AYN RAND: A SENSE OF LIFE
By Chris Matthew Sciabarra
This film review of the Oscar-nominated documentary, Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, was published in the pages of Full Context (February 1998, vol. 10, no. 6, pp. 13-14). Here's an excerpt:
In keeping with the practice of "coming clean," that is, of acknowledging our biases, let me say that I received an on-screen credit in Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, as a "Research Assistant" for having provided A.G. Media with a very limited amount of material on Rand's education in Russia. And yes, I was delighted to see my name in the closing credits of an Oscar-nominated documentary on the life of my favorite writer. ...
Rand's reflections on subjects ranging from Marilyn Monroe to racism are highlighted throughout. ... All that said, however, the film would have benefitted from more critical distance from its subject-matter. ... The treatment of the Rand-Branden relationship is a case in point. When Nathaniel Branden's face appeared on the screen, the enthusiastic audience suddenly fell silent. [Director Michael] Paxton notes in TIA [The Intellectual Activist] that he was asked not to speak to the Brandens for this project. He agreed with the Estate that it would be "inappropriate" to approach people with whom Rand had broken. One can't help but wonder if this was a quid quo pro. Would Paxton have been granted unprecedented access to the Rand archives if he had interviewed Nathaniel or Barbara Branden? (Curiously, Barbara Branden's picture is shown, as is Alan Greenspan's, but neither person's name is mentioned.)
I also wonder about the appropriateness of having [Leonard] Peikoff talk about this painful affair in Rand's private life, which he was not privy to. While Paxton claims that his film does not "psychoanalyze" its subject, Peikoff injects his own brand of psychoanalysis into the discussions, since he has to present the audience with a semi-plausible explanation. Rand is said to have considered Branden a "genius," a great "innovator" in psychology, and Peikoff admits Branden was indeed quite intelligent. But he says that "one thing or another precipitated the break," venturing further that Branden committed "personal and professional deceptions." Peikoff speculates, moreover, that Frank O'Connor probably experienced little jealousy, accepting the affair because he knew his wife was special, and that she needed more than he could offer her. For me, this whole explanation was vacuous; we are given such a humane portrait of this gentle, sensitive man, and we can't help but think about the pain he must have felt over his wife's adultery. Since the Estate has access to Rand's private journals, and since these will be published ... it might have been better to simply read from the relevant 1968 entries. It would have provided the audience with a deeper insight into this bizarre episode. ...
No book and certainly no film can answer all the questions regarding Rand and her movement. ... By any measure, we stand at the precipice of a veritable industry in popular and academic studies of Rand, awaiting other vantage points, other books, other movies about this most enigmatic twentieth-century thinker.
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