In an extraordinary act of defiance against the state, Cupertino, California-based Apple, Inc. refused to comply with the Obama administration after a judge ordered the company to breach its customers’ privacy and contracts, act against its own policies, terms and self-interest and “help” the government decode and destroy the company’s invention and property, the iPhone—all under compulsion in the name of national security.
Leave aside legal, ethical and philosophical consideration of national security implications inherent in the FBI’s public admission that it can’t hack a dead terrorist’s government-issued cell phone, contradicting the Obama administration’s claims that such authority is both successful and crucial to the nation’s defense. As Apple’s chief executive officer explains in his February 16 response, the Department of Justice’s demand that Apple create a means of decoding a single iPhone possessed by the state after an Islamic terrorist attack amounts to all of the above violations of Apple’s individual rights. And, as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision affirms, a company is properly regarded as an individual with absolute individual rights.
Democrat Ron Wyden, a U.S. senator from Oregon and staunch advocate for Americans against the surveillance state, agrees with Apple, declaring that the judge’s order is “unconstitutional”. Wyden, like Edward Snowden in a post on Twitter, correctly implies that the Obama administration’s demand is an inversion of government’s proper role. As Snowden (who is said to have been moved to his heroic whistleblowing by The Lives of Others) posted, “the FBI is creating a world where citizens rely on Apple to defend their rights, rather than the other way around.” I made a similar and related point in defense of Sony contra the U.S. government over the government’s abdication of national defense in the wake of an attack on one of the Culver City, California company’s movies (“The Undoing of Sony’s ‘The Interview‘”).
Click to Read Letter
By posting the letter, Apple is fighting back. Exercising its right to absolute freedom of speech, asserting its property rights and the right to run its own business, the company co-founded by Steve Jobs issued the unprecedented public warning against the dangers of mass, unchecked government surveillance and made what amounts to a call to citizen action. In his letter to Apple customers, CEO Tim Cook refuses to accept the legitimacy of the judge’s order and instead insists upon recognition of Apple’s individual rights.
Apple’s letter is a declaration of independence against the oppressive state. The company leads in defending man’s rights against the surveillance state—to my knowledge, not a single technology company has publicly and unequivocally supported Apple’s letter and position—and, whatever its flaws and contradictions, such as referring to the United States as a “democracy” when, in fact, the U.S. is fundamentally a republic, Apple is, in today’s context, 100 percent right and should be supported by advocates of liberty and capitalism.
Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, whom I interviewed in 2011 when he ran for president in 2012 (read the interview), reduces Apple’s persecution to essentials with a good example: “[I]f the FBI comes across a safe in [a legally sanctioned search of a criminal’s] house, the warrant and permission do not mean it can force the company that manufactures the safe to create a special tool for opening its safes, especially a tool that would make other safes completely useless as secure storage. That’s the situation that Apple’s dealing with here.” Indeed, other than the Clinton administration’s proposed V-chip censorship mandate for all television sets, which failed, I can’t recall a more sweeping manufacturing mandate to violate the rights of individuals.
I’m also not aware of any support for Apple among the field of 2016 presidential candidates.
On the contrary, bombastic GOP frontrunner Donald Trump, appearing on Fox and Friends, denounced Apple’s position. “Who do they [Apple] think they are?” Trump asked. “They have to open it up.” Trump—who supports government-controlled medicine, the massive surveillance state and arbitrary government seizure of private property—said: “I agree 100 percent with the [judge]. In that case, we should open it up.” […] “We have to use common sense.”
In this context, “common sense” means faith in the state—the massive, unchecked surveillance state that can order any company or individual at its arbitrary discretion to create a means to absolutely violate the individual’s rights. Not surprisingly, a Fox News panel with Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, columnist A.B. Stoddard and conservative columnist Stephen Hayes concurs with Trump’s opposition to Apple. They are the embodiment of what Ayn Rand called “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” which was Rand’s first major campus talk, delivered 56 years ago today at Yale University.
As left and right commune in faith—belief without evidence—in the omnipotent state (the NSA,ObamaCare, TSA), one voice of reason opposes in principle and action the initiation of force against the individual; Apple, which refuses to go silently to its—and America’s—doom. As usual, a private, for-profit enterprise, in keeping with the nation’s history of singularly great acts of rebellion against tyranny such as the Boston Tea Party, sets an example in achieving the moral, i.e., egoistic, ideal in action. What happens next will be interesting, potentially decisive and either encouraging or horrifying, and possibly crucial to whether the nation remains in any sense a republic based on individual rights.
Spending my youth in the suburbs north of Chicago often made me curious about its origins. There were exotic American Indian names, mysterious trails, woods and tales of corruption, scandal and murder amid the lush, green bluffs and flat, fertile soil, not to mention the lakefront, the railroad and the industry. I know I’m scratching the surface, but I’m enjoying writing about the towns, villages and enclaves north of Chicago in a newspaper history series I conceived and developed with my editor, David Sweet, earlier this year.
The theme is capitalism—the entrepreneurial spirit—on Chicagoland’s North Shore.
Glencoe, Illinois waiting station designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
Talking with local and regional historians, curators and scholars, my research yields new takes on local myths and legends, facts about iconic names, dates and places and, above all, clarity about the men who forged new paths, pioneered Northern Illinois, fought for the Union during the Civil War and settled some of the nation’s most creative, productive and wealthiest towns. These men were largely men of vision and reason and they were farmers, frontiersmen, traders, industrialists and, mostly, individualists. Telling their stories, including notorious facts in the history of these towns, is more rewarding than I had thought possible when I first offered to write the articles.
These front page and cover story articles, which include bits on America’s first recorded serial killer, the only bridge ever designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright and the invention of Christmas bubble lights, Girl Scout cookies and Frenchmens’, Indians’ and religionists’ plans for the area near and along Lake Michigan north of Chicago, are currently available online for free. Read about Glenview, Wilmette and Glencoe. Know that there are more stories to come.
Another contender for best movie in this year of fine movies is Universal’s version of Walter Isaacson’s biography, Steve Jobs. As a dramatic portrait of the creator who radically changed the world, it is magnificent. At last, writer Aaron Sorkin’s (Moneyball, The West Wing, The Social Network) breathless dialogue style is filtered and tethered by director Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire), or by Sorkin. The outcome is a poetic depiction of a true American fountainhead. (Read my thoughts on Steve Jobs and my thoughts on Apple).
With an electronic score to match the time frame, which runs from the mid-1980s to the final months of the 20th century, Steve Jobs moves in talking pictures, marking the creative life of a genius in three acts of grand halls filled with crowds, featuring singularly distinctive machines made possible by Apple, the Silicon Valley, California company Steve Jobs founded with Steve Wozniak—arguably the world’s greatest, richest company—and the people in Jobs’s life.
A brilliantly visionary producer talking with people about making products starts the movie. The opening scene displays his insistence upon perfection in a new product, the Mac, at Apple’s Flint Center introduction of the Macintosh personal computer following the revolutionary Super Bowl advertisement based on George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. The film’s conflict pits Steve Jobs against the world. But it also purports to put Steve Jobs against the audience because it is apparent that the audience is supposed to detest, rather than try to understand, what Jobs says and does. In fact, modern society pushes the audience away from what Jobs wanted, sought and achieved: perfection in integrating form and function in each aspect of life through fostering man’s autonomy. Apple’s ethos is individualism.
Steve Jobs is the individualist.
However, Steve Jobs and Steve Jobs wants, gets and trades more, as Apple does, with a measured achievement in addition to perfection in one’s work—a meaningful, happy life as one’s proper purpose. The ethics of egoism is embedded here if you know how to look for it, though I don’t know if today’s audiences will expend the effort. The tale this simple and magical movie shows and tells, and it’s extremely verbal though not in that irritatingly smug Sorkin tone, is an elegantly rendered tale of a life lived large yet always in the moment. Michael Fassbender’s Steve Jobs is sharp and arrogant, not flip and smug, and he strives to be balanced and whole.
“Artists lead,” Jobs tells a colleague with whom he’s at odds, and one of the things I like about this movie is how skillfully it dramatizes that the greatest minds are usually in conflict with the whole world, “hacks ask for a show of hands.”
Jobs is not a martyr, as depicted here, and it’s worth noting that this is based on a book by the author chosen by Jobs after he read the writer’s biography of Albert Einstein. Jobs is not portrayed as tortured or monstrous. In dealings with people in his company and life—Apple CEO and mentor John Sculley (Jeff Daniels, The Martian), confidante Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet, Little Children), an ex-girlfriend (Katherine Waterston)—he is, like Walt Disney, driven, difficult and daring. Steve Jobs covers the essentials, in thinly drawn, clean and meaningful lines, winks, nods and links to the logo, the machines, the designs, and how Jobs lived; how he ate, listened, relaxed, celebrated, controlled and conducted—mostly, how he thought.
This is not a documentary of Jobs’s business history. There’s no Cube, eWorld or Pixar. Instead, it portrays life in certain, selective products and those moments which align with the launch of those products. So, the impending failure of NeXT at an opera house is placed in its proper context in the second act as lead-in to the iMac in the third and final act at Symphony Hall. Mac fans, Apple employees and evangelists and the press are never far from view, as is Lisa, his daughter, who represents the evidence of progression for a rebel who was adopted, defied laws and rules and dropped out of college. “It would be criminal not to enjoy this moment,” says a character who becomes a friend.
This is the theme of Steve Jobs.
His technology, accounted for and credited to proper sources, including the Apple II, exists merely to serve the moment, not the other way around. Think different, a screen with Apple’s motto says, in one of at least two crucial, dissolving transitions. Steve Jobs does, honoring truth even when it’s inappropriate, improper or hurtful. Among those affected include Wozniak (Seth Rogen, The Guilt Trip), who is as right as Jobs in a climactic encounter, Sculley and a longtime Apple principal (Michael Stuhlbarg) who demonstrates that those who most deserve to get close to the man of the mind are often driven the farthest away.
As Jobs, Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), who looks more like Sting from The Police than Steve Jobs, is as intense and engaging as ever. The actresses playing Lisa also shine and so do others in the cast, with Winslet getting the laugh lines. The audience is likely to be split, not between Mac faithful and those with contempt for Apple, but between those who revere both the perfect union of controlling one’s own life and work and the requisite for achieving it—absolute freedom—and those who seek to manage life and work or have it managed and controlled by others.
Steve Jobs is a passionate movie and not in a Hollywood way. The passion here comes from the art of thinking, the contemplation, the stretching, the using and the experimenting. Technology is not depicted as an end in itself to Steve Jobs—it is not his religion—it is a means of activating his best within and doing it here on earth. With inspiration from singer-songwriters, taking the audience and Jobs from imagination to full awareness of reality, the two-hour Steve Jobs—a rare Hollywood hymn to one Ayn Rand called the most persecuted minority, the individual, specifically the individual who creates to make money—zips by like childhood.
Like the life of Steve Jobs, it ends too soon and with genuine wonder at the world. (Go here to buy the DVD and here to buy the Blu-Ray edition).
The Pope’s visit to the United States of America, the first by Pope Francis, expressed explicit hatred for individualism, capitalism and the ideals that make America great. The assault was enveloped in platitudes. But, as I wrote when the South American Jesuit priest rose to power in 2013 (read the post here), he speaks of reform in order only to enforce dark, ancient and primitive beliefs.
In itself, this is not surprising. Neither is it shocking that obedient crowds lined American city boulevards, roaring and chanting in praise of the pope’s anti-Americanism. In Washington, DC, New York City and the nation’s first capital, Philadelphia, the pope’s message unleashed an equally obedient media unifying leftists and conservatives alike.
Indeed, the press largely disdained the idea of protest and praised the Catholic Church’s vicar of Christ without even the pretense of objectivity. Brian Williams, returning to the airwaves, did the best job of explaining the event as a news event, breaking logistics down as the visit paralyzed America’s largest eastern cities, though he, too, reported without doubt, question or scrutiny. At least Williams, in his first NBC News appearance since being suspended for an admission of deception, examined whether the New York Times had in its papal analysis been biased toward the left. But most in the media simply bowed to the pope.
That’s putting it lightly. I had to search for the smallest sign of an independent voice of dissent or reason to the massive, crippling, state-sponsored mobilization of police and paramilitary units to patrol, control and lock down major U.S. cities on behalf of a religious figure. One article reported “[a] chaotic scene outside Madison Square Garden, where travellers with suitcases struggled past security to get in and out of Penn station [as]…Unholy cries of “holy Mary” and “Jesus Christ” filled the air. Apparently, one frustrated woman cried: “Why is everything blocked off if he isn’t even outside?” The Washington Post reported on the Philadelphia leg of the tour that “[t]he birthplace of American liberty was on virtual lockdown to greet [Pope] Francis.” But all of that came within the wider context of unfiltered endorsement of everything the Pope said, did and sought.
Those abused by Catholic leaders heard little or nothing from the pope who otherwise railed against abuse of power in speech after speech. “It’s a tough week to be a victim,” Barbara Dorris, spokeswoman for Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told one newspaper. “They feel like once again they’ve been forgotten.”
Instead, in homilies at mass and various speeches, including the first papal address to a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis stressed the collective over the individual, self-abnegation over self-interest and, above all, mysticism over reason.
Almost every speech emphasized what he calls “the common good”. In his historic speech to the United Nations General Assembly, he denounced “unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness”, unequivocally stating that the ultimate goal is to grant all countries, without exception, a share in—and a genuine and equitable influence on—other sovereign nations’ decision-making. Pope Francis demanded of the world body new rights for “the vast ranks of the excluded.” He openly declared opposition to capitalism, which he has derided as having the stench of “the dung of the devil”, and he asserted a new, mystical “right of the environment”.
Pope Francis told the United Nations:
We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good.
The fundamental bad, according to this new pope, is “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity”, which, properly speaking, describes every decent and honest human quest for productive achievement. What artist, producer or entrepreneur has in mind a specific boundary for his creative pursuit and prosperity? Do Brad Pitt and Taylor Swiftseek only so much power over their own works and no more? Only so much money for a song or movie and not more than that? Do they exist for the sake of others at the expense of themselves? More to the point, should they? The Pope says Yes, but the civilized answer is No. Not for the egoist who seeks the pursuit of happiness, which means: one’s own, personal happiness. Did Steve Jobs live for the sake of others and put bounds on the power of Apple and what he sought to conceive, design and produce—with a cap on Apple’s profit?
What is the likelihood that you would know who he was if he had?
What the pope who says that he has not watched television in 25 years derides as a “culture of waste” is a culture of creation; America and the West are, at their best, a marvelous, new, industrial means, based on capitalism and individual rights, of production, distribution and profit for the individual, whether as a new song, movie or technology. Thanks to Steve Jobs, for example, when today’s consumer speaks of an ecosystem, he speaks of a new way of creating, consuming and leveraging for his own sake a photograph, document, communication, note, feature, calculation or audiovisual show across multiple platforms.
Pope Francis insists that Apple—and every person or company—”must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family…” In practical terms, Pope Francis says that everyone on earth must sacrifice to provide others with “lodging, labor, and land…”
After reasserting this Catholic dogma, i.e., that the good is to suffer while sacrificing for the sake of others and die, rather than to enjoy yourself for your own sake and live, Pope Francis addressed what he calls “the destruction of all mankind”. He endorsed Obama’s Iran deal as “proof of the potential of political good will” citing what he—who has faith in a supernatural being and in himself as a substitute for God—calls “hard evidence”.
Both the Pope’s zeal for an Islamic dictatorship’s achievement of nuclear power and his anti-capitalism are rooted in his belief that the meaning of one’s life “is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good.” In short, the good, even the less linear “common” good, is whatever is good for others, even if the others chant “Death to America!” as they rush to get weapons of mass death and destruction.
Finally, faced with real, hard evidence of mass death and destruction at the site where the World Trade Center once stood, the pope refused to name and identify those who attacked, Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia, let alone name and identify the religion that motivates them, Islam. In fact, he never mentioned that the initiation of force came from those moved by religion. The fallen, he implied, are merely symbols “of the inability to find solutions which respect the common good.” Pope Francis did not denounce the act of war itself during his remarks at the place where the Twin Towers collapsed. He pointedly offered no praise for the innocent who were mass murdered on September 11, 2001. Instead, he made reference to those who helped others, the so-called “first responders”. The first murdered, he implied, by not singling them out for recognition and not naming their murderers, may have deserved it. After all, they worked in the World Trade Center, a place to trade for one’s self-interest.
Of the only nation specifically founded on the right to pursue one’s happiness being explicitly founded as a secular republic based on individual rights, not upon Judeo-Christianity, dogma or dictatorship, the pope in his many speeches, prayers and homilies said nothing positive. As Time magazine reports, Pope Francis removed from his prepared speech to Congress the single reference to the philosophy that makes America the greatest nation on earth:
Here I think of the political history of the United States, where democracy is deeply rooted in the mind [sic] of the American people. All political activity must serve and promote the good of the human person and be based on respect for his or her dignity. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776).”
Jettisoning recognition of America’s independence did not diminish the pope’s appeal, as leftists such as Fox News analyst Juan Williams and New York City Mayor De Blasio and conservatives such as those on Fox News and in the Heritage Foundation raved about the religious visit. There were a few exceptions, besides Objectivists, including talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, who noted the pope’s anti-capitalism, and columnist George Will, who warned against any religious leader moralizing about domestic policy in America.
But most Americans appear to agree with Geraldine Quinones, a woman who said she won a lottery ticket to see the Pope, adding that she regards the win as “the luck of the Lord”. “We’re lucky to have him here,” she told a newspaper. “I think he’s going to change everything.” By making explicit many Americans’ steadfast dedication to selfless ethics and faith, the anti-American Pope Francis arguably is changing everything already, moving the nation faster toward—and serving as the prophet for—doom, spreading faster, wider acceptance of the same ideas taking us there.
The cost of the papal visit, according to a financial analysis which concludes that the multimillion dollar “national security event” ultimately will be paid largely by U.S. taxpayers, without their consent, is in line to be overdue from “everybody but the Vatican.”
What did Americans get in return? Besides another anti-American assault from the head of the Vatican complete with endorsements of a Kentucky mystic and monk who sought to mix religions in faith and a socialist who praised Marx, Lenin and Mao, Pope Francis delivered an explicitly anti-human line in one of his sermons when he said: “As far as goodness and purity of heart are concerned, we human beings don’t have much to show.” So it is that Americans fell for the faithfully, hatefully, hypocritically anti-capitalist pope who rode in the back of a small car when he was wasn’t riding on helicopters and jet planes while denouncing technology and selfishness as he pleaded to the newly obedient American minions to: “Pray for me.”
The antidote to the past six days of faith-based, anti-Americanism is to think for yourself and for yourself.
Strand Releasing’s 1997 documentary Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, is, in retrospect, a cinematic achievement. The 143-minute movie debuts on Blu-Ray on July 28.
Other than a new trailer and enhanced English SHD sound, this is the same product as the Collector’s DVD edition several years ago. But Objectivists, Ayn Rand fans and those who recognize the power and relevance of her novels We the Living (1936), Anthem (1938), The Fountainhead (1943) and, in particular, her magnum opus, Atlas Shrugged (1957), and her books and other writings, should invest in owning this film if they don’t already have it.
Given the historic events since writer and director Michael Paxton‘s Oscar-nominated movie was released in movie theaters, the reasons to see it have multiplied.
In silent movie clips, letters, pictures, drawings, paintings, interviews, dramatization and animation, Paxton pieces together the ideas, stories and events in Rand’s life in chronological order. This approach allows the viewer to discover, rediscover and appreciate her life, career and philosophy. It is factual, thoughtful and respectful, even reverential, without being overloaded, dense or dogmatic. Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life depicts Ayn Rand (1905-1982) as the heroic figure she was.
Backed by documentary evidence, from her original name on a ship’s passenger manifest during her escape from Soviet Russia to highlighted stills with Rand as an extra on Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, Paxton presents Ayn Rand’s life in terms of essentials. For example, he integrates a movie diary entry and early clip of the silent film era’s Gish sisters with their later intersection in Ayn Rand’s life. This theme of realizing heroic ideals and goals recurs throughout the faded photograph-styled motion picture, with movie stars such as Greta Garbo and Gary Cooper. Aided by actress Sharon Gless (Burn Notice), who narrates the film with grace, and Jeff Britting’s correspondingly ascendant score, segmented snippets, scenes and stories converge as a whole picture. Among those interviewed are Objectivist intellectuals who knew Rand, including her heir and Ayn Rand Institute founder Leonard Peikoff (for full disclosure, I am an Objectivist and I’ve met and studied, worked or become friends with some of those involved or who appear, including Paxton and Peikoff). The late CBS News journalist Mike Wallace is also interviewed.
Accordingly, one gets a strong sense of a personal life, including the affair with psychologist Nathaniel Branden, which is telescoped here for practical purposes, and her friends, associates and preferences. Ayn Rand’s husband, Frank O’Connor, is a steady yet elusive figure.
But the focus is on her intellectual development as a philosopher and progression as a writer, from childhood and studies in St. Petersburg and witnessing the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia to her brief time in Berlin, on the trans-Atlantic voyage to New York City, months in Chicago, Hollywood years and on lecture tour. Finally, Ayn Rand triumphs in New York City, where she creates Objectivism and writes Atlas Shrugged. The movie deposits each part of her life into the big picture. Of course, it is larger than life.
Asked to write a screenplay for DeMille called “The Skyscraper”, selling an adaptation of her story Red Pawn, seeing her play, Penthouse Legend, morphed into something else, one sees the challenge, effort and struggle of the young writer Ayn Rand. The initial allure of a screen version of her anti-dictatorship novel We the Living, which was published in Hollywood’s Red Decade, draws attention from Bette Davis, who apparently indicated that she wanted to portray the heroine, Kira, until she was advised that doing so might hurt her career. A pirate film version was made in fascist Italy (the best movie based on an Ayn Rand novel; read my review here) in 1942. A Sense of Life recalls Ayn Rand meeting the only actress to portray Kira on screen, Alida Valli, who tried to persuade David O. Selznick (Gone With the Wind) to make We the Living in Hollywood.
The nation’s decline permeates the film. Ayn Rand begins life as an eager newcomer, distressed to have missed a sight of the Statue of Liberty while entering New York, where her life ends after it seems as if almost everyone in America missed the point of her novels and philosophy. Part of what makes A Sense of Life an accomplishment is its objectivity with regard to her legacy. Ayn Rand’s answers, estimates and explanations, presented in quotations, papers and audio-visual excerpts, speak volumes.
“If anyone destroys this country,” Ayn Rand says at one point in a late night interview with Tom Snyder on NBC in the 1970s, “it will be the conservatives. Because they’re all altruists.”
Whether appearing on the Today Show, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or Snyder’s Tomorrow Show, Ayn Rand was extremely clear and concise. Those familiar with her books will find much to think about. Even those who are agnostic or hostile to her philosophy may gain from seeing her in action through archival material. Those who are new to Ayn Rand will learn about the philosophy in a general, not pedantic, sense. Each viewer will learn more about what moved her to create a system of thought so radical, controversial and enduring. Everyone watching the movie can judge Ayn Rand as she thought, wrote and lived.
This includes her relationship with her husband, whom she apparently adored, and her professional connections with those who advocated for the publication and adaptation of her books, including Warner Bros.’ advocate for making The Fountainhead, Barbara Stanwyck, and Ayn Rand’s family. Whether in a movie clip of Ayn Rand at her Richard Neutra-designed home in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley or footage of her congressional testimony against Communist infiltration of Hollywood studios, Paxton ranges over the sweep of her private and professional life.
There is an emphasis on Hollywood, which deals in pictures, and the film regards her foremost as an artist who is a philosopher, not the reverse. Pictures evolve into its progression and vice versa: Ayn Rand meets legendary movie producer Hal Wallis (Casablanca), for whom she wrote Love Letters with Jennifer Jones and You Came Along with Lizabeth Scott, writes Anthem, campaigns for Wendell Willkie’s 1940 presidential candidacy, is deemed “too harsh” by Hollywood conservatives and suggests Garbo, with whom The Fountainhead director King Vidor subsequently met, to portray Dominique Francon on screen (which did not happen; the part went to Patricia Neal).
That’s merely when she was young. If Ayn Rand’s life is like something out of Ayn Rand’s fiction—meeting DeMille on the movie studio lot, meeting her future husband by chance in a Hollywood library, being invited to dine at Taliesin with Frank Lloyd Wright—it is because she chose to pursue happiness. As she might have put it, she wanted to be selfish.
Ayn Rand’s selfishness, the highest Objectivist virtue by this admiring account, was consciously practiced. Again and again, with New York City as the pinnacle of man’s achievement and the Empire State Building as a visual focal point, unfolding from an artist’s portrait of Ayn Rand to the crowning achievement which is Atlas Shrugged, the woman at the center of ASense of Life lived by the exalted ideals she identified, explained and dramatized. She visited steel mills in California, Chicago and Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and rode on trains and studied architecture as research for her work. She gave herself a renewed sense of purpose in adapting Atlas Shrugged as an NBC miniseries after her husband died in November of 1979, when it became abundantly evident that America was falling apart.
As her career winds down and Ayn Rand is seen seated at an intellectuals’ round table surrounded by men, she had been invited to the Apollo 11 rocket launch putting man on the moon, an event which she attended, denounced racism—appropriately, a sign held by a somber-looking black woman reads “Integration”—and attended an invitation-only dinner at the White House with President Gerald R. Fordand the First Lady, Mrs. Betty Ford.
Before social media, proving that she grasped what most did not about objective communication, Ayn Rand had created courses, conferences, lectures, discussions and publications emanating her philosophy, Objectivism, and disseminating her ideas across multiple media platforms, from radio and television (Today, Tonight, Tomorrow) and theater and movies to an interview in Playboy and other print media. She even wrote a column for the stagnant Los Angeles Times. It’s all here. The evidence of her genius but also her strength is plain; she never lets up, she does not stop acting to advance her values, she never lets what matters go.
Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life positions TV’s talk show pioneer Phil Donahue as a proxy for the general public with regard to understanding Ayn Rand and Objectivism. In her two Donahue appearances, one sees his evolution as a host, as the powerful pair discuss God, altruism and the death of her husband. Relentlessly clarifying confusions, Ayn Rand acts as a springboard to an entire examination of one’s deeply held premises.
Donahue challenges. Rand responds. Donahue reflects. The viewer thinks.
This is the effect of the film. I have seen it several times since I attended advance screenings and the premier in 1997. Whether on a home theater screen or a movie theater screen, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life plays like the absorbing, accessible and enlightening movie it is. It prompts the viewer to think—about her comments, ideas and books and her stories, heroes and themes—about whether and how these apply to one’s life. The film is a solid cinematic introduction to and retrospective of Ayn Rand, Objectivism and her books.
In it, one also learns the early history and first stage of a movement made by her philosophy. It’s not flawless—occasionally, musical cues are distracting and Anthem gets short shrift—and moviemakers should continue to explore her life. But, unlike her detractors’ psychologizing, almost everything asserted here derives from the facts of reality or conclusions based on the firsthand observation of its fascinating subject, Ayn Rand.
If you’re up to it, to paraphrase Objectivism’s creator, check those premises; Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life is a good place to start.
The Blu-Ray Edition
As I wrote, this is the same two-disc edition as the earlier release, a DVD Collector’s edition, with a couple of additions and enhancements other than the film’s transfer to the crisp, higher-definition Blu-Ray format. Chapter selections are clearly marked.
The extras include a new trailer, which was not on the DVD, a rare photograph gallery, a deleted dance sequence evoking Ayn Rand’s unpublished work in progress “To Lorne Dieterling”, the complete filmed version of scenes from Ayn Rand’s play, Ideal, and more. Cast and crew bios, an interview with writer and director Michael Paxton, (whom I interviewed for the movie’s release; read the archived newspaper article here), stills, bonus footage and additional information are all included. Fans and Objectivists should not skip the additional interviews with Ayn Rand’s friends, scholars and associates, including Harry Binswanger and Leonard Peikoff, as they have more to say about her than is contained in the 143-minute movie.
In a July 2015 statement accompanying press materials, director Michael Paxton says that “telling stories about independent and heroic women have always been and continue to be a theme in my work as a filmmaker.” He should be proud that Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, which continues to earn interest in the themes, books and philosophy of Ayn Rand, is a heroic story well shown and told.
After I read that the local government is considering removing Bob Hope’s name from Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport, I wrote an op-ed for the local newspaper (read my article here). My theme is that Bob Hope Airport is a name that honors the city, the man and the airport. Citing history, I explain that each has similarly capitalist origins which ought to be properly named, recognized and revered. My article caught the attention of a local news producer for an L.A. NBC News affiliate, who wanted to interview me for the evening telecast, though I was unable to do so. But I’m glad the op-ed was noticed and I hope that my activism helps Bob Hope Airport retain its rightful name.