“AYN RAND: A SENSE OF LIFE”— Ayn Rand and Individualism

ayn rand a sense of life

“Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life”

Ayn Rand and Individualism

Amos Lassen

Close to 40 years after her death, Rand’s books, which also include “Atlas Shrugged” and “We the Living,” continue to sell over 100,000 copies a year. And they’re not light reading. They preach uncompromising individualism and free-market capitalism.

Originally released on 1997 and now available for the first time on blu ray, the early part of “Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life” explains how Rand came to her philosophy. Her prosperous merchant family was persecuted by the Bolsheviks in their native Russia. In the midst of the political turmoil of her childhood, Rand took refuge in adventure stories and American movies. America became for her, the ideal country, and a place of rugged individualists making their way in a free society. We hear revealing excerpts from her letters and diaries in which she dreams of a life away from the Soviet Union and learn of her great happiness when she finally arrived as in New York. A series of coincidences brought her to the attention of Cecil B. DeMille and she began a career in Hollywood.

As the documentary progresses, Rand (the most widely read social and economic philosopher of our time) becomes a more enigmatic and distant figure, even with the many TV appearances she made towards the end of her life. The facts of that life continue to be told in an orderly fashion, but her inner life remains a mystery and I found this to be frustrating.

The talking heads that discuss her life and her work have nothing but praise for her. We hear no negativity about her with the exception of her appearance as a friendly witness before the House Un-American Activities Committee, but this is a film that emphasizes the positive aspects of her life and philosophy.

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This is the first authorized film about the life and work of controversial Rand. It was written, produced and directed by Michael Paxton and was nominated for an Academy Award.  Narrated by Emmy® Award-winning actress, Sharon Gless, the documentary is based on Rand’s personal papers and public archives and film combines fact, dramatizations and an intimate weave of interviews with Leonard Peikoff (Ayn Rand’s intellectual heir), television journalist Mike Wallace and others. We see rare photos, film footage and an original film-noir scene from her 1934 play, IDEAL.  The themes of Rand’s life—reason, rational selfishness and political freedom are felt throughout the film. 

It was in 1926 that Rand came to America and she spent the rest of her life here. It was not until her success on Broadway with her play “Night of January 16” that she became regarded as a writer to read and to watch. The play is a courtroom drama in which the members of the jury are chosen from people in the audience each night and there were two separate endings and this kept interest and ticked sales high.

Rand defined her philosophy as “a religion, an obsession or a mania, all of these expressed in one word: individualism” which she embodied totally. Her cult following came out of her literary success and her hatred of collectivism.

Rand, adopted atheism at age 12, as a child, and “had no interest in approval or acceptance from her parents or others.” She saw herself as an intellectual early in her life and she was so self-assured that she once told a college professor that “My views are not yet part of the history of philosophy. But they will be.”

Rand was born Alice Rosenbaum and later took Ayn Rand as a stage name. She loved operettas and was also fascinated by American movie stars, with an early interest in Gary Cooper that probably influenced how she shaped Howard Roark, the arch-defiant architect in “The Fountainhead.” When she began to work for DeMille, she found the confidence to use Hollywood as a philosophical platform.

Here. Rand is clearly shown as the best and most articulate champion of Objectivism but the film’s glimpses of her in mid-debate are fairly rare. Instead, much time is spent with acolytes like Dr. Leonard Peikoff (identified by a title as “Ayn Rand’s intellectual heir”) and Cynthia Peikoff (identified as “friend and secretary of Ayn Rand.”)

This exceedingly loyal group includes one admirer who says he couldn’t sleep for two days after hearing Ms. Rand speak, and there are many other awe-struck descriptions of her brilliance. This look at Rand will probably be best appreciated by those who ask no questions and share that point of view. Rand died in 1982.

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