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.

Dr Rodger’s testimony against subsidies

I came across this testimony delivered by Dr Rodgers, CEO of Cypress Semiconductor via this essay by Paul Graham. 

Rodgers begins his testimony with

In my right hand I have a data-communications chip made by Cypress Semiconductor. We call it HotLink. It is capable of transporting information over a wire, or through an optical fiber, at the rate of 330 million bits per second. In my left hand I have a 4,196-bit static random-access memory (SRAM) chip made by Cypress. It is capable of storing and retrieving data in three nanoseconds–about the time it takes light to travel one yard. It is the fastest SRAM of its type available from any company in the world. Our HotLink chip would undoubtedly be part of any data communications network created in the United States–and in high volumes. Our super-fast SRAM is currently being used in conventional supercomputers.

Another excerpt:

So please allow me to reintroduce myself: I am an excess of the 1980s. Based on my ownership stake in Cypress, I am one of the people who, in the President’s words, “profited most from the uneven prosperity of the last decade.” I became a paper millionaire in the 1980s–eight times over, in fact.

How did I profit? I started a company in Silicon Valley. I obtained stock in that company when it had one employee (me) and one used computer. I worked with that company for a decade–sixteen hours a day, six days a week–to help get it where it is today.

And where is it? Over its ten-year history, Cypress has generated over $1 billion in cumulative revenue, made over $160 billion in profits on which we paid $60 million in taxes, created 1,500 jobs which paid cumulative salaries of nearly $500 million, on which our employees paid further taxes of $150 million. We have shipped cumulative exports worth $300 million. We have generated a market value of $500 million for our shareholders and employees–all of whom own stock in the company.

Vow! That reads like Henry Rearden’s courtroom “defense” in Atlas Shrugged. It is great to know that there are people like this in the real world. From some of the other public statements by Rodgers (links can be found on the wikipedia page on Rodgers), it is clear that Rodgers has read Rand. This is what great works of art can do.

The essence of life

Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it’s yours.
—Ayn Rand, “Atlas Shrugged” (End of Galt’s speech)

It is a sense of enormous expectation, the sense that one’s life is important, that great achievements are within one’s capacity, and that great things lie ahead.
—Ayn Rand, Introduction to the 25th anniversary edition of “The Fountainhead”

This view is the essence of life. It is what makes life worth living. It is a precondition of all values. As Rand writes “It is only the concept of life that makes the concept of value possible”.  This view of life is part of the ‘concept of life’ here. Retaining this view throughout life requires that one always examine and understand one’s desires as precisely as possible and act to achieve them. Having a desire and not acting to achieve it is the most damaging thing one can do.

Ayn Rand’s novels

For some time, I have been thinking of writing a series of posts on “Atlas Shrugged”. What I took away from it, why I was so influenced by it, why I enjoyed it. So I was delighted to discover the comment thread on Aristotle The Geek’s post Dry Humor that featured an excerpt from “The Fountainhead”. I think Aristotle The Geek nails quite a few of the things I would have written myself. I still intend to do the series, but meanwhile, go read the thread.

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