Novels vs movies

Via The New Clarion, here is a fascinating review of a scene from the Atlas Shrugged movie. Ronald Pisaturo compares the original scene from the novel with the movie adaptation.

I would never have been able to identify all that is wrong in the movie scene, but the contrast between the movie scene and the original is obvious. Reading an analysis of the contrast – in style as well as meaning – is fascinating as it helps me understand what sets Rand’s novels apart from other novels. I have long wanted to write a review of Atlas Shrugged and lacked the ability to do so. This review of a single scene captures some key aspects of what a full review should express.

I have always thought that adapting a novel like Atlas Shrugged to the movie medium without missing a significant part of its power is impossible. Reading Pisaturo’s essay reinforced that idea. Here is the original passage from the novel

He touched the bracelet in his pocket. He had had it made from that first poured metal. It was for his wife.
As he touched it, he realized suddenly that he had thought of an abstraction called “his wife”—not of the woman to whom he was married. He felt a stab of regret, wishing he had not made the bracelet, then a wave of self-reproach for the regret.
He shook his head. This was not the time for his old doubts. He felt that he could forgive anything to anyone, because happiness was the greatest agent of purification. He felt certain that every living being wished him well tonight. He wanted to meet someone, to face the first stranger, to stand disarmed and open, and to say, “Look at me.” People, he thought, were as hungry for a sight of joy as he had always been—for a moment’s relief from that gray load of suffering which seemed so inexplicable and unnecessary. He had never been able to understand why men should be unhappy.

                   — Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

No matter how well a scene like this is adapted to the movie medium (I think Pisaturo does a good job of describing a possible adaptation), understanding the scene would remain subject to the viewer’s perceptiveness and interpretation. The novel on the other hand is unambiguous. It states everything in plain words and the meaning is impossible to miss. Speaking for myself, I would surely have missed most of the meaning in the passage in any adaptation I can imagine. And that explains why I don’t really enjoy watching movies.

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