

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