Ayn Rand fans will be pleased to know that filming for the third installment of the Atlas Shrugged trilogy was greenlighted this past weekend. Thanks to a persistent publicist, I caught up with producer John Aglialoro, who shared a few stories about the challenges of bringing Rand’s epic novel to the screen. He also revealed a controversial surprise he is planning for the film, which is sure to roil Ayn Rand’s legions of acolytes monitoring the work for doctrinal purity.
Aglialoro is a man on a mission, struggling with an inherent contradiction in his quest to commit one of the most influential novels in history to film. While Rand’s work lauds the virtues of reason, selfishness, and the profit motive, Aglialoro, a highly successful entrepreneur, is unlikely to turn a profit on this venture. Does this make him a closet altruist? Not if he really believes his efforts can help the country he loves to escape destruction at the hands of the socialist/crony capitalist/crooked banker alliance now ensconced in Washington.
Our conversation opened with the obvious. What makes you think you can do justice to this 1,168-page opus in a trilogy of low-budget movies? Doesn’t it require a 20-part TV miniseries? In my prior reviews I called the Atlas Shrugged I film the Cliffs Notes version of the epic novel and Atlas II a pastiche of excerpts. Aglialoro took these criticisms in stride, explaining the ruthless choices he had to make in fashioning the screenplay, as well as his hopes to one day produce a miniseries as well.
Atlas I cost $10 million to make and played in 350 theaters. Although Atlas II had double the budget and played at nearly triple the number of screens as the first installment, it did worse at the box office. This increased the challenge of raising the $10 million required to make Atlas III. At least this time, Aglialoro won’t have the calendar breathing down his neck. The first movie started filming days before the rights would have expired and the second was rushed into theaters just ahead of the presidential election. While the budget is tight, he believes that a July 4, 2014 release date gives him ample time to do the conclusion justice.
OK, something had to be cut. But what about the love quadrangle as Dagny’s affections move from Francisco to Reardon to Galt, a progression that serves to elucidate Rand’s theory of love, sex, and the futility of self-sacrifice? Who can forget the climactic moment after Reardon, believing he was betrayed by Francisco, shouts, “You gave me your oath on the woman you love!” He gasps in dawning recognition. He points at Dagny. “Is this the woman you love?” He slaps Francisco’s face as Francisco struggles to control his emotions, unable to reveal the truth behind Galt’s strike.
Aglialoro insisted that a lot of complexity had to go. “Love triangles are hard enough; you want to add a fourth person to the mix? Plus every woman in the audience would be pulling for the dashing Francisco over the stony Galt. I had to leave Francisco’s love for Dagny in the rear view mirror, make it part of her youth, but not her present.” I guess we’ll have to wait for the miniseries to see that one subplot dramatized.
The conversation turned to philosophy as we dug into Rand’s admiration for Thomas Aquinas, despite her atheism. Her placement of Aquinas as second only to Aristotle was based on his reliance on reason and his belief that redemption was an individual responsibility. Rand parted company with Aquinas based on his premises, not on what he concluded from them. Yet this nuance was lost on one of the conservative movement’s brightest lights, William F. Buckley, who denounced Rand, opening up a rift between their respective fans that has not healed to this day.
And here is where Aglialoro plans his surprise, a scene that does not exist in the book that he nonetheless hopes to include in the third part of the film trilogy. He believes that our troubled times require an alliance between champions of reason and free market capitalism and conservative religious practitioners, for without such an alliance both causes will be lost.
“Most people have a respect for spirituality, maybe even a yearning. There must be room in Objectivism for charity and benevolence. Remember, Rand struggled with the character of the priest, who appeared in early drafts ofAtlas Shrugged but didn’t make the final cut. I am going to put him back.”
It will be a mere nod, maybe 30 seconds. Most of the audience will miss it, along with the olive branch it represents. But Aglialoro hopes to get shooting permission from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral for a scene that will open with a wide shot from above and behind the iconic statue of Atlas in Rockefeller Center. The camera will follow Dagny into a quiet courtyard, consumed in silent mental struggle. The sound of a choir will break the night, a beautiful inspiring sound that will stop Dagny in her tracks. She turns and sees a man of the cloth who has been watching her struggle. “Good evening, my child, can I help you?” “Oh no, father, I was just listening to the lovely music.” “Are you sure there is nothing I can help you with?” A long pause. “No, father. I have to do this on my own.”
It’s not much. But it will be a gentle repudiation of the militant atheism that characterizes many Objectivists. Will purists raise a ruckus? Will religious conservatives respond to the invitation, realizing that if liberty is allowed to perish leaving socialism triumphant, religious freedom will be next? Perhaps Aglialoro shared this preview to float a trial balloon. In either case, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here. If you would like to have his columns delivered to you by email, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.