Exposition vs. Drama

I have seen the movie, Atlas Shrugged Part 1. I do not plan to publish a review, but I have written an essay comparing one scene, viewable on the Internet, to the corresponding scene in the novel. In this essay, my secondary purpose is to judge this small part of the movie; my primary purpose is to highlight—through contrast—the Romantic style of Ayn Rand’s novel. I analyze this one scene instead of the whole artworks so that you, dear reader, can study for yourself the evidence for my conclusion: The scene in the movie is Naturalistic exposition; the scene in the novel is Romantic drama.

The essay is here: Exposition_vs_Drama

17 thoughts on “Exposition vs. Drama

  1. Good job. Most people would not notice little changes that can radically alter a scene.

    I fear this dramatization will turn an extraordinary novel into a rather ordinary movie.

  2. I have had grave reservations about the Atlas movie, having watched the available scenes a number of times, and noted the Naturalistic touches you describe, in addition to the “updating,” which I also have a number of reservations about. But your detailed comparative analysis simply substantiates my fears about how flat and virtually unserious the film is likely to be. No matter what scene I watched, I had the distinct feeling of watching a generously-budgeted daytime soap opera. Grant Bowler is not my conception of Hank Rearden, whom I picture to be taller, more austere and handsomer. He presented the bracelet as though he’d found it on the roadside. Absolutely passive, as you describe. The actress who plays Lillian is the only credible recreation of Rand’s character. The others are too “contemporary.” Rearden’s mother wasn’t frumpy and overdressed or whiny enough. I wasn’t sure who the character was with the glasses. Phillip didn’t look slyly feral enough, either. And the overall acting just didn’t hit the right chord. I recently watched the Frankenheimer “The Manchurian Candidate,” and Sinatra and Harvey and the whole cast brought an intensity and believability to their roles that I just don’t see in the Atlas movie. Perhaps I’m expecting too much of today’s Hollywood, but what they’ve done to Atlas isn’t what I want to see happen to “Sparrowhawk” or any of my other novels – not that anyone’s ever going to option any of my work. Thanks for the analysis, it is sincerely appreciated. I could go on, but you’ve done a great job of work here.

  3. I have seen all of the clips available on the Internet. This analysis is excellent in pointing out the differrence between Naturalism and Romanticism. It reminds me slightly of my review of the movie “The English Patient” several years ago explicating the difference between serious Romanticism and fluffy “Romance,” published in ARTIdeas magazine and can be read under Publications or in my book FROM THE FOUNTAINHEAD TO THE FUTURE and Other Essays on Art and Excellence, There is much else wrong with the movie that I can already see: Dagny is too soft and would not be concerned with the vanity of bleaching her hair blonde (she is brunette in the novel, Lillian is blonde); her voice is not assertive, and her clothes ALL wrong for a hot NYC business executive; she looks like a secretary. Although Galt is not yet seen his voice is way too weak. Rearden’s bracelet is a crude link chain in the novel–your idea of Lillian’s dropping it on the table is perfect–not anything like the one in the movie. Of the actors, Lillian is the best and quite excellent, in fact. She takes that scene away from everyone, including Hank. I’ll see the movie, I suppose, anyway but don’t expect much. The one thing we can hope is that those who see the movie and don’t know Rand’s work will read the novel. As Ed mentioned above, I shudder to think what Hollywood would do to my novel CROSSPOINTS A Novel of Choice. Kudos, Ron, for a thoughtful review and going on to show how it could have been better. It’s easy to criticize but challenging to improve what is criticized.

  4. A further note on the Atlas movie: Doubtless it will have its defenders, but I think the only legitimate defense anyone could advance is what has already been mentioned here and elsewhere, that it will introduce more people to Rand’s ideas and novels. I will eventually see the film, but am in no big rush to. However, it leaves me wondering how many other Objectivists who have read the novel will notice the omissions, additions, tweakings, and the subtle and not-too-subtle changes that Ron has given us examples of, and give voice to their observations. One can take it for granted that such alterations will occur throughout the whole film.

    Finally, I think that once the novelty wears off of seeing Atlas dramatized, if ever so badly and with so much glitz, more Objectivists will begin to realize that not only have they been short-changed, but also Rand and the novel itself.

  5. Well analyzed and said.

    You essentialized many of my struggles with the previews of the movie and its marketing collateral.

    I have qualified this movie as bad, not just based on its ‘naturalism’, but fundamentally based on the many contradictions I see already in its story line, its characters etc.

    The question will be if it is worth having this misrepresentation of Ayn Rand’s masterpiece in exchange for the potential positive effect of some viewers turning to read Ayn Rand’s works because of it. It may even be that many will be wrongly turned off from her ideas by this movie.

    The whole thing already started to bother me when I saw the filn’s logo of the puny cartoonesque Atlas holding up a tennisball instead of a larger than life man shrugging off a depiction of the world.

    That logo could not be further away from the true theme of the book. And the theme of the trailer also misses the main theme of ‘the strike of the minds’ completely. It seems to be more the story about some railroad tycoon. ‘The much bigger dramatic and unique theme of the novel is highlighted nowhere.

  6. I disagree with the analysis. Having said that, I can see why someone would come to the stated opinion. Let me explain why I agree with the general idea stated, but completely disagree with its application to this scene.

    I prefer to leave my life out of this, but maybe I need to supply this context. Since I got out of school, I’ve been a self-employed scientist, engineer, inventor and product developer. I started with $2000 of savings and made a life for myself without help, without loans, but with endless antagonists… like those portrayed in the described scene. So I have a certain context to give me a perspective somewhat like Rearden might experience.

    When I deal with my work, my focus is complete. I may be juggling facts, ideas, contexts, approaches, relationships so overwhelming in number and complexity that I can barely keep from “losing it”. And I’ve done this 8 to 16 hours per day, sometimes 72 hours non-stop (to keep from losing track of all the ideas I’m juggling) for decades… until recently lightening up… a little.

    During this time alone, doing my work, or even in the cases where I must interact with others concerning my projects, I do indeed behave much like the character advocated in this review. It is just me and reality, and I am in completely active, engaged, in control.

    However, what happens when I get dumped into an environment that is NOT related to my work? The author of this review assumes I would or should behave the same. Well, I don’t. In fact, I act more like Rearden acts, and like the reviews discourages.


    Most importantly, at the root of my being I accept those others have just a much right as I do – to have their own interests and tastes and to run their own lives. Oh, I most certainly disagree with many of the interests and tastes of others, but simple consistency and civility restrains me from pushing myself on them — when not in the context of my work or my direct personal interests (that do not overlap theirs significantly).

    So “what’s the point” is the attitude I would have upon arriving home in the described scene. As a true individualist who internalizes “live and let live” at the core of his being, I consider myself primarily an observer in these situations, especially since I have no interest in participating in such drivel.

    Of course, I’m not like Rearden in some ways. I would have thrown most of those jerks out of my life long ago. Sure, they’re welcome to be jerks, but I want none of that in my life. So yeah, I’d be different in that way. Nonetheless, I’ve been in similar situations where I was not in my own house, in my own domain. And in such cases I most certainly would automatically adopt the attitude of “remote observer”, as someone merely on the edges of the activity, and wanting to stay remote from what I consider utterly banal to revolting. Why would I want to taint my life with such baby-minded foolishness?

    Of course, we’re only responding to a single scene here. Frankly, if a similar passiveness was presented by Rearden at his factory when events important to his metal or business take place… then the critique supplied would be entirely appropriate, if not understated.

    When watching a film, keep the context in mind folks. Sure, I’d be happy to see both versions filmed and see how they both come across to me. But having a somewhat similar mindset as Rearden, I find the portrayal to be completely understandable, reasonable, and appropriate. And not because it is “naturalistic”, but because when context is properly understood, it also qualifies as “romantic realism”.

  7. honestann,

    You ask us to keep the context in mind. That’s what we’re doing. The context is that unlike yourself, Rearden (at this point in the story) hasn’t resolved his conflicting thoughts and feelings about his personal life. His behavior in the movie’s scene, however, suggests that he has.

  8. @grant,

    True enough. But the “resolution” of his last intellectual mistakes is not a total flip of his entire intellect. Rearden, like all the producers Galt persuades to strike, mostly “get it”… but they need some final connection or two made by Galt to integrate the entirety.

    Even at this point in the book, Rearden understands everything he needs to know, but just hasn’t fully tied those elements together. So, like many people who don’t agree with the mainstream, they “go along with it” (both internally and externally) as a matter of “default”… until they fully resolve everything as you say.

    This is partly why Rearden is passive in these situations that are not his focus, not his passion, not his business. But also, their infintile babble and behavior is just banal, boring, pointless, uninteresting. Why on earth should anyone, consciously or emotionally, behave the same in irrelevant, pointless situations that do not involve their values as they do in situations central to those values? They won’t. They can’t. It would appear completely silly in fact.

    So yes, I understood the context you mention. But that context is not much relevant in comparison. In both his conscious and subconscious mind he is already quite clear what are his highest values, and what is mere formality and conventionality.

    Rearden is not completely blind and a moron! He knows his wife and brother are vile snakes. Therefore his emotions cannot react the same way to them as his metal or factory, no matter how confused he might be about morality.

    So I guess we can agree to disagree.

  9. Honestann wrote: “Rearden is not completely blind and a moron! He knows his wife and brother are vile snakes.” The point is that, in the novel, he DOESN’T know that. He just doesn’t understand them. One could say that he has committed the error that so many otherwise rational people who are also Christians have committed; they have compartmentalized one code of morality and insulated it from another. That’s the soul-body dichotomy. They try to live by two different codes, but the codes are irreconciliable. One is for living on earth, the other isn’t. Rearden may despise his wife’s and brother’s values and codes, but as he thinks outloud in the novel, “they’re not my codes, so I have no right to judge them.” This is not knowing that his wife and brother are “vile snakes.” He may sense it emotionally, but not with certainty or with any full clarity until much later in the novel. This dichotomy intrudes on his relationships with Dagny and Francisco; it is Dagny who helps him come closer to the connection, and Francisco who completes the lesson for him. That being said, I see none of this in the Rearden Comes Home sequence.

  10. I found your essay interesting because of what it demonstrates about the importance of details in storytelling. However the analysis only demonstrates that the film is less Romantic than the book, not that the film is Naturalistic. What you really demonstrate is that the book is a drama and the film a melodrama, by Rand’s quoted definitions, and a melodrama can be Naturalistic or not. Unless I’ve misunderstood, your primary concern has to do with the internal conflict of characters which does not differentiate between Romanticism and Naturalism. For instance, both Atlas and The King’s Speech are dramas, though the former is fully Romantic and the latter fully Naturalistic. Similarly James Bond is a Romantic melodrama whereas I’d say Blackhawk Down is a Naturalistic melodrama (from what I remember of it).

    I haven’t seen the Atlas film yet, obviously, so you may be right about it being Naturalistic, but I don’t think that was what your essay was really about.

  11. Thanks for taking the time to do this comparison. I meant to do it myself, and I probably will, at some point, for some of the other scenes. You article was brilliant and very helpful!!

  12. Katrina, thank you for your comment. But internal conflict is only one of the main issues I discuss in the essay. A more basic issue, which I discuss at length, is the passive “Rearden” in the movie scene vs. the active Rearden in the novel scene. That issue is the basis for my conclusion that the movie scene is Naturalistic (more so than The King’s Speech, I think).

    Thank you, honestann, and thank you, Grant and Ed for your replies to honestann. I think that Grant and Ed make excellent points, and I agree with them. I will add a few points.

    There may be real-life people who are similar to Rearden in the movie scene, as honestann argues. But that very argument accepts the Naturalist premise of depicting people ‘as they are’.

    Whether or not the passive Rearden in the movie scene appeals to some viewers who identify with such a character, Ayn Rand wrote Rearden in that scene as active. In my essay, I try to explain why Ayn Rand’s choice is far more dramatic for that scene and far more in keeping with the dramatic arc of the full novel.

    Now what if a Romanic writer wanted to depict a protagonist who had become passive in some important aspect of his life, such as his marriage? Then the writer might write a scene like the one in the movie, but the scene might last fifteen or thirty seconds, not three minutes and forty seconds. Or the writer might write half of a page, not ten pages, in a novel. The writer would reserve the ten pages for a scene showing the moment in the character’s past when the character chose to become passive. That scene is where the drama would be.

    Thanks also to all the others who commented.

  13. Just want to say that I found the analysis clarifying. The scene seemed ok on the surface, but I did not like the appearance of Rearden, who looks like a handsome salesman that have not accomplished much. Making people like Lillian the ones that acts, suggests they are the thinkers, even if they may think wrong.

  14. Mr. Pisaturo, I just wanted to thank you for offering this outstanding essay. I found it extremely illuminating and expertly written. I’ve decided to include it in our local Objectivism group’s discussion of the movie here in Kansas City. I am also going to re-read “Atlas Shrugged” using your analytical approach to gain even more insight into the literary and philosophical treasure trove within Miss Rand’s incomparable work. Thanks so much!

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