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Atlas Shrugged and so did I

I’ve been hearing a lot of internet buzz about Atlas Shrugged Part I, that Hollywood panned it because of a liberal agenda, or that the production quality wasn’t good enough, or that the acting was stilted.  Wrong.

atlas-shruggedThe real reason Hollywood panned the movie is because it violated some of the most basic principles of storytelling. Perhaps this is Rand’s fault.   I believe it is.  I came home and watched The Fountainhead with Gary Cooper to see if time and acting quality made a difference.  It didn’t.

I don’t care about the principles of Objectivism.  They certainly are relevant today as we see government continuing to heap stupid law onto bad policy, but my arena is storytelling, and folks,  film adaptation is still about meeting the needs of the movie audience.  You can’t just film a book.

The craft of  screenwriting dictates that we engage the audience emotionally with a very human, relatable characters making moral choices.

In Atlas Shrugged, we don’t get that.  The story fails to establish a clear, single dramatic line, or clear forces of antagonism to explore the story’s moral argument.

Dagny wants to save her railway, and Henry wants to make his mark on the steel industry. Dagny’s the main character because her goal is clear – rebuild the rail line with Rearden steel. Do we care if she succeeds? As a curiosity, sure, but if she fails, so what?  We’re not pulled into her journey.

What are the real stakes? Who is against them and why? Mouch and Boyle, but what do they have to gain by thwarting Dagny and Henry? If the book is clear, the movie isn’t.

But the real story is about disappearing men, but we don’t get any information on this conspiracy, and it doesn’t truly impact the rail line until Wyatt disappears at the end. But even that doesn’t stop Dagny’s rail!  All this makes the audience feel like they’re playing speed chess through plot points rather than having a cohesive emotional experience.

Even simple scenes seem underdeveloped, with long, stilted dialog by characters who act more like ciphers of the author’s ideas rather than human beings with not only feelings, but also families, relationships and complex motivations. Why does Henry allow his family to ride his coattails and be pissy about it? Why does James Taggart start strong, then shrink around Dagny without a fight, then tag behind the government guys? What’s going on with that anniversary party, which wasted over 10 minutes of screen time without revealing character or moving the story forward?

Again, I get it that many lovers of Rand or haters of big government loved the movie.  It struck an emotional cord, politically.  However, if the film makers’ desire is to broaden its audience, gain converts, then they have the needs of the audience more seriously.    We’re not playing for the choir here.  Movies should engage the whole audience to impact the culture.

Please, don’t blame Hollywood.  Next time, let me help.

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