Monthly Archives: October 2007

Atlas Shrugged’s Film Director

Congratulations to the late Ayn Rand on the 50th Anniversary of the publication of her masterpiece, “Atlas Shrugged.” It is still selling well and influencing the thinking of more people than ever.

I finally saw the movie, “House of Sand and Fog,” directed by Vadim Perelman. He has been selected to rewrite the screenplay by Randall Wallace (who was hired torewritethe screenplay by Jim V. Hart),and to direct the movie version of “Atlas Shrugged” starring Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart.

SinceI learned that instead ofthetrilogy that the producers initially planned, themovie is just going to be a singlestandard-length feature, I gave up all hope of it being even remotely representative of the 1,084-page novel. Remember, a screenplay for a two hour movie is about 100 pages long, with wide margins on both sides of the page whenever there is any dialogue.

I believe that Angelina Jolie is a talented actress who is capable of, and likely dedicated to, doing justice to the role of Dagny, despite any political differences she may have from Ayn Rand, soher casting did not have anyimpact on my pessimism.

But now that I’ve seen the director’s previous movie, I have even less hope for “Atlas Shrugged” to convey even the sense of life or essence of the novel.

This is the central conflict in “House of Sand and Fog”:

The government evicts a womanfrom her home unjustly, causing her tobecoming homeless anddetermined to reclaimher house,when an immigrantpurchases it at a government auction as a major step in his effort to use real estate to begin to raise his family’sstandardof living in the United States. Both are flawed but good people, and the film details the choices each one makes that result in a downward spiral.

“House of Sand and Fog” is the poster child for the “malevolent universe premise,” which Ayn Randcalled the viewthatman cannot achieve his values; it is theidea that successes are the exception, and that the rule of human life is failure and misery. This premise is antithetical to her philosophy, which holds that the universe is auspicious to human life if a man adheres to reality.

The movieshows human beings’ ordinary self-interested actionsto cause conflicts that result in tragedy due to tragic flaws in the characters, or on a more simple level,because of miscommunication and a government property-tax error.

“House of Sand and Fog”also suggests a mystical “determinism” philosophy. As Ben Kingsley stated in an interview with Charlie Rose, the film represents the Ancient Greek or Roman view that the Gods enjoy placing mortalstogether with precisely those others who would cause the maximum conflict and harm, just for thesport of watching the events play out.

I can find some good things to say about this movie and its director, however. First, the movie can be viewed as a critique of property taxes and of government auctions ofunpaid-tax-based foreclosed real estate. In this way the film supports the idea of an individual’s right to his own property. Certainly the bureaucrats in government are essential to causing the central problem in the movie.

But this message would have been clearer if the eviction was not the result of a mistake, but rather the result of standard state policy.

Another positive value in the movie is the way Ben Kingsley’s immigrant character is portrayed. His is one of the most dignified, self-respecting, noblecharacterizations I have seen in any movie.

Additionally, Vadim Perelman has an excellent ability to give proper weight to the emotional value of a scene by staying with it, rather than cutting away quickly. His unhurried pacing of the film gives the audience time to think and feel, unlike so many films today.

Another quality I appreciated is that there is no sarcastic or ironic humor in the dialogue.Perelman doesn’trandomly throw inmodern slang or cynical attitudes the way so many other filmmakers do these days. The characters say what they mean, eloquently, at times with beautiful language, and without irony. (That is not to say that the film has no “swear” words.)

Artistically, the film is sound. It is an almost perfect representation of the malevolent universe premise. The seriousness of thestory is given its proper weight.It is emotionally harrowing.You grow to care about the characters and see them as real people. (That is, as long as you believe they have volition and are not the playthings of the Gods). Vadim Perelman is a good director, based on this film.

Can Perelman switch his sense of life from dark to light? If so, and if the “Atlas Shrugged” script grows to 4 hours or more, perhaps there is hope.

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