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on February 2, 2007
Despite the hagiographic-sounding title, this film is not a work in praise of the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. Instead, it is a biopic, based on a book of the same title, written by Barbara Branden, an erstwhile close friend and high-ranking follower of Rand.

Two attractive young students, Nathaniel Blumenthal (who later changes his name to Nathaniel Branden) and Barbara Weitman (Eric Stoltz and Julie Delpy), are invited, following an enthusiastic letter, to meet their idol, Ayn Rand, at the home she shares with her husband Frank O'Connor (heartbreakingly portrayed by Peter Fonda) in California. Both are passionate devotees of her ideas of Objectivism, reason and self-interest, and find a willing guru in Rand, played with grim charisma by Helen Mirren.

While Nathan is attracted to Barbara, her feelings for him are closer to friendship - but under pressure from Rand, who argues that emotion is always based on reason and that therefore the young couple's shared ideals make them a perfect sexual match, the two of them marry. Their unsuccessful marriage, already intimately destructive since Nathaniel has taken it upon himself to act as Barbara's psychotherapist as well as her husband, seeking to eradicate the 'faulty principles' that make her uncomfortable with the relationship, is worsened when Rand and Nathaniel begin an affair, insisting that their prospective partners accept this sexual relationship as the necessary consequence of their mental compatibility. The tensions between the characters play out against the rising cult of the Nathaniel Branden Institute and the success of Atlas Shrugged, leading to moral and emotional chaos under the guise of reason and idealism.

Whether or not the film is an accurate depiction of the real situation is much debated, but as a character study, as a film in its own right, it's excellent. Rand, as portrayed by Mirren, comes across as a woman who argues for reason and individual rights, while in fact being ruled, and ruling all those around her, by her own emotions, a toxic and pathetic queen eternally refusing to see how human nature cannot measure up to her image of it. Stoltz as Nathaniel is a fine portrayal of a bright and not-all-that-bad young man, whose faults, a tendency to self-centredness and dishonesty, are horribly magnified by becoming the favourite disciple of an inconsistent guru, to his own harm as well as everyone else's. Delpy plays the confused, idealistic and fragile Barbara with integrity and passion, and Fonda's portrayal of the kind, weary, alcoholic Frank, clear-sighted about what's going on but too dependent on his wife, both financially and emotionally, to speak up, is downright tragic. There are splendid performances from a strong cast, with an involving story that encourages sympathy with flawed people. Rand supporters may not like it, as it portrays Rand, Branden and the Objectivist movement as fundamentally hypocritical and deluded, but neutral viewers will enjoy an engaging and unusual story, intelligently told and skilfully handled. Well worth a look.
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on October 11, 2003
I was disappointed with this film. I was thinking (or hoping) this film was going to be about the passion of knowledge, ideas, thinking, and any other form of mental stimulation; I really didn't think there was much of that in this film. Maybe I'm just odd in the way I dislike Hollywood's usual portrayal of passion: love affairs et cetera. Passion in this film was portrayed in the Hollywood sense. There was brief mentioning of thoughts, the mind, ideas, the individual, et al, but I felt they were only in idle chatter, and not what really mattered. Maybe all the "Hollywood passion" represented in this film turned me off, but I would have rather spent my time doing something other than watching this film.

Recently I had the pleasure of a watching a different documentary film about Miss Rand called _Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life_. And I think if you are looking for more details actually about her, her life, and her ideas, rather than love affairs which I thought were quite unpleasant within _The Passion of Ayn Rand_, _Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life_ is the film I think you'll enjoy to watch and listen to instead.
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on September 24, 2009
This Showtime film takes up the life of Ayn Rand from chapter 20 in Barbara Branden's biography of the same title. The director and screen writers have effectively transmitted the turn from naive hero worship of Rand that Barbara and her boyfriend Nathaniel experienced in the late 1940s to the subsequent stormy love affair between Rand and Nathaniel with its consequences in the lives of Frank O'Connor (Rand's husband) and Barbara, who had married Nathaniel. When the affair started, Rand was in the middle of writing her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged, a philosophical novel about unstinting individualists who love whom they will on the way to creating the world they want.

Julie Delpy fairly portrays Barbara's "descent into hell" (to borrow from a Doris Lessing title) of psychological intimidation and manipulation and its breeding of guilt, but Helen Mirren appropriately dominates the screen, mastering Rand's intensity down to detailed mannerisms that conform not only to Barbara's account but to filmed interviews. (For excerpts from these interviews and more, see Michael Paxton's "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life," DVD, 2004, available on Amazon.) Whereas Delpy gives us a woman in tune with social dynamics (including jealousy) as well as ideas, Mirren shows a single-minded pursuit of personal goals that easily ignores the existence of others, a kind of "blanking out" of social reality (to borrow an epithet that Rand frequently used). In the scene where Rand negotiates her affair with Nathaniel in the presence of Frank and Barbara, Mirren's voice, face, and body move inexorably from her assumption that everyone will accept her simple moral calculus--what's best for her must be good for all--to mild indignation that the others cannot see with her clarity what is in her/their best interest. Mirren, like Rand, is in control.

Peter Fonda's Frank O'Connor is subdued, sometimes stiff, sometimes baffled, the repressed husband described in the bio. In a scene showing all four walking on a sidewalk, director Menaul has Frank slightly behind the group, ceding the right of way to another pedestrian heading in the opposite direction. Frank seems to take a fatherly interest in Barbara, distantly reminiscent of Jean Val Jean and Cosette. Fonda carries the sense of repression well, showing Barbara kindness and Rand forbearance. Eric Stoltz does an effective job of creating the mixed emotions of a man more in love with ideas than with people, until he finds someone younger, not quite so bright, that he can control without effort.

The supporting cast of easily intimidated businessmen (men only) and easily awed young intellectuals (mostly men but some women) accurately conveyed how hangers on can become sycophants or be driven to despair by the presence of charismatic people. When reason is a weapon to inculcate agreement rather than a tool for building understanding, second-hand parroting can often substitute for real thought. One of these characters works as a screenwriter and must compromise to keep his job, and Mirren's contempt for him is vivid and excruciating. ("Contempt" is an attitude high in the Randian social repertoire, and Mirren picked up on it well.)

The opening and closing New York skyline scenes recall Rand's fascination with the distinctive tall buildings of American modern architecture, but the nightscape hints at the darkness of the story, which is more sad than poignant. The jazz score adds to this feeling, underscoring the Bohemian mood of New York in the 50s and early 60s. This film has little room for what Rand called the "tiddly-wink" music that she relaxed to, though the Blue Danube Waltz gives some of the exhilaration that she must have felt when she was in control. (Rachmaninov, one of her favorites for "serious" music, may have been either too subtle or too bombastic for this film.)

And now for a small quibble...

Although Showtime should be commended for making this film, they also undercut the story on the back of the DVD by saying Rand had a "bizarre love life." Though the Victorians were scandalized by Dickens's and Hugo's affairs with much younger women, few today would care; apparently an older woman writer needing a younger man to stay inspired still seems "bizarre" to our Victorian holdovers.
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on September 29, 2008
I was a student of Ayn Rand's philosophy and a patient of Mr. Branden's several decades ago, in the early 70's. Why? Because I was trying in vain to live as Ms. Rand said we should: as heroic figures every day, perfect in our morals, that we should aspire to be as perfect as the impossibly perfect,cold, robotic main characters of her novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shugged. The only book of hers I read several times was We The Living as the characters were most like flesh and blood and real.

While I was going to Group at Mr. Branden's house I had no idea that he'd had an affair with Ayn Rand as it was apparently known only to some insiders I'd guess. Had I known, I would have immediately ended the relationship. As it was he was totally ineffectual as a therapist, barely able to stay awake while we spoke, and like comic shrinks in movies, lets you answer your own questions when you're paying HIM to! Years later, 15 free minutes with Dr. Laura on the radio fixed the problem I had (guilt over the death of a family member.)

The upside of all this:I did know Patrecia who was changed to another fictional woman in the movie. She was a Goddess. All the men loved her, all the women wanted to BE her. She was the essence of joy and life and she died way too young....slight epilepsy that was caused by strobing sunlight dancing off the pool whereupon she had a seizure and fell into the water, drowning.

Now I see that the high moral standards we underlings were supposed to uphold were completely tossed out the window by Ms. Rand and Mr. Branden. Barbara Brandon's book also reported that Ms. Rand was often under the influence of some seriously strong amphetamines and I'm sure if she saw I had done the same thing , she'd have blasted me for not having the moral courage to go through life without artificial courage.

I admire Ms. Rand for her works and her diligent fight against Communism (she is reeling in her grave at where our country stands now!), but it turned out to be do as I say, not as I do. I wasted a lot of years trying to be what she thought we should all aspire to. We can't. It's an impossibility. We are human, with human frailties which she and Nathaniel obviously both succumbed to. You just can't change Nature, which Ayn hated because she only loved that which was man-made. You can take some of this philosophy, but toss out what isn't right for you, otherwise you're a round peg in a very tight, painful square hole.

I believe this movie was a hatchet job to discredit her as she always stated:

"The best way to destroy greatness is to celebrate the mediocre." Or words to that affect.

Just look at who eats up all the news 7 days a week: Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, Lindsey, Anna-Nicole, etc, ad nauseum!

Atlas Shrugged is rumored to be in the works with Angelina Jolie, but don't hold your breath.
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on May 5, 2014
If you want to understand Ayn Rand and who she was as a person this is the movie to watch. Brutally honest about her personal life, you realize that behind the philosophy is a real woman who makes mistakes just like the rest of us. Her story reveals the kind of woman she was, not just a character we read about in a book, but the real woman behind the philosophy of Objectivism, her relationships with her husband, her partner and other people within her close circle of friends. Without giving too much detail it gets deeply into her personal life and reveals choices made that may seem unforgivable to some that change your view of this woman completely.
It took me while to "see" this side of her, to reconcile certain aspects of her personality and choices she made with the fundamental values that Objectivism teaches us. They seemed like a contradiction, when she taught that contradictions do not and can not exist. Learning that contradictions between a person's words and actions are possible in that we are human beings and fallible. She fell off the pedestal I had put her on and brought her down to the realm of us lesser human beings.
After much thought, and not without some anger, what I believed to be a contradiction and a betrayal was in fact a reality of life. While ones choices and actions may be in contradiction to what they believe it makes the philosophy they teach no less true. It's not the teachings that are in contradiction, it just a human being trying to live up to the philosophy they so believe in. I can believe in the philosophy whether or not the person teaching it is likeable or not. A man/woman who steals, drinks, has a violate temper or even kills another human being doesn't make them any less an amazing football player, a gifted dancer or an insightful writer. This is true for Ayn Rand as well.
If you have her up on a pedestal and don't want to give up how you personally view Rand, this is not the movie for you. If you want to know the real woman behind the philosophy of Objectivism, (or as close as is possible from her own diaries and input from those closest to her) then watch this movie. From what I've found with my own research , which included Rands own input, this is probably about as close to getting to know her from a video perspective as you are going to get. This movie, while she explains much of her philosophical views, is more about the woman herself and how she lived the philosophy she believed in and taught.
It will help you remember that behind this philosophy, there was a living, breathing, fallible woman who put her pants on one leg at a time just like rest of us. AND occasionally put the right leg in the wrong hole and had to start over again.
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on October 19, 2014
Helen Mirren was terrific as Ayn Rand. Obviously a film told from the perspective of a complicit and knowing accomplice wife, she leave few details uncovered. Peter Fonda does a credible job of portraying the relatively passive Rand husband, Frank O'Connor. Of course, the Randophobes are going to glom onto this film as illustrating all of the reasons why they chould not be an individualist. On the other hand, Rand followers with an open mind will appreciate the "inside baseball" view of the behind the scenes life of one of the most influential thinkers of the late 20th century. Probably left out due to restrictions of the medium, are Rand's voluminous contributions to her thought through the "Objectivist Newsletter," and the "Ayn Rand Letter." The film come fairly close to illustrating the psychological turmoil Barbara Branden went through in attempting to reconcile her own verbal acceptance of the Rand-Branden affair.
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on December 31, 2015
Another Ayn Rand-related work...I am not 100% sure about all the 'facts' it represents - you can see for yourself - I don't trust HOLLYWOOD
to be altogether factual, indeed, are they ever? But Helen Mirren in the role is her usual fabulous self. It is a thought-provoking look into the
era Rand lived, and the kind of life she lived. I do recommend it to Ayn Rand lovers.
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on October 15, 2015
I used to like this movie and thought it was a pretty fair representation of the affair between Rand and Branden. Now I think it's a gross and unfair distortion. I'm surprised at myself that I ever liked it. Time and distance has given me a better perspective. After I bought my DVD copy I couldn't even finish it. All the main players in this drama are now dead. Even Branden. Very sad and a great loss to the world.
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on December 1, 2014
Excellent acting by all. Helen Mirren is a powerful actress who does an outstanding job of portraying this enigmatic force of a person. Wonderful music. The academic community dismissed Ayn Rand’s philosophy. The literary community labeled “Atlas Shrugged” as ranting. And yet, her writings were wildly popular with many readers. I’m really not sure if there actually is any real substance to objectivism. The movie presents another sad commentary on the human condition and behavior--People are going to do what they want to do and rationalize their behavior, even if it directly contradicts what they have said before.
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on June 7, 2010
Helen Mirren -- as usual -- gives an excellent performance as Ayn Rand, and she's the main reason to see this film. The rest of the cast is fine; the script -- which should have been called "The Panic Attacks of Barbara Branden" or "The Affairs of Nathaniel Branden" -- assumes the viewer already knows everything about Ayn Rand's fiction and philosophy. This is a big problem. For example, near the beginning the Brandens are shown meeting Ayn Rand and her husband at their home in California. This brief scene then cuts to the young couple driving away, filled with excitement about the hours they've just spent talking with their idol, Ayn Rand. Unfortunately the viewer isn't given a clue as to what their all-night conversation was about.

This film would've been far more interesting if the focus had been more on Rand and her ideas, not mainly on the sex between her and Nathaniel Branden, or on Barbara's fainting spells. There should have been at least two or three scenes between Rand and the Brandens, or with Rand giving speeches or interviews, that would serve to clarify what her ideas were and why they attracted and influenced so many people in the 1950s and 60s. (There is one brief exchange of dialogue at an Objectivist lecture where Rand answers a question about her core beliefs by stating: "Reason. Individualism. Capitalism.", but that's all we get to hear, folks.) Otherwise the film makes it difficult to understand why Rand became such a magnetic cult-figure and was able to command such devotion from her friends and followers.

Once again: see it for Mirren's performance, but try to imagine a better script.
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