Ayn Rand: A Sense Of Life

1998, Movie, NR, 145 mins


Director Michael Paxton's comprehensive look at novelist Ayn Rand, the controversial author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, makes no secret of its admiration for the architect of the self-affirming philosophy of "Objectivism." In fact, his suppression of the less attractive aspects of Rand's personality and beliefs, and his unwillingness to include dissenting voices, moves his film closer to hagiography than simple biography, and makes for some mighty dull viewing. Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1905, Rand witnessed firsthand the rise of Soviet state at the expense of the individual. The experience fueled both her lifelong crusade against the tyranny of collectivism and her relentless glorification of a masculine ideal inspired largely by the heroes of pulp novels, whom she felt embodied the "manly" values of strength, individualism and unbridled ego. In the mid-'20s, Rand escaped the country she loathed, arriving in the U.S. with a head full of myths about America. An aspiring screenwriter, the future philosopher made her way to Hollywood, where she learned all about the ways of the world through movies. Paxton lovingly documents Rand's progress from screenwriter to playwright to novelist, chronicling the phenomenal success of her books and noting her rabid anticommunism, enthusiastic support for unchecked capitalism, and hatred of the twin evils of collectivism and altruism. Rand could work an audience and whip tender-hearted liberals into a lather, but it's clear that Paxton would rather glorify her than broach any serious consideration of her theories: He relies far too heavily on interviews with friends and followers, notably one billed as Rand's "intellectual heir," and baldly overstates her importance as a philosopher. The assertion that Rand's ideas have become a part of university textbooks and curricula would surprise many academics. In the end, the whole thing smacks of the unsavory taste of cultist propaganda masquerading as an exhaustive -- and exhausting -- documentary. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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