When I was a teenager, I read Ayn Rand. I not only read Ayn Rand's novels, I liked them and talked about them with other people. As most of these other people were also teenagers, we lacked insight and a great deal of information, but we felt our conversations extremely NECESSARY and IMPORTANT. We didn't have a clue what we were talking about and had very little real world experience, but we still believed no one had ever had the thoughts and feelings we did and those who scorned us just didn't understand. In this respect, we were not unlike the characters in an Ayn Rand novel.
This is not only not news, it isn't uncommon or embarrassing. Even if you didn't already know this about me, you probably could have guessed it given my background and love of reading. Right now, as we speak, another crop of sheltered, bookish, upper-middle class fifteen year olds are reading The Fountainhead for the first time and planning to become architects.
Something else I used to do was when enjoyed a book, I would imagine the film version that I would make of it. I would think about camera angles and how certain aspects of he plot might have to be changed to accommodate the different media. It goes without saying that I usually imagined myself in the lead role.
This also is unsurprising and not uncommon behavior. Many successful actors talk about how they did this as children and, more pointedly, it seems like half the movies that are made began life as a novel or short story.
Now, we are at the point in the tale where I must make like Salome and lift the last veil. While I am sure you have already figured out what lies underneath, it makes the next step no less hard.
I had grand plans to turn Ayn Rand novels into films. Not only that, I though I was the only person who ever dreamt of such things. They would be epic and brilliant and would win me a shelf full of awards.
We The Living would be a strict period piece, set in newly Soviet Russia. I would play Kira.
Anthem would be set in the future. It would appeal to sci-fi fans and I had no intention to star in it. I just wanted to direct it. I still do, actually. I mean, a man's search for individuality in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, what is not to love?
Atlas Shrugged would be set in, well, when the hell could it be set, really? By the time I was reading the books, I knew that railroads as great industrial artery had been superseded by highways and runways. So it couldn't be set in the present. But, really, it doesn't work if it is set in the past either. Or, I thought, the future. So I just ignored this technicality and thought about how certain scenes would be filmed and what parts would need to be adapted (for those who are unfamiliar with the novel, this is my oblique way of saying that I had no intention of abusing the audience with John Galt's seventy page speech wherein he says the same thing over and over again. COME ON, who the hell does this? That's like shining a blinding spotlight at your audience for a very long scene and then suggesting the reason people walked out is because Shylock was a black man. So, yeah, maybe Peter Sellars would keep the speech in his adaptation of Ayn Rand, but it would be disjointed and electronic.) The one scene which was very clear in my mind, which would be used in all the trailers, commercials, and Oscar clips, was one between Hank Rearden and Francisco D'Anconia
If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the last of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders-what would you tell him to do?
I . . . don't know. What . . . could he do? What would you tell him?
It would have been brilliant! Really. Oh, and yes, I would play Dagny (though I would wear five inch heels because I acknowledge I am too short otherwise).
I had no desire to turn The Fountainhead to film, perhaps because Ayn herself already tried and, well, much like the producers of Sex and the City, she seemed blind to what was awesome and to miss the entire point of her own work. Even at sixteen, I knew a failed rendition when I saw one.
Through the twists and turns of choice and fate, I arrived at a place where I did not make films. If I were, I would certainly not be making Atlas Shrugged (I mean, it embarrasses me to even suggest I once wanted to). However, this does not mean others with a similar vision did not manage to succeed and, perhaps, I am generous enough to be embarrassed for them as well.
The federal government shouldn't outlaw dreadful movies like Atlas Shrugged – rather, the feds should just regulate them. For example, we could have a federal mandate that all such movies must star Nicolas Cage or a comparable actor – someone who knows how to bring the right level of gravitas to dialogue like, "Which do I sacrifice: an excellent piece of smelting, or this Institute?"
I mean, I would be embarrassed for them if I didn't enjoy all the mockery that people are making at their expense so much. Besides, as followers of Rand, they have no need for my generosity, knowing that there is no such thing as altruism.
Is the film as bad as the reviews say it is? Let's watch the trailer.
See, they do not have the awesome scene explaining the title in it. What were they thinking?
Also, there seems to be a stunning lack of sex in the trailer. I am not only saying this is weird because the wooden dialogue and bad acting are reminiscent of a porn film, but also because sex was important in Ayn Rand's novels. Her female characters were strong women who were sexually free, unfettered by society's demands with regards to chasteness and morality. Sex is presented as an opportunity of like minded individuals to connect, not as means of procreation. Her characters have sex with each other a lot. Extramarital and non-marital sex happens more frequently and is often presented as more noble than the sex which occurs between married couples. The risk of pregnancy is never discussed and one would wonder if her characters are all infertile, or perhaps in Rand's parallel universe procreation happens through some non-sexual means. So while this film seems to be chock full of "OMG the government and socialists are ruining us", it seems to have ignored the bits of Rand's work which didn't correspond with their world view.
Which is a pity because while her work is cartoonish, it is a far more complex cartoon than either her critics or her champions would lead you to believe.
I grew up. I learned more. I learned that while I could gloss over the parts of Rand I disliked, I could not accurately call myself a fan of hers if I did. I began to understand that one does not need to embrace an entire philosophy, that one may pick and choose and create their own. I learned that my vision of the world was wholly my own. I learned that not all things loved in childhood translate well to adulthood. Most importantly, I realized that not every book needs to become a film.
While I have called this an embarrassing confession, I think what I really feel is discomfort with how naive I used to be, a lack of ease with the inherent arrogance that comes with inexperience. But also, with all the discombobulation comes a profound gratitude that I have evolved from that place.
And, yeah, someday I may end up making the film Anthem.