The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999)/####/*** Ayn Rand and Nathaniel Branden have an affair, with devastating consequences for all involved. [Dir: Christopher Menaul/ Helen Mirren, Eric Stoltz, Julie Delpy, Peter Fonda/ 104min/ Drama, Biography]
This film has something for everyone. First, for Rand's fans, this is an intimate look at the woman Ayn Rand, a look that explains with some understanding the well-known affair between herself and Nathaniel Branden. Also, interwoven with the telling of the details of the affair are elements of the creation of Atlas Shrugged. There could have been more exposition of Rand's philosophy, but you get a pretty good idea what she was about.
Second, for Rand's enemies, there is simply the fact that this film is about an affair. Affairs are not the most dignified things, especially when carried on with someone twenty-five years junior, as Nathaniel Branden was to Rand, and especially when involving what appeared to be rough sex, that being the way Rand apparently wanted it. I can only imagine the satisfaction of Leftists at the spectacle.
And finally, for those who know nothing of Ayn Rand, there is the sheer drama of the story: a brilliant, world-changing novelist at the center of an intergenerational affair that ultimately destroys love, friendships, and business.
Also in the plus column is a remarkably well-selected cast. Helen Mirren, in particular, is superb as Rand. Every nuance, down to the posture and intensity of expression is faithfully duplicated. (Mirren won an Emmy for her performance.) Some of the camera work is also superior.
This film has been criticized for dredging up dirty laundry, but rightly or wrongly, people want to know all about their heroes. Rand fans are no exception. And anyway, dirty laundry or not, it doesn't contradict her philosophy except with respect to the idea that feelings and physical attraction must entirely follow logic. Clearly that didn't work here, as "love has reasons that reason knows nothing of."
As I see it, this tragedy largely reflects a lack of feedback. Rand, the ultimate champion of reason, wanted to believe that feelings must be entirely subordinate to it. She also wanted to believe that Nathaniel Branden loved her as much and in the same way that she loved him. So why didn't anyone tell her she was wrong? As told here, the explanations varied with the characters. There was the sense that they should try to live up to her vision. There were mixed emotions. There was immaturity. There was financial dependence. And there was cowardice. The stakes were high, as Rand was capable of reacting badly. The more the affair went on, the higher the stakes got. It's something of an irony that Rand, the supreme individualist, would end up intimidating her closest friends into submission, but there it is.
My only real complaint about this film is that it inadvertently gives exaggerated prominence to this low point in Rand's life. If it were just one part of a ten or twelve part series, as indeed the affair is just a small part of the Barbara Branden book on which it is based, there would be no problem. But it isn't part of a series. There is nothing to put it in a broader, more positive context. Even the much-praised documentary about Rand, "Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life," doesn't really tell her full story, as it's sanitized not only of this affair but also of the tremendously positive impact she had on so many people. For my money, the Barbara Branden book is still the only biography, on or off screen, that does justice to Rand.
In any case, this is a great drama and will no doubt stimulate more popular interest in Rand's works, something that is all to the good.
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11/4/00--An interview of Barbara Branden by "Full Context" has been added to her web site. The interview contains numerous interesting details about the production of the film.
1/23/00--Peter Fonda won the Golden Globe for "Best Supporting Actor, Series, Miniseries or Movie Made for Television" for his role as Frank O'Connor in "The Passion of Ayn Rand."
12/24/99--Laissez-Faire Books reports that "The Passion of Ayn Rand" is a finalist in the "1999 New York Film Festivals Television Programming and Promotion Competition."
12/24/99--Helen Mirren has now been nominated for the "Best Actress In A Mini-Series Or Made For TV Movie" Golden Globe Award, for her performance as Ayn Rand in "The Passion of Ayn Rand." Peter Fonda, who played Frank O'Connor, has been nominated for the "Best Supporting Actor In A TV Series, Mini-Series Or Made-For-TV-Movie" Golden Globe. The awards will be handed out by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association on January 23rd.
9/12/99--Helen Mirren won "Best Actress in a Miniseries or Movie" for her role as Ayn Rand in the movie "The Passion of Ayn Rand." A well-deserved award, I thought. Strangely enough, Mirren was "accidentally slashed by someone else's trophy when all of the winners gathered on stage for the show's finale. 'I must be the first person ever to shed blood for an Emmy,' quipped Mirren. The injury wasn't serious but did require the application of a small bandage."
7/25/99--from Linda Curran Wexelblatt, Producer of 'The Passion of Ayn Rand': "The film 'The Passion of Ayn Rand' has been nominated for two Prime Time Emmy Awards. Helen Mirren (Ayn Rand) was nominated for her performance as a Leading Actress in a Movie or Miniseries. Peter Fonda (Frank O'Connor) was nominated for his performance as a Supporting Actor in a Movie or Miniseries. Emmy winners will be announced on September 12, 1999."
5/29/99--from Barbara Branden: "Apart from showing at Sundance, the movie was also shown at the Seattle film festival, and in West Hampton. The Los Angeles premiere--at the Motion Picture Academy on May 20--was a great success, drawing a much larger audience than is usual at previews, and a very enthusiastic audience. The amount of publicity the film is receiving, even prior to its release on May 30, is quite extraordinary--a full page in Insight (its cover is an enlarged photo of the Ayn Rand stamp), write-ups in TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly, reviews in all the major newspapers, and much more."
3/13/99--from Barbara Branden: "Showtime has now informed me that May 30 will definitely be the first air date for the film of 'The Passion of Ayn Rand.'"
3/1/99--from Freedom Network News: "Mrs. Branden expressed 'great relief' that the final version [of the film] was true to the biography and presented Objectivist philosophy accurately. 'No one is going to walk out of the theatre after seeing this movie and not know what Ayn Rand stands for,' she said proudly." FNN also reported that the film has already aired in Australia, New Zealand and Romania.
1/30/99--from the San Francisco Chronicle: "Showtime's 'The Passion of Ayn Rand' got its world premiere here [Sundance]. It stars Helen Mirren as the head-over-heart novelist who takes her married disciple as a lover. 'It wasn't a mind f--, it was a f-- f--,' Mirren said. The film was made for Showtime and will be presented on the cable network, but producer Linda Wexelblatt said Showtime would be happy to have it in theaters, too. 'They are looking for a distributor,' just like many others here, Wexelblatt said, 'and will let the marketplace take care of that.' Sundance Festival co-director Geoff Gilmore said the distinction between TV movies and theatrical movies is blurring. TV movies, he said, used to not have that theatrical edge. But thanks to cable, 'I don't think it makes much difference anymore.' The sex scenes in 'The Passion of Ayn Rand' between Mirren and Eric Stoltz as Rand's chief apostle are quite explicit. Mirren even insisted that they be more so than originally written. "
Copyright © 2001 by Jon Osborne.