The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999 TV Movie)
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But the real power in this TV movie comes across in the four central performances by Helen Mirren as Ayn Rand, Peter Fonda as her passive, dispirited, alcoholic husband, the always excellent Eric Stolz as "Branden" and Julie Delpy as his long-suffering wife. Each of these excellent actors has mastered the art of "less is more" in conveying depth of emotion with a minimum of hamminess and take the viewer inside the cult mentality. Rand could easily have been depicted as a monster but Mirren and the screenwriters take care to show us her vulnerable side. You have to admire her whether you agree with her or not. She was a tragic figure worth exploring. Her novels still sell in the hundreds of thousands of copies many decades after their initial release because there is a kernel of truth in what she wrote, something about the value of the individual and the beauty of reason. What she made of those truths is debatable.
So when Barbara Branden came out with, The Passion Of Ayn Rand, and it later was made into the movie - I paid attention and compared what was presented with my memories. Most of what is in the movie corresponds to what I remember. I like the movie's frankness for it shows how damaging Rand was to other people's relationships and how disappointed she was with the men in her circle who consistently fell short of her fictional male characters.
It is notable that every biography of Rand starts with her terrible experience under the Soviets - but none make much of that experience's role in forming Rand's later attitudes and philosophical stance. Her resultant "anti-collectivism" is completely valid on its face but in practice it becomes an excuse for rank selfishness and coldness toward "inferior people."
Rand's fascination with men as fantasy heroes and sexual controllers of women has always been evident and was acknowledged by Rand herself. It is never mentioned how this contradicts Rand's forcefully promoted "principles." She punished all who violated her rules but never thought her own transgressions affected how she should be regarded as one promoting a moral system.
The movie should be seen by all those who have read Rand's works and know at least something of her actual history. It provides the balance of her human flaws to offset the alleged purity of her ideals. A balance she as a writer never accomplished.
She was once quoted as saying that the character Kira, in her book 'We The Living', was the closest thing to an autobiography that she would ever write. Kira was a pure character with heroic characteristics. Ayn Rand in real life was probably not. Again, I don't care. None of this detracts from her philosophy. By the way, don't miss Rand's book-turned-into-film 'We The Living' starring Rossano Brazzi and Alida Valli filmed in Italy during WWII without Rand's knowledge or blessing. It is a cinematic feast. Italian actors, Russian setting, English subtitles and well adapted. Reportedly, Hitler had it canned after one showing because it criticized totalitarian dictatorships.
Back to this movie. It is reasonably well done and very interesting. Hoving subscribed to her newsletter, 'The Objectivist', I will never forget the short column she wrote therein, something to the effect "Nathaniel Branden is no longer associated with me, etc" (after she had dedicated Atlas Shrugged to him).
There is a human side to every hero.
Above all, read 'The Fountainhead', her greatest work. Forget the film, it was poorly adapted (by Rand?) and Cooper/Neal did not do the book's characters justice.
Some of Miss Rand's devotees may find this production oversexu- alized, but as someone familiar with her life and work, I find the account of her behavior and her thinking to be consistent with much of what I've read about her and heard in interviews. Considering Ayn Rand's passion for the consistency of principle and action, this film is in no way disparaging to her in character, even while it may not be as compli- mentary as some would like.
In fact, this movie may become an important historical resource for those who are unfamiliar with Miss Rand's life and work and want to research her. Like many outstanding biographies, this production provides a well-rounded view of her character and philosophy. It leaves the viewer, as the historian, to draw her or his own conclusions about the strength or weakness of Miss Rand's character, without in- doctrinating her point of view. This movie is an accurate and fair por- trayal of a woman who often incited controversy with her powerful commitment to the consistency of her actions with her ideals.
I fault the Director for not aging the characters over the 15-17-yr. span, especially the pivotal role of Branden. By the time Branden takes a young student as his lover, he was old enough to be her father, just as Rand was old enough to be his mother when their affair commenced. Not even his weight, attire, or hair were modified, much less his baby face, to show how the passage of time would've affected who he did and didn't find appealing as a lover and life partner by the time he was 40'ish and Rand 60-65.
Rand's pain and fury over losing his love and sex and being dumped for a girl young enough to be her grandchild apparently sealed his fate in the Movement, so failing to age the characters was a key error in an otherwise well-done film.
Rand had the spirit and confidence to go after a man half her age, and the magnetism to land and hold him. Women past 40 are normally confined to older men, and much older, the older the woman becomes. Refreshing. Rand was shown to find the sexual affair intensely pleasant and intellectually freeing, as creative men do. In fact, Rand acted the traditional male role throughout the film, her husband the female role. Also refreshing.
The conscious attempts by all Movement characters to make their actions conform to their belief system was one of the things that consistently elevated this film above a simple adultery drama. Hence, Rand and Branden sought their spouses' consent for their affair, even if they underestimated its duration by a factor of 15 years. Branden and Barbara married as a heroic act despite lack of personal 'fit', etc.
Only Branden seemed to be consistently weak and therefore prone to violating Movement principles via lies and obfuscation, and even he proved to be capable of emotional growth by the end. An interesting and enlightening film with superb performances.
Since I had delved into Rand's works and was influence by them, even if only temporarily, I have to admit that this film was truly shocking in its portrayal of her. Don't get me wrong, the acting in this film with all of the characters was A+. However, the way they cast Ayn as a character, making her just as human and just as given to her emotions, was quite appalling. You see, in Ayn's work, she stresses the ideal in life, that which is held to the highest, noblest, and greatest - the achievements of the mind. She communicates this in such as way that she appears above others in society, as if sitting amongst that ideal that she preaches. Therefore any other portrayal of her ideal diminishes the viewer's perspective.
**Below there are a few spoilers included to show the flaws of this film to followers of Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy.
Strangely, this movie doesn't seem to be primarily about philosophy, but rather the torments of an extra-marital affair. The film intermingles and blends her philosophy as a backdrop to this. Granted, in her Playboy interview she does not necessarily agree that sex has to be between a married couple, however, this film almost portrays her as some of the villains she describes in her books. I suppose the most obvious reason for this is because it is an account of the non-fiction work of Barbara Branden. She was a close friend and disciple of Ayn Rand. Her husband, Nathaniel (an egotistical and sex-hungry psychologist), has an affair with Ayn Rand. The film begins to get gray here in that it doesn't fully the develop the reason for Barbara Branden's non-sexuality, which in part fosters Nathaniel's cheating on her. What is odd also and perhaps the glorified self-image of the author, is Barbara's depiction as really the only character that held truest to the Objectivist philosophy. Her love for Nathaniel seems mistaken for great admiration and respect of his intellect. Her lack of any sexual expression appears to substantiate this as she has passion for only the intellect and not the physical. Her singular defiance of Ayn's teaching is displayed with her agreement and subsequent self-immolation in allowing her husband to have an affair.
Ayn and Nathaniel, on the other hand, share the same act of uncontrollability in their affections for one another. While this is displayed as logical, they ask their spouses to sacrifice themselves for their pleasure by agreeing to the affair - a big no-no in Ayn Rand's teachings. Ayn's husband, Frank, appears in a fog during most of this, washed up and washed out as he hides in his hidden anguish.
But Nathaniel commits the ultimate travesty in his cheating not only on his wife but now also on Ayn herself. He begins an affair with a young woman he is counseling, while still juggling his wife and Ayn in the mix. This, of course, comes to a head and Ayn is as furious with Nathaniel as if she were his wife. She vows to destroy the man she believes she has made (what happened to the self-made hero she saw in him, the man who did not rely on others?). Strangely, Barbara once again appears noble as she defends her husband's destruction before Ayn.
If I haven't explained it to you Ayn Rand's fans clearly enough, this movie is full of holes in her philosophy. I'll quote a line from Nathaniel Branden in the movie, "A philosophy should not be judged by the actions of its teachers." This statement surely applies to this film! However, I wonder just how "objective" a testament Barbara Branden gave when she wrote the book this film is based on. Because if the teachers can't follow the philosophy and remain true to it, then either the philosophy failed or the teachers never fully understood it in the first place.
The acting in this movie was outstanding and makes it more memorable. Of particular merit are Julie Delpy as Barbara Braden and Peter Fonda accurately portraying the meek Frank O'Connor.
A movie should be judged by whether it is the best product that can be created by the elements being used. On this basis, it succeeds.
To honestly understand the perspective of the authors, Barbara and Nathaniel Branden, and what they are hiding, see the book, "The Passion of Ayn Rand's Critics" by James Valliant.
Ayn Rand is so controversial because she challenges the premises of those in power, from religion, to politics, to academia. Just now, more than a hundred years after her birth and 20 years after her death, the truth is coming out on her personal life and more importantly her seminal contributions to the foundations of philosophy. Academia is just opening it's eyes to her ideas and exposing students to this alternative to the history of philosophy. She has literally laid the foundations for ethics and the other branches of philosophy to become a science for the first time in human history.
But, since that philosophy is so anti-people, it is easy to understand why not even the person who formulated this outlandish theory -- nor her most ardent follower, Nathanial -- would be able to live up to it.
Near the end, Nathanial's wife, Barbara, contradicts Ayn by saying something like, "compassion: it's what humans do" to Ms. Rand. This, for me, neatly sums up what Ayn Rand's life was about: the antithesis of compassion.
Though the film itself is nothing spectacular in its acting, script, effects or direction, the message it puts forward is important. The message is that if a philosophy so much goes against what people feel to be correct (as objectivism does), it is quite probably unworkable and undesirable. To me, that was the most important theme in "The Passion of Ayn Rand."
My rating: 6
We undoubtedly get a horribly disembowelled version of Rand's 'objectivism' - in this film that simply means 'being selfish' and 'uncaring'. Consequently the cast are a bit scuppered. Mirren works fairly hard, with a consistent accent, but the rest are average-to-lame... Peter Fonda's Frank is dreadfully wooden.
Further issues: there are lots of close framed shots (which save on having to create period sets); a surfeit of weeping to camera; and there's no big-arc coherence - the opening flashback isn't recalled at the denouement. Cheap and, worse, probably inaccurate. 2/10
Let's see. Mirrin is married to Frank (Peter Fonda), an alcholic wimp who paints and cultivates flowers. The couple take under their wing an admiring young married couple, Eric Stoltz and Julie Delpy. (I'm going to skip the characters' names because they're unimportant historically and dramatically.) Mirrin develops a maternal affection for Stoltz that soon enough blossoms into something more physical. Julie Delpy twigs to this. We know so because she confronts Stoltz: "She loves you! And you love HER!" Mirren and Stoltz meet together with their spouses and tell the truth. They want an open marriage, meaning Mirren and Stoltz get to hump each others' brains out without the same privilege being extended to Fonda and Delpy. The spouses grant Mirren and Stoltz one afternoon a week alone, but the pair have so much fun they begin bootlegging more hours into the arrangement.
Delpy, meanwhile, is having anxiety attacks, which are nerve wracking, as I can testify. In despair she calls Mirren from a café, begging to come to her for advice and succor, and Mirren comes back with a blistering accusation of selfishness. I'm not sure the screenplay recognizes the irony here, because Ayn Rand's "objectivist philosophy" is nothing if it is not a glorification of selfishness. Anyway, a kindly passer-by notices Delpy collapsing in the phone booth and he's a sensitive, caring type, a musician, and escorts her home. The relationship grows warmer but Delpy refuses to break her marriage vows and -- yawn -- excuse me -- she asks Stoltz for the same open-marriage arrangement that he's got. He balks.
He's got nothing to balk about. He's a practicing clinical psychologist and one of his patients, a beautiful young woman, Sybil Temtchine, develops a severe case of what we practicing clinical psychologists call "transference," not uncommon in neurotics. Rather less common is the way Stoltz exhibits what we practicing psychologists call "counter-transference." He humps her brains out too. To such an extent that Mirren begins musing aloud, "When was the last time we made love?" Are you confused yet? I only ask because I'm a little gemischt myself.
At any rate, Stoltz develops a case of conscious or something -- I may have had a period of microsleep at this point -- and resigns from the Institute. Mirren slaps him around, accuses him of treachery, and does her level best to destroy him. But the stalwart Delpy sticks with her husband and resigns in sympathy.
In the end, objectivism has become a terrific success after the publication of Rand's last book, "Atlas Shrugged," although the critics bombed it, and she makes lots of dough on the lecture circuit -- bold, unashamed before challenging questions from the crowd, full of wisecracks, reveling in her celebrity and money. It must be wonderful to have no doubts about one's self.
No viewer will learn very much about objectivism. It's not the central topic of the movie. The title tells it all -- "The Passion of Ayn Rand." That passion extended far beyond any desire to educate or convert the public. It encompassed power, possessions, and wealth.
What more is there to say about this dreary story. There's so much strenuous and lubricious sex in it that it could have shown up late at night on Cinemax except that the girls would all need bigger bosoms, something along the lines of watermelons. The musical score is mostly slow, sad, muted trumpet, straight out of "Miles Davis Plays Music for Lovers." The dialog sucks. "Did you talk to her about our problems?" "OUR problems? You mean that you don't like sex anymore?" There's an interesting story that was waiting to be built around the rise (and subsequent decline) of objectivism. How -- exactly -- does a cult begin? You need a charismatic figure, of course, and Ayn Rand provided it. Then you typically get proprietary sexual relationships and the concomitant jealousies or self abnegation. The difference between objectivism and most cults is that Rand's had a political, even a metaphysical flavor, whereas most are built around some variant of religious salvation. But cults, like Christianity was when it began, need an organizer and solidifier to follow the charismatic founder when he shuffles off this mortal coil. Christianity at least had St. Paul, but who was there to follow Ayn Rand, to organize the objectivists? Her husband Frank? The elderly and reclusive Frank, who lived off Rand's leavings? Frank, the mediocre painter? The wimp who loved Los Angeles because you could grow a greater variety of flowers there? I once spoke to an architect about "The Fountainhead." It's hero's architectural genius creates a gas station that one fictional critic calls, "An insolent 'No' flung in the face of history." "It's all very well," my architect friend admitted, "if you're a genius. But what about the rest of us, who are no more than good at what we do?" Yes. An interesting story is hidden in the shadows of this abject production, but it remains to be told.
Due to the fact that the script was derived from Branden's book, the emphasis is on her and her bad marriage and less on Rand and her philosophy.
In the movie, Rand (Helen Mirren) becomes involved with Nathaniel Branden (Eric Stoltz), a psychiatrist 25 years younger than she is (and Barbara's husband), and sets up the Nathaniel Branden Institute. When he becomes involved with another woman, she has him banned from the Nathaniel Branden Institute. The movie doesn't say that, but that's true. Stoltz is very good, if somewhat cold. He comes off as a smart man and a sex addict who is unethical.
Helen Mirren likes these roles that de-emphasize her glamour and beauty. She played Alma Hitchcock but she was too glamorous. Ayn Rand was a homely frump. Makeup and clothes did a great job, but Mirren never comes off as frumpy. Nevertheless, she is fantastic, sporting a Russian accent, tremendous passion, and an energetic personality.
As to why Nathaniel would be attracted to Rand, she was a brilliant woman and I imagine charismatic. Barbara, well played by Julia Delpy, was an insecure woman, and his marriage to her was not satisfying.
Peter Fonda does a fine job as Rand's husband, Frank O'Connor, a man Rand loved, but who himself just went along with her and concentrated on things like painting and gardening.
In the movie he becomes a hopeless alcoholic. Part of Rand's philosophy is that you think only of yourself but don't make anyone else unhappy. So she and Branden asked permission of both their spouses to start an affair. Don't tell me they weren't hurt. Branden becomes an integral part of her work until he starts seeing someone else. Not really rational thinking, is it?
When Barbara becomes ill and desperate for help, she calls Ayn, who is having sex with Nathan at the time. Ayn says, "Don't you ever think of anyone but yourself?" And hangs up. That's a true story, too.
I know something of Ayn Rand from reading The Fountainhead and seeing her interviewed. What has most impressed me about her is her prescience, as so much of what she wrote has come to pass.
However, whether she wanted to admit it or not, she was a woman and a human being despite aspirations to be something else. She championed selfishness, capitalism, and reason (you can't make something true just by wanting it to be true). A good example of her philosophy is the phrase "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" which she considered to be the wrong way around.
The problem with Ayn Rand's philosophy is that, like many philosophies, it's impractical. Once it's off a piece of paper, it involves human beings. For instance, she yells at a screenwriter for writing things he doesn't believe in for the studio. I suppose he could quit -- and if he were a brave soul who didn't care about working or money, he could. But most people aren't brave souls and most people can't get along without money. Why not write what you believe in and hand the studio the dreck? That way you can make a living while working to live your best life.
In The Fountainhead, the main character sticks to his beliefs and loses jobs because he won't adhere to the design the client wants. Okay, but it was his business, he wasn't working for someone else. He stuck to his beliefs and found people who bought into them. That's what artists do. The screenwriter would have found a market for his script as well, if he wasn't dead from starvation by then. In The Fountainhead, Howard Roark doesn't have a side job, but most people like Howard Roark probably do.
The film sports excellent production values, capturing the '50s beautifully. There are a couple of faux pas -- in one, Frank makes reference to "King of Kings," the silent version, emphasizing that it was the REAL King of Kings. This indicates there was another, but there wasn't until some years later. Also at one point Nathaniel offers to call his wife a cab. It's New York City. You don't call for cabs. Minor points both.
Helen Mirren is always worth seeing. You'll have to make up your own mind about Rand.
Here the collectivism or selfishness by philosophical design is not nearly a comprehensive or even a deep exercise. It is more sexual psychology and social marital morality than capitalism and rational egoism. The subjects that so tickle conservatives, unbridled economics and unfettered individualism are best found elsewhere.
This is a very well acted and well done character study of both the famous authoress and her immediate and fervent followers. Her "admirers" may be too weak a description of these folks who seem to kneel at the whim of this dominating and forceful personality. The film lays bare her inability and also her disciples, to practice what they preach.
It may not be a profound revelation that Gurus often succumb to human frailties and are unable to overcome the adversities they advocate against, but this movie is a thoughtful rendering based on the non-fiction book of the same name. It is a story told by one close to it all and its "objectivism" can only be speculated.
For those of you who felt that Ayn Rand's Novels "changed your life," I suggest that you view this film and see what kind of behavior spurned such "Heroic Individualism" which in my opinion is crap served up as an appetizer. Does anyone actually believe that you have to love yourself before you can love others? True love is sacrifice of one's self at your own peril for the sake of others. Ayn Rand had none of the qualities to admire in a Heroic figure!
The director stays faithful to Branden's one-dimensional portrayal of Rand as an insufferable egomaniac, crushing every innocent soul who crosses her path and taking advantage of people who are just trying to live their lives. The viewer gets spots of her philosophy here and there, but never enough to fully understand what she's talking about--just enough to convey the image of a woman who's totally convinced of her own beliefs.
The film gives few details about why Rand was such a revered philosopher, but this isn't a biography so much as the recrimination of a woman who consented to her husband's affair and then regretted it.
I'm sure you can see this one coming: In fact, the actress in the film, Helen Mirren, is European. Perhaps one of Britain's most well loved theatrical exports.
Occupant-1: Perfect logic, hopeless premise. Exemplary objectivist argumentation.
The film is very unflattering to Ayn Rand, especially in its up-front display of Objectivism's arguably inhumane side, unbalanced by any mention of the rigorous logic that Rand applied in developing her views. It would be interesting to see how a Rand apologist would artistically present the same events.