Ayn Rand: a Sense of Life

Visionary. Crypto-fascist. Neo-feminist. Towering author. Turgid hack. Godmother of self-actualization. Ayn Rand, the infamous screenwriter-novelist-philosopher, created remorseless celebrations of capitalism, individualism, and what’s-best-for-me-is-best-for-the-world Objectivism that, for a few decades there, ignited more arguments on more campuses, and resulted in Rand herself being called more names, than the work of just about any other 20th-century writer. (Ronald Reagan, Holden Caulfield, Leni Riefenstahl, Werner Erhard, Elvis — all, one way or another, embodied the gospel according to her.) In Michael Paxton’s lengthy biographical portrait, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, which has been nominated for this year’s Best Documentary Oscar, Rand emerges as a feistier, more invigoratingly human presence than the eerie absolutism of her work would suggest. Here she is, seen in an array of intimate photographs, as a young girl growing up within the sullen mystical conformity of Communist Russia, yet blessed (or is it cursed?) with the ravenous spirit of an American. Here she is many decades later, with the exact same page-girl hairdo, the same lightning glower in her eye; popping up on ’70s talk shows, she’s like Dr. Ruth channeling Nietzsche. The film treads far too lightly over the controversies that have surrounded Rand’s life and theories, and it never adequately explores how her titanic novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, connected so forcefully to the undercurrents of mainstream culture. Nevertheless, it does a fascinating job of putting a face on a monument. B+

Ayn Rand: a Sense of Life
  • Movie