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A Sense of Life

A Documentary about Author Ayn Rand

A Sense of Life, Michael Paxton's new documentary about author Ayn Rand, probably draws quite an interesting crowd to its Opera Plaza screenings. On the one side are Rand enthusiasts, die-hard Objectivists eager to pay homage to the matriarch of their movement. On the other side are people, like me, who have a morbid fascination with a controversial philosophy, one thatís been alternately embraced and scorned for decades by academics, politicians and society at large.

Fans of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged will be delighted with the film's careful research into Rand's past -- her favorite books and movie stars, her burning determination to lead a self-empowered life and help others do the same. Endless black and white photographs of Ayn as a child in Russia, and then later as an extra working in Hollywood studios, reveal the humanity behind a mythic persona. Her physical presence is rough and imperfect, a striking c.plement to that of her husband, actor and painter Frank O'Conner, whose fair, leading man looks first won her heart.

One of the charms of the film, and perhaps of Rand herself, is that she never falters. Every detail of her philosophy is fixed and final and every response to a reporter's question has the identical mark of a deeply felt truth. Her confidence is seductive and convincing; her success is made to seem inevitable. The film is narrated by Sharon Gless and, in large part, by Rand herself, as she repeatedly explains the virtue of selfishness. Although the whole essence of the film is flattering to Rand, the director is not content to leave it at that. Instead, he uses a verbose and syrupy script that elevates its subject to the level of goddess, a tireless "angel" fighting a holy war.

A good documentary shows without telling. Of course, every director has an agenda and, as in recent films like Nick Broomfield's Kurt and Courtney, that agenda is often quite obvious. A more savvy director, (take Erroll Morris for example), can plant an idea in your head with such subtlety, you won't even know how it got there. Paxton does the opposite, demanding that you share in his blind hero worship. With the exception of a few good questions posed by Donahue, there is no other side. While Rand devotees might enjoy this fan letter of a film, the rest of us aren't even left with a bone of controversy to chew on.


Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life
not rated
151 minutes,