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The Fountain Head Movie Review

By on July 22, 2010 in Society & Culture

fountainheadI recently watched the movie The Fountain Head based on a novel of the same name by Ayn Rand.  This is not a new movie having been released in 1949.  I have previously read her epic novel Atlas Shrugged so I had a good idea what to expect.

The movie is about a brilliant young architect that wants to build a new style of building but is frustrated by conservative tastes that demand recycling of existing styles which are based on classic and even ancient designs.  The architect is not prepared to compromise and at one point when he has no commissions and no more money to pay the rent for his practice starts doing manual labor in a quarry after rejecting an offer of a loan from an old friend.

Finally he gets a break with a commission to design a new apartment block but as this nears completion he comes under fire from his peers who the story suggests feel threatened by the independence and innovation of this new building.  After the building is completed he finds himself black listed from all major projects but starts to get small commissions such as designing a Service Station.  He slowly builds up from there to the point where he does get significant commissions and is starting to gain acceptance.

There is a major housing project for the poor that is up for grabs to any architect that can solve some design problems.  That is any architect except him.  He does get to design it secretly with an old friend of his taking the credit. He does not want any remuneration for doing so with his only stipulation is that NOTHING gets changed.

In his absence things do get changed and when he returns he is enraged and dynamites the construction as it nears completion.  He does not flee the scene, standing there with the detonator in his hand.  He is arrested and it goes to trial where it comes out that he was the secret designer of the building.

The court case is where Ayn Rand launches into her philosophy she will later call objectivism.   After his address to the jury they return the verdict of not guilty which I thought wrong. He was after all very guilty of the act of dynamiting the building and it is the jury’s task to determine this and this alone.  The Judge then passes sentence with the option of taking into account any mitigating circumstances. Knowing how uncompromising and self virtuous objectivists are I see the outcome of not guilty as somewhat contradictory.

In all fairness I have not read the book and it’s worth noting that Ayn Rand herself was not happy with the movie version.  I found the movie to be over simplistic in its depiction of humanity as a mass of unproductive non-contributing parasites benefiting from the intellectual endeavors of a few.

The movie is fiercely anti-communist produced during the time of McCarthysim and the fear of Reds under the bed.  The parallel in the movie is with communism where distribution of wealth is not based on merit but on perceived needs.  Thus the accomplishments of the individual become subordinate to the needs of the masses.  In ‘The Fountain Head’, Ayn champions the right of the individual against the collective.

The argument of Rand is that an individual has full ownership of their intellectual creations and has no moral obligation to share it with the rest of society. There is a fundamental flaw to this argument in that the individual is already drawing his knowledge from a collective of all those that came before him.  He stands on the shoulder of giants giving him a view that he could not gain in a thousand life times if he truly was the independent creator Rand suggests he is.

For Ayn Rand the world seems to be made up of only an intellectual nobility and parasites with communist ideas wanting to benefit from the endeavors of the nobility without making any contribution.   She takes this idea one step further in ‘Atlas Shrugged’ where this “intellectual nobility” decide to go on strike, withdrawing their services from society thus, “stopping the motor of the world” and leaving the masses to fend for themselves while they go off to a secret mountain location to build a new utopian free economy.

I am reminded of an excerpt from the ‘Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy’ by Douglas Adams which describes a planet that one day decided that telephone cleaners were such parasites on society, making no real contribution, the planet banished them but, a few short years later, the entire population of the planet was wiped out by a disease spread via dirty phone sets.

Douglas uses humor to make the point that subjective appraisal of the value of the contribution of others is dangerous and this is the very thing that so called objectivists would do to those they consider their intellectual inferior.

After reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ I did visit an Objectivist discussion forum and I found them to be as fanatical and judgmental as any religious zealot attempting to apply the principles of Objectivism to every aspect of life. Taking objectivism to its ultimate conclusion would result in a class system with masses ‘rightfully’ in servitude to this self appointed “intellectual nobility”.

Communism ultimately failed because it was built on false principles and total misunderstanding of human nature.  Any Rand’s Objectivist utopia would be similarly doomed to failure for the same reasons.  The reality is the “intellectual nobility” do not need a champion like Ayn Rand to defend them.   They are still very much in control and always have been.

The movie is worth watching if it happens to come on TV but it’s not one I would recommend hunting down.   I have no doubt the book is much better but if you want to read Ayn Rand I would suggest starting with Atlas Shrugged.   This has been such an influential novel in shaping the opinion of the right wing in America that without reading it you cannot fully understand American 20th century history.


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