"Despite the hagiographic-sounding title, this film is not a work in praise of the novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand. Instead, it is a biopic, based on a book of the same title, written by Barbara Branden, an erstwhile close friend and high-ranking follower of Rand.
Two attractive young students, Nathaniel Blumenthal (who later changes his name to Nathaniel Branden) and Barbara Weitman (Eric Stoltz and Julie Delpy), are invited, following an enthusiastic letter, to meet their idol, Ayn Rand, at the home she shares with her husband Frank O'Connor (heartbreakingly portrayed by Peter Fonda) in California. Both are passionate devotees of her ideas of Objectivism, reason and self-interest, and find a willing guru in Rand, played with grim charisma by Helen Mirren.
While Nathan is attracted to Barbara, her feelings for him are closer to friendship - but under pressure from Rand, who argues that emotion is always based on reason and that therefore the young couple's shared ideals make them a perfect sexual match, the two of them marry. Their unsuccessful marriage, already intimately destructive since Nathaniel has taken it upon himself to act as Barbara's psychotherapist as well as her husband, seeking to eradicate the 'faulty principles' that make her uncomfortable with the relationship, is worsened when Rand and Nathaniel begin an affair, insisting that their prospective partners accept this sexual relationship as the necessary consequence of their mental compatibility. The tensions between the characters play out against the rising cult of the Nathaniel Branden Institute and the success of Atlas Shrugged, leading to moral and emotional chaos under the guise of reason and idealism.
Whether or not the film is an accurate depiction of the real situation is much debated, but as a character study, as a film in its own right, it's excellent. Rand, as portrayed by Mirren, comes across as a woman who argues for reason and individual rights, while in fact being ruled, and ruling all those around her, by her own emotions, a toxic and pathetic queen eternally refusing to see how human nature cannot measure up to her image of it. Stoltz as Nathaniel is a fine portrayal of a bright and not-all-that-bad young man, whose faults, a tendency to self-centredness and dishonesty, are horribly magnified by becoming the favourite disciple of an inconsistent guru, to his own harm as well as everyone else's. Delpy plays the confused, idealistic and fragile Barbara with integrity and passion, and Fonda's portrayal of the kind, weary, alcoholic Frank, clear-sighted about what's going on but too dependent on his wife, both financially and emotionally, to speak up, is downright tragic. There are splendid performances from a strong cast, with an involving story that encourages sympathy with flawed people. Rand supporters may not like it, as it portrays Rand, Branden and the Objectivist movement as fundamentally hypocritical and deluded, but neutral viewers will enjoy an engaging and unusual story, intelligently told and skilfully handled. Well worth a look. "
Great Woman, So-So Movie
C. SPAETH | Chippewa Falls, WI USA | 09/21/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I like to think I'm qualified to "objectively" review this film. I am a disciple of Rand who really loved the Barbara Branden book. I believe what Branden wrote about Rand, because her portrait of Ayn is complete and consistent. Rand's passion for ideas made her testy with stupid people and willing to break social norms such as those that govern how married people behave. Those objectivists who wish to dismiss this book and film as slander ought to look in the mirror. You are just as stubborn and dogmatic as she.
Which isn't to say she isn't the greatest mind of the 20th century, because she is. Her ideas changed my life. It's the absense of any real discussion of those ideas that sinks this movie. There's are just enough bits of objectivist rhetoric to make Rand sound the leader of a bizarre cult. Only the final scene where she speaks to a group of her disciples and critics does her justice. She sparkles with wit and antagonism while confidently defending every attack on her unique philosophy.
Not surprisingly this is the image I took away from Branden's original book which has several hundred pages to flesh out the Rand's complete and at times flawed character.
Without much philosophy to lean on for support, this movie seems pretty unbelievable. The acting is great of course, its a dream cast. A better script and a director less attracted to the dirt of the story could have made this truly special, an emotionally powerful film about ideas.Chris Spaeth"
Passion in the sense of love affairs, rather than ideas etc.
M. Leppa | Minneapolis, MN United States | 10/11/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I was disappointed with this film. I was thinking (or hoping) this film was going to be about the passion of knowledge, ideas, thinking, and any other form of mental stimulation; I really didn't think there was much of that in this film. Maybe I'm just odd in the way I dislike Hollywood's usual portrayal of passion: love affairs et cetera. Passion in this film was portrayed in the Hollywood sense. There was brief mentioning of thoughts, the mind, ideas, the individual, et al, but I felt they were only in idle chatter, and not what really mattered. Maybe all the "Hollywood passion" represented in this film turned me off, but I would have rather spent my time doing something other than watching this film.
Recently I had the pleasure of a watching a different documentary film about Miss Rand called _Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life_. And I think if you are looking for more details actually about her, her life, and her ideas, rather than love affairs which I thought were quite unpleasant within _The Passion of Ayn Rand_, _Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life_ is the film I think you'll enjoy to watch and listen to instead."
I wish I hadn't bought it.
E. Azmoodeh | Los Angeles, CA USA | 01/07/2003
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I'm an Ayn Rand fan (I don't dare say "follower").
I didn't like this movie because in spite of its objectivity, it really wasn't about Ayn Rand!
I mean if they were to nominate it for an Oscar, Ayn Rand's character would be "the supporting actress".
I would have much preferred if the focus was on her. I wanted to learn more about her.
If you're really interested in getting to know what she was about, try ASIN: 630529285X. It's a documentary and VERY accurate and capturing."
The Passionate Individualist
Michael Renzulli | Phoenix, Arizona | 01/27/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"While I have been an Ayn Rand fan for a short time and have not read Barbara Branden's book, this was one of the first movies about Ayn Rand I picked up. The chemistry between the actors and the charachters they play is excellent and all of the actors, especially Hellen Mirren, are very good in their roles. The script is good and so are the sets and production.
Hellen Mirren won an Emmy for her portayal of Rand and, after seeing this film, one can see why she did. Mirren's portayal of Ayn Rand is superb!
After watching this film, I came away admiring Rand even more. Rand was a wonderful human being, brilliant philosopher, excellent author and passionate about individuals to be free to pursue their own interests. It is understandable for her to be the way she was and believe in the things she did because she grew up in one of the most repressive, collectivist societies in world history: The Soviet Union.
Rand made it a point to live her life according to the individualist values she espoused. Same with Nathaniel and Barbara Branden. Thats why they congregated with each other to constantly formulate, practice and discuss Rand's philosophy, Objectivism. However, despite her enemy's crowing, in no way should this movie be considered a 'smear job'.
Essentially, what this movie is about is 2 individuals who end up falling in love (despite the fact they are both married), having sexual relations with the consent of their spouses, form and cultivate a philisophical movement and then it all collapses in the end.
Having extra-marital relations, even when the spouse knows about it, is destructive to everyone involved. In my view, Rand and Nathaniel Branden did not err when they did what they did since they did not hide their love for each other. Their mistake was that they both did not consider the long-term consequences of their actions nor the true feelings of their spouses.
I also appreciated the fact that Nathaniel Branden, whom I met at a conference briefly in 2003 and is a very nice man, owned up to his responsibilties in the matter as well and am glad that in later years, Barbara Branden and Ayn Rand reconciled. However, it is unfortunate that, like Barbara and Ayn, Nathaniel Branden and Ayn Rand did not forgive and forget.
This move is not an example of how dogmatic Rand allegedly was. Rather, it must serve as an example of what happens when people pursue sexual relations even while they are still married.
Otherwise, despite the negative reviews, this is a very good film and worth checking out. Its a keeper in my DVD library."