Atlas Shrugged

A Comparative Analysis of
the Book and Movies

By Melanie Anne Phillips
Creator StoryWeaver | Co-Creator Dramatica



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 " 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-length fictional form.  She considered it her magnum opus, and from the effort to create that work, her philosophy of Objectivism emerged.

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-two consecutive weeks.

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-age boys poured over Lionel Train catalogs, dreaming of the next car they would add to their set when they had saved enough allowance.  But girls were completely absent from Lionel ads of the time, as everyone "knew" they weren't interested in trains.

In 1957, the McCarthy Era had just ended in which honest hard-working Americans were called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and effectively blacklisted as being Communist sympathizers.  And in the Soviet Union itself, the exiling of intellectuals and artists to gulag work camps stifled dissenting opinions.  Industry in the Soviet Union was crumbling as it had since all businesses had been progressively privatized after the revolution of 1917.

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-war industrialization embraced much of the world, but left the Soviet Union struggling to catch up, which it attempted to do through the implementation of a series of "five-year plans," most of which failed to meet expectations.  And yet, that totalitarian regime showed no sign of faltering.  In fact, it seemed to have its course set on world domination with the ultimate purpose to extend its form of government across the planet.

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-political resistance that she had already documented in her previous book, The Fountainhead, that Ayn Rand gave thought to the relationship between a government that discouraged individual thought and the motive forces of raw creation that uplifted all of mankind.

The result was Atlas Shrugged: a masterwork that employs industry as the nexus point between the creativity of man and his raw animal sexuality - great motors that spring from his mind and mimic the drives of his body, and all of this in an age-old struggle with the entropic pull of those in power, who would harness the visionaries and bleed them for their own sustenance.

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-righteousness of social engineers and pseudo-philosophers, and the slow embalming of the people by the growing mold of despair.

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-film adaptation debuted. Those five decades saw changes in science, industry, politics, and sociology that could not have been predicted when the book was written.   The impact of these changes can be seen not only in the subjects explored in the book but in the audience that still reads it as well, and by extension, in the audience for which the movies were made.

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 - the moralities, sensibilities, expectations, and social pressures of a time, as long as the narrative remains true.

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-political philosophies and the mechanism by which a representative democratic capitalist nation is gradually altered into a totalitarian state of centralized control and nationalized business could be just as effectively applied to the issues of today.

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

Part One


To begin with, it was a mistake to start the first film with a documentary-style set-up.  That kind of harsh and rough material occurs much further into the book.  The mood of the book is of a creeping rot - a slow cancer within society and the economy.  The slow beginning of the book is intentionally non-sensationalist so that we, the reader, may follow along the path of decay and disrepair, as unaware of the eventual extent that will transpire, as are the characters.  Once that intent has been violated, all that follows in the entire series of films is tainted by it.

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-depression America contrasted against the grit of a dissolving socio-economic system.  The knobs and gears and switches of the book are an integrated element of the industrial age the book celebrates not solely for achievement but soul-ly as a reflection of the fine-tuned motor of the mind.

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-digital world in which all technology is analog.  And this is what leads to the initial celebration of industry and leads to the ability of the heroes to overcome the weapons of the ruling oligarchy.  In a digital age, they could not overcome Big Brother with such simple means.

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-life lobbyist who in the book was working (though not really) for Hank Reardon is in a position of great power.

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'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-Durango line.  He is far too confident here, just as Jim is far too threatening.  Obviously up-played to increase tension, but tension is supposed to appear, then rise over time, not start out at the top.


The confrontation of Jim by Dagny plays fairly well, though some minor aspects are a little off-tune.  Overall: good scene.


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 - she would more say, "it is to our mutual advantage."

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 - the book says that Reardon was surprised not by her being a woman, but by her logical productive manner of thought - sensing a kindred spirit - I don't see enough of it here in this scene.

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 - perhaps with paparazzi.  Efficient staging, though, to bring the entire Mexican deal into the conversation about undercutting Reardon.  Larkin's involvement in the book was more of a surprise - and his motivations for participating in the scheme are unclear in the movie.

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-friends with an affinity.  Perhaps it was shot and cut.  But the leap from one level of association to another as it currently stands does not ring true as how anyone would act at the beginning of a relationship.


Efficient handling of the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog rule, but it is a statement rather than a movement.  It comes on the scene fully developed and none of the attendant considerations or rationalizations and none of the sense of truly dark chicanery is conveyed.


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-confrontational and seeking-to-help attitude if that foreshadowing nuance of the book was to be captured.


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 - no intimacy, involvement or passion for Taggart Transcontinental.


A choppy cut-away scene where Dagny refuses to be a speaker at the meeting Jim has set up about Reardon metal.  Again, hits the plot point, but is a stand-alone dramatically, not connected to the sense of an ongoing noose tightening around Dagny or of the ever so gradual increase in power of the Looters.


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-grip of the government on industry and the whole disappearing industrialist mystery have disappeared from the narrative.


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-read that conversation in the book.


Dagny makes a sexual come-on to Francisco to get financing for the John Galt Line.  I'll have to re-read this section of the book, but that seems like a terrible false step to me.  This is not the first time in the movie that she appears willing to trade in false emotions to get what she wants.  This is not the character of Dagny from the book at all.

In the book, she clearly loves Francisco from their childhood romance (and then loves both him and Reardon - a statement that loving one does not diminish loving another, both can be simultaneously true and equal).

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.


Ham-handed when Francisco asks what the line is to be called just before Dagny leaves.  If he asked something about the Rio Norte, she might have corrected him so that he learned the name, but why would he ask?


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-functional.

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 - that it is the Reardon metal of energy production.  And they need to figure that out.

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-Durango line will be out of business just days later and that is why the deadline.  If they don't make it, Wyatt will be out of business and there will be no reason to have the line.  Without that information, there is no tension, just an arbitrary deadline.


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 motive force of that industrial age is a parallel for Hank Reardon and for Dagny's drive.  Here, they are not on the back of a wild tiger, but comfortably sitting in a lounge.  Another misstep, thematically.

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-written-off by Eastern industrialists and politicians, has been having a resurgence - a new industrial boom that could lift up the whole country.  The John Galt Line enables that to keep exploding.  This information is essential as it shows how potential for achievement is brought down by the philosophy of those in power, even at their own peril.


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-industrial age - poverty is everywhere, eyes are glassy, minds are dull.  This is important not only that the reader see it, but that Reardon and especially Dagny see it.  It informs their future growth and also adds an element of threat to the trip.

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 - he started there, we need the place to be in ruins and for him to emerge later from the rubble as the phoenix of the rational mind.


They find Galt's motor and Dagny understands it.  What misstep is this?  She recognizes that it uses the Casimir Effect - the force of attraction created within a quantum vacuum.  Suddenly, all the mystery is gone.  In the book, EVERY invention by the Men of Mind is generally described as to what it is and what it does but NEVER how it does it.  This allows the things they created to be so far above current understanding that it appears to be magic.  By describing HOW the motor works, even if no one knows enough about that to recreate it, the magic is gone and it simply becomes a physics problem.  This robs the movie of yet another sense of mystery and robs Galt of yet more of his almost superhuman capacity, apologies to Nietzsche.


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.


The voice-over by Galt and Wyatt is a total misstep.  First of all, Galt's voice is a mystery in the book and it has now been given away.  Second, Galt is not known to exist at this point in the story and the shock of that reveal is now taken away.  And third, Galt speaks of Atlantis, but in the book it is not called that by him until even after Dagny crashes there, though the chapter is called Atlantis.  The Atlantis connection to Galt is mentioned earlier in one of the stories about who John Galt was (according to someone who knew someone, etc.)  So the idea is planted with the reader, but to have Galt in his own voice call the place Atlantis makes him sound arrogant.

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.

Part Two


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" - an action-oriented event designed to excite the audience and draw them into the story.  Atlas Shrugged, the book, is all about a slowly unfolding story of mystery and no section or chapter begins with a teaser, although many end with cliff-hangers.  To use a teaser, especially at the beginning of the film, reverses that dramatic build to run upstream and contrary to the book's feel of tension.

In the book, having Dagny know how to fly an airplane is shock enough - very unusual for the time in which the story takes place, but close enough in time to Amelia Earhart to have us feel a self-made-woman such as Dagny might very well have learned to fly.  But, having her fly a jet, especially through canyons at high speed like a fighter pilot, is preposterous, even by today's standards.  For something that unrealistic or unusual, information about such ability must be laid gently well in advance, such as Dagny having had military service as a pilot, so as not to come across as Deus ex Machina.

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 - clearly not the effect the filmmakers were going for.

The text at the opening of the film just before the teaser says that railroads have re-emerged as the primary transport and that commercial ship and plane traffic is greatly reduced.  Next thing we see are two jets in a chase.  While not directly contradictory to the opening text, it certainly is not a smooth continuation of that description.

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-pronged departure from the intent and substance of the book.


This scene with Dr. Sadler getting a look at Galt's motor is way off-base.  With the fancy lighting on the back of the electric car Dagny is driving and the way the underground tunnels are portrayed, and then with the electronic lock on the door and the motor rising up out of the table, it comes across as a James Bond film - especially on the heels of the fighter pilot teaser.

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-tech exciting place - a James Bond villain's stronghold - as it feels in the movie.  And, because we do not see Sadler's previous interactions with Ferris, he simply comes across as an untroubled expert, which does not at all lay the foundation for the actions he later takes.

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-modern busy terminal background when Dagny walks off and Sadler makes his call works so completely against that.


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-informational mood scenes than the hard events of the plot, it would have much better translated the book into cinema.


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-year experience with the full extent of that in Russia and also seeing what Russia had become during the cold war, the book says very little about dissenting voices being raised.

In fact, it indicates that people are afraid to say anything - partly due to what the government might do to them, and partly out of desperation of what the government might still do for them if not undermined.

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-on for the mood and emotional undertones of the book.  There was nothing this true to the spirit of the book in the first film, yet here in the second, it is still hit and miss - one scene perfectly in tune, the next one clashing with the book in garish cacophony.


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-oriented scenes are just as bad or worse.


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-laid groundwork for future motivations and passions is expurgated, so that when the moments of culmination arrive, they are empty, like a soufflé, and collapse under their unsupported weight.

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-the-books deal to supply Reardon Metal to an associate in violation of the law.  Very well played, including Reardon's refusal to buckle under pressure about supplying the Institute.


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-human reflexes and clear experience in helping Reardon plug the tap.  It makes a huge point of them working side by side, which leads Reardon to question his negative feelings about Francisco.  But not much of that remains in the movie version: they don't work side by side at all, and Francisco is just shoveling sand.

As a side note, in the book, Reardon's disgust with Francisco's life-style and his confusion at the almost contradiction of Francisco's philosophy becomes a split-opinion about D' Anconia.  It troubles Reardon so much that he is both attracted and repelled by the man, that he has several discussions with Dagny on the subject, who is the perfect counterpoint because she has exactly the same troubled feelings about Francisco.

This entire thread - the derisive comments Reardon makes on several occasions to Francisco - is simply missing in the movie, which is unfortunate as it is intended to underscore the conflict within both Dagny and Reardon as to whether they should continue to fight or to leave.  It also would have added to the mystery behind Francisco's actions.


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 - though he was simply stating his own mind as far as he was concerned.  But again, without that prior groundwork being laid, much of the triumph of that point is lost and the scene simply becomes one man against the system.


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 - that she would take pleasure in his loss of virtue, as well as being in control of the powerful man.  This is an inverse parallel to the stated reason James married Cheryl - to keep her down by constantly having her see how she doesn't measure up to the elite, and to force her, therefore, to love him for his lack of virtue.

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-innovative business types are pushing this on the people.  But in the book, the people are practically demanding it, and at the very worst, tacitly allow it because they are afraid: afraid of what will happen if their leaders fail and also afraid of their leaders.  People are well dressed, the whole world looks normal.  But in the book things are already falling apart in a big way.  The mood in this scene completely works against the message of the book.


Another protest with signs against directive 10-289.  In the book, there were no such protests.  Everyone was too scared, too demoralized.  Again, the core philosophy of the book - more of a systems schematic for how a thriving capitalist democracy can be slowly eroded until it becomes a poverty-stricken government controlled oligarchy - has been stripped from the movie.

The movie's message is that government and fat cats can bring down the whole country: economy, freedoms and all - a completely different message than the book entirely, where the co-operation of the people is required.


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 - what's the point if the purpose of an incident in the book is stripped out and only the plot action is kept?


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-up feelings after quitting Taggart, crying and screaming on the floor at night, but pulling herself together, beginning to fix up the cabin, building a stone pathway down to the road, planning how the road could be paved and a bridge built so it wouldn't wash out and the town could bring its goods to market even in the rain: this scene that shows what it really is to be a maker - that it is a spirit to improve things, to find solutions, to build, that cannot be stopped, cannot be prevented - this deep and complex scene has been reduced in the movie to Dagny throwing some old furniture from the cabin out in the yard and fixing a loose bannister with a battery powered screw driver.  Pointless.  Completely pointless.


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-tech repairman for the railroad.  That alone doesn't do too much damage, though.  But in the book, the hobo tells the tale of 20th Century Motors, how the heirs took over, and a blow-by-blow description of the decline of the company due to working according to ability and receiving according to needs.  It is an impassioned recounting of the events, leading up to the climax in which John Galt stands up in the company meeting in dissent, states his case and walks out - the first man to disappear, and with the pledge that he would stop the motor of the world.  But in this scene, the description of 20th Century Motors is so short, truncated, bowdlerized, that none of the passion remains and little of the information.  John Galt comes across as nothing more than a disgruntled employee.


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.

Part Three


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-over attempt, thereby losing all the intrigue of how it was set up as propaganda, and in the book Reardon was there, and held the wounded "Wet Nurse" character in his arms, thereby giving Reardon a reason to finally go on strike with the others.  But the Wet Nurse character is only in one small scene in the second movie and Reardon has already left for Atlantis when the mills are attacked in the film version, making the whole attack pointless, as the motivation for Reardon to join the strike is no longer in the story.  He just simply decides to walk away for no additional reasons and whatever has been holding him here, inexplicably is no longer doing so.


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 - the wheat to keep the nation alive - rotting at the stations for lack of cars is completely minimized since it is not said that this particular harvest has to be a success or literally millions will starve.

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-over and a minor story on a newspaper front page.  In the book, the argument between Cheryl and James was specifically designed to provide a verbalized description of how the psychology of the looters work - the hatred of those who are more gifted, the loathing of those who are less, the desire to control the talented through guilt, and the desire to buy a substitute for love by keeping the less gifted beholding to them for any kind of self esteem.

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-blown, excessively long monolog in the book.  Every key point was made, every progression of thought built upon the last, and they all worked in concert to the conclusion, which comes off as irrefutable.  I believe this movie version of that speech works far better than the over-intellectualized original in the book.  In fact, if all three movies were reduced to this one scene, it would be nearly as effective as the six hours of missteps and un-seeing adaptations that surround it.


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 - the sound weapon.  It was necessary to the book as nowhere else is force really seen.  There is little mention of soldiers or police enforcing the policies of the government.  The purpose of leaving this out in the book was to underscore the mechanism of the people giving sanction to the government to take down the innovators and distribute their achievements to the masses who cannot achieve.  Project X was a horrendous concept designed to fill that gap of military control without getting in the way of the message.

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 - what does that even mean?  The bridge had been the keystone that held Dagny to the railroad.  She was sure it would stand forever.  It is a symbol of her own resolve.  If it has fallen, we need a specific reason why before we can accept her resolve to remain had ended, that she has finally changed, and is ready to leave and join the strike.  The generalized non-reason provided does not do the job.


 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 - she leaves triggered by John being in danger, but her resolve only comes from her having reached the point where the pledge of the people of Atlantis is truly embraced by her mind, in keeping with Ayn Rand's belief that rationalism over emotionalism is the only pathway to freedom.  Again, complete gutted and  glossed over in the film.


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-shock device seems archaic and ham-handed.  One would expect a mind control device at the very least.  After all, it is control of the mind by one's own manipulated emotions that lies at the heart of the book.  Perhaps a device that enhanced guilt could be made to control the mind?  Galt would not be changed because he has transcended guilt, so there is nothing to amplify.


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 - a representation of the indecisive public who will neither lead, nor follow, nor get out of the way.  But, most readers do not share Rand's anger at the masses for enabling the looters and controllers.  And so the killing seems unnecessary and unwarranted in the book, as well as out of character for Dagny.  This is destruction and she is supposed to be one of those who construct.  But Galt himself is willing to put forces in motion by which millions will die of starvation or due to violence of roving gangs in order to bring down a corrupt society of such people who allow through their indecision the enslavement of the makers.

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 - as if Rand's entire philosophy is just lip service but a good kiss can make it all better.

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 " 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-regulating the makers and producers and redistributing the wealth of the creators is simply not shown - only the personal ramifications for the innovators themselves.

Nearly every scene in the book has a thematic component by design.  Dozens of topics and sub-topics ranging from the "sanction of the victims" to the mechanism by which guilt is used to gain control over the producers of the world are repeated over and over again for a reason: they are the building blocks of the passionate argument that is the purpose of the book.

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-political interchange gradually erode the foundations of a free capitalist society until in begins to crumble under its own weight from decay and profiteering.

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-long bonds that are twisted, broken and reformed later, serve as motivating reasons for their actions an interactions with each other.

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-shaped sound weapon are also absent.

Substituting for the subject matter and style that gave personality to the book, sleek jets have replaced propeller aircraft, flat-screen monitors take over national radio programs, and the excruciatingly slow grinding of the populace into a mindless workforce gives way to a few shots of angry mobs with slogans on placards, which not only fails at a genre level, but at a character and theme level as well.

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-contextualized to make them more exciting or relevant in the eyes of the filmmakers.  But due to the failure to appreciate the importance of theme, character and genre, the plot becomes like an automaton,  stumbling forward from one point to another, describing a path from "A" to "B," but without purpose, flavor, or meaning.

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-kept cabin and goes to sleep.  Next day, she tosses serviceable furniture into a heap in the yard.  And when Francisco shows up, she is repairing a loose bannister railing with a cordless screwdriver.  All the rest - the theme, the character motivations, and the genre are missing, literally, in action: only the minimally essential plot points (she goes to the cabin and repairs something) are included.

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-century.  What, then, would fill the same function in today's world?  The way to approach that question is to look for the kinds of business that provides the arteries of commerce in our current age.  And the answer might be to update Taggart Transcontinental to Taggart Transmedia.

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 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-on-demand chain were to cease working.

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-series.  All that is required is a full appreciation of the purpose of the book and an awareness of the thematic, motivational and stylistic elements that need to be employed to achieve that purpose.

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 - each being a complete dramatic movement or unit.

Next, the primary purpose of each scene needs to be determined and indicated.  One must ask, why did the author write that scene - what did she intend for it to do, what impact to have, what message or information to convey?

Then, using a four-column approach, each scene in the book needs to be analyzed as to the elements of theme, character, genre, and plot that are present.  And once those have been determined, one must ask why the author included them, do they achieve that purpose, what do they contribute to the scene and to the story as a whole, and can any of them be made more concise or even eliminated without harming the overall experience and message of the original.

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-creator of the Dramatica theory of narrative.  For twenty-five years she has been a teacher of story structure and creative writing.  Recently, she has extended her work to apply narrative structure to real world people and scenarios, including the development of predictive counter-terrorism tools for government intelligence agencies and consultation with fortune 500 companies to understand markets and internal dynamics.

Melanie can be reached at

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