THE PASSION OF AYN RAND
The Passion of Ayn Rand is based on a 1986 book of the same name published by Barbara Wideman Branden. In real life, Barbara Wideman, played in the film by Julie Delpy, married Nathaniel Branden, the man that Ayn Rand designated as her intellectual heir and whom, as the film recounts, Rand embarked on an affair with with the full agreement of both their respective spouses, despite Branden being 25 years younger than Rand. All three formed a business, The Nathaniel Branden Institute, that lectured in Ayn Rands philosophies and published a magazine The Objectivist. After Nathaniel dumped her for another woman, Ayn Rand later publicly castigated the Brandens and cut off all ties with them. The book and film gives Barbaras side of the affair. Nathaniel Branden later recounted his version of the story in a book My Years with Ayn Rand (1989).
Some of the opening statements in the film are a little scary Julie Delpys voiceover: Most of those people would have said shed have changed their lives ... It was the first day of my life that actually mattered. It smacks of the cult that was said to surround Ayn Rand, which deified her as one of the few intellectually enlightened people on Earth. In truth though, when it settles down, The Passion of Ayn Rand is highly critical of Rand. Indeed, when one compares it alongside the other film about Ayn Rand, the abovementioned Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, A Sense of Life seemed sycophantic to the point of avoiding any criticism whatsoever in its deification of Rand, while The Passion of Ayn Rand seems made with the specific intent of depicting the gap between Rands philosophy and the way that her ethic of self-interest directly affected those around her. Indeed, unless one comes to The Passion of Ayn Rand with some knowledge of Ayn Rands philosophy, the film actually tells us little about what she believed.
To this extent, The Passion of Ayn Rand is a skewed film. Clearly, it is one that comes with an agenda that is critical of Ayn Rand. Her philosophy is seen as flawed, yet the film offers no particular critique of any of her ideas we are not even sure where the Barbara characters views eventually come to stand. Instead, the film merely offers a portrait of the flaws in Ayn Rands passions both Helen Mirren as Rand and Eric Stoltz as Nathaniel Branden are portrayed as rational and cold, while by comparison Julie Delpys Barbara is seen as human and compassionate. This is a contrast where we are clearly meant to place our sympathies with the Barbara character. However, in that the entire film is based a work by Nathaniel Brandens ex-wife, one feels that in writing Barbara maybe had just the odd axe to grind. Indeed, for all the film/books title The Passion of Ayn Rand it is not a story that is so much about the passions of Ayn Rand herself, as it is a work about the affairs of Nathaniel Branden. In actuality, it is a story that comes out and blames a single man for two unhappy marriages, placing the fault at the door of his moral failings. That this might seem a work of one womans acrimony does seem ever so slightly probable.
Cast as Ayn Rand, Helen Mirren is a good foot taller than Rand herself was, but at least she gets a fine grasp of the fierce harpy predatoriness of Rands intellect. Julie Delpy makes a decent effort in her first leading role as an American woman. The one who comes out of it the best is Eric Stoltz. Stoltz plays this particular type of role youthful intelligence and charm well and does an excellent job in conveying the moral ambiguities and eventual weakness of the Nathaniel character.
Ayn Rand has also been the subject of several other films the documentaries Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life (1997) and Ayn Rand and the Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged (2011). Elsewhere, Rand wrote two other screenplays Love Letters (1945) and You Came Along (1945), while the films Night of January 16th (1941) and Ideal (2004) were based on her murder-mystery plays; her classic novel has been made into a three-part adaptation Atlas Shrugged (2011), Atlas Shrugged II: The Strike (2012) and Atlas Shrugged III: Who is John Galt? (2014); and two films versions were made of her anti-Communist diatribe We the Living, an unofficial two-part Italian version in 1942 and the modern remake We the Living (1986).