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With: Sharon Gless (narrator)
Written by: Michael Paxton
Directed by: Michael Paxton
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 145
Date: 01/01/1997

Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life (1997)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Writer and director Michael Paxton is a gushing fan of Ayn Rand. His newdocumentary, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life (an Oscar nominee for Best DocuementaryFeature in 1997) runs over with enthusiasm for its subject. You can feel it whenthe film is discussing Rand's achievements, such as her best selling, andinfluential books The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. It's when the filmgets into her philosophies that it gets a little muddy.

Like many Americans I didn't know much about Rand before I saw the movie. She was a Russian expatriate who believed that she would have been smothered to death under Communist rule there. She came to America at age 21 with an ambition to work in movies. She met Cecil B. DeMille and got a job as an extra in his The King of Kings (1927). She wrote plays and screenplays, and her first novel, We the Living. It wasn't until her third novel, The Fountainhead and its subsequent movie starring Gary Cooper, that she became a great success. According the movie, The Fountainhead continues to sell 300,000 copies a year. The movie shows us the incredible production of King Vidor's film version of The Fountainhead. Her fourth and last fiction novel, Atlas Shrugged was named as the second most influential book ever written, after the Bible. From that point on, she wrote philosophy and non-fiction essays.

The basic theme of her viewpoint was to point out the worth of the individual over the collective. She believed that man's objective reality should be based on his own reason. These ideas were considered controversial and frightening in the 30's. In the 50's, Seantor McCarthy took them to an extreme and destroyed the lives of many artists. Now, in the 90's, Star Trek has made them a household item, with the evil Borg collective and the good of the individual.

The problem is that the movie fails to deal with Rand's philosophy and how it aged over her lifetime, and how it works today. Rand believed in the businessman and the American dream. Yet, how would she react to a frighteningly huge and dominating company like Nike or Mircosoft? The intellectuals who are interviewed in the movie don't address issues like these. Rand's philosophy is presented as The Word, and it is not debated. These are all fans, and they do not question their hero's viewpoints. In Terry Zwigoff's Crumb, he presented some opposing viewpoints of the artist and his work. An interview or two from some opponents would have clarified things.

But that is perhaps another movie. The literary Rand is subject enough for one movie, and Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life is always interesting. It made me want to read her books, in any case, which is probably its goal.

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