The Epic Battle of Ayn Rand vs. Larry David

“Who would win in a fight Godzilla or King Kong?” was a question that was asked by just about every kid I knew growing up. “What about Batman versus Superman, or how about The Six-Million Dollar Man and Big Foot?” With that mindset forever entrenched in my skull, I was intrigued when I learned that one of our society’s most popular satirists would be taking on one of our most popular philosophers.

Larry-David-9542580-1-402Larry David’s Clear History is a satirical comedy, not a philosophical treatise, so the movie should be given some artistic license when it attempts to deconstruct, refute, or simply poke fun at one of Ayn Rand’s most famous books The Fountainhead. The question that every viewer should ask themselves is where does that artistic license end, and the requirement of factual refutation begin? As it has often been said, a satirist can be humorous when poking fun at various institutions, but he can be hilarious if he adds an element of truth to his satire. In this vein, Clear History is not hilarious.

Some would say that those who are so bothered by the content of a movie that they can’t enjoy something as simple as a simple comedy without analyzing it to death, need to relax, get out more, or have more relations with the opposite sex. It’s a fair point, but isn’t it also a fair point that if these movie makers are going to attempt to satirically refute one of the most famous books of all-time (Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead) that the material might be more effective if they did so in a more accurate manner? Why even mention the book, much less make it an ongoing theme of your movie, if that wasn’t their goal? If the screenwriters simply wanted to provide light humor, why didn’t they just invent a book, and that book’s writer, for Will Haney character’s inspiration? They could then more easily refute any claims of inaccuracy by those who believe that they didn’t properly represent the book in question.

Even if the writers wanted to avoid the heavy handed task of providing exact refutation, and their work of light humor was only going to trim the edges of Ayn Rand’s philosophy, for the purpose of providing their audience a base from which light humor and sight gags would spring, we should require those satirists to get the subtext of her philosophy correct, for proper, albeit humorous refutation. If that satire’s main character is going to portray an anti-Rand character (Nathan Fromm), shouldn’t we require his adversary (Will Haney) to properly represent the Rand character, if for no other reason than to have a proper adversarial relationship … Even if it’s for no other reason than to have humorous exchanges, or to have a subtext that hints at those philosophical differences?

randThere are moments in the movie where it appears as though the writers purposely avoided representing the Ayn Rand philosophy accurately, that they don’t understand the greater import of her message, or that they simply wanted to provide their “impossible to grasp” interpretation of it. One of the few direct interpretations of The Fountainhead’s main character, Howard Roark, involves a swear word that characterizes Roark as one of the meanest characters in the history of literature.

Teenagers use this swear word, in this manner, to provide their listeners with an all-encompassing dismissal of the chosen object of their scorn, and that’s all other teens need to follow a fellow teen’s dismissal of their subject. Adults often need more. Adults may allow the speaker to dismiss a person with a swear word, especially for the sake of humor, but they often require more if they are going to join the speaker in their attempts to dismiss a person, or an idea. Even if said adults aren’t willing to join the speaker in the condemnation of a subject, they usually enjoy the blows delivered in an epic battle, but even then, even for the purpose of satirical refutation, most adults prefer to have an element of truth added for added amusement.

When I learned that a mighty satirist would be taking on a mighty philosopher, I thought of all of those speculative epic battles that we talk about in our youth. When I saw my satiric hero had another character in the movie deliver a blow below the belt, characterizing Ayn Rand’s character Howard Roark with a swear word that was supposed to define him as one of the meanest characters in the history of literature, I knew this wouldn’t be a fair fight. Even though I knew that the protagonist’s adversary (Ayn Rand) in this epic battle was no longer alive to counter punch, I knew the fight would be called early.

It strikes me that when we create a satirical piece, we have one shot. We have to combine a substantive take with clever inserts of humor. It’s a juggling act that allows some room for error, as long as the premise is true. Doing otherwise leaves the audience thinking, “Ok, you don’t like Ayn Rand, or the Fountainhead. We got it. Now tell us why we shouldn’t.”   

Then, when I realized that this below the belt punch was going to be the best blow in the arsenal of one my favorite satirists, watching the rest of Clear History proved to be as sad, and as depressing, as watching Muhammad Ali battle Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson battle Lennox Lewis at the end of their careers. This isn’t to say that I think Clear History spells the end of Larry David’s career, or that he’s in any way past his prime, but that he had one awful match in which he proved to be out of his weight class.

Atlas Shrugged II: A review

The idea that this movie—and the previous movie Atlas Shrugged I—were kind of boring haunts me a little.  I have this idea that the next time I mention to someone that Atlas Shrugged is my favorite book, someone will say:  “Really?  I saw the movie, and I thought it was kind of boring…sorry.”  And that ‘sorry’ will be laced with compassion and condescension.  Sorry you wasted your time reading all that, sorry I don’t agree, and sorry, but it just didn’t appeal to me.

As a long-time fan of Ayn Rand, and in particular the book Atlas Shrugged, I felt like I was a member of a very select community.  National politicians, and world leaders, have spoken about the influence this book, and this author, have had on their lives.  Some of them have spoken about the manner in which the premise of the book’s philosophy had a great deal to do with their advancement in life, but most of the people in my inner circle have never heard of Rand or the book.  I longed for a movie for decades, so that my non-literary friends could know the joys of leading a life based on philosophy.  That is now a reality, but most of my friends haven’t seen the movies, and I don’t encourage them to do so, because they’re kind of boring.

Unfortunately, part II was not much better than part I.  You will see a new cast, and you will see greater production, but if you’re like me you’ll walk out of the theater as disappointed as you were after the first one.  I’ve watched the first movie two and a half times.  (I was so disappointed that I couldn’t make it through the movie a third time.)  I bought the first one to support the cause, and to give producer John Aglialoro the compliment of my money just for having the fortitude to see this project to fruition.  I went into part II with lowered (extremely low) expectations, and I wasn’t disappointed.  The production was decent, the cinematography was well done, and the acting was somewhat improved, but it was boring.  It was painfully and disappointingly boring.

The inevitable question arises, how could you do it better?  The answer is I couldn’t.  The answer may also be the reason that this project fell through the cracks so many times.  No one else thought they could do any better either.

The sad thing is, as this culture moves further and further away from literature and into the more immediate mediums of entertainment, a novel of Atlas Shrugged’s girth will fall further and further into obscurity.  Now that there’s a movie, people will be more apt to want to invest three to four hours watching that production than spending months reading the book.  When I tell them of the deep philosophical influence it had on me, they may shrug.  When I tell them that its influence has affected generations of readers profoundly, they’ll probably say that it didn’t affect them in that manner.  When I tell them that it has routinely been classified as the second most influential book of all time, behind The Bible, they’ll probably say, “Sorry, I found it a little boring.”

Atlas Shrugged: A Review

Atlas Shrugged. It’s a warning not a newspaper. It’s a story about man’s struggle against collectivism. It’s a story about the beauty of individual achievement. It’s a story from a Russian immigrant who saw warnings signs of the horrors she saw in her home country happening in her new country of choice the United States of America. It’s a story about the beauty of individual achievement, or the attempt to achieve great things in the face of government influence. Barack Obama fans save your money. You will be disgusted and frustrated by this movie, unless you’re only fans of the celebrity that is Barack Obama. If you are well versed in the politics of Barack Obama, and you are still a fan of his, you will want to save your money. This will NOT be your cup of tea. Trust me.

An arrogant business man wants to achieve the compliment of dollars for his services? And he doesn’t want to share his wealth, or give back to his community? And he’s the good guy? It’s from the perspective of the businessman and the businesswoman? A woman attempts to achieve excellence in her industry, and she attempts to do so in a movie? Without consulting a government official? Excuse me but what kind of movie is that is that? I would love it if this movie started a new vocabulary in this country. A vocabulary that turned to these Obama types and said, “you know what, this guy loves what he does. He’s great at it, and he loves it, and we all benefit from his passion. Why don’t you leave him alone? Why do we have to regulate every aspect of his business, tax every dollar of his profit, legislate every industry he’s in, and then turn him over and legislate, regulate and tax him again?

The movie was fantastic. A reply to one of my reviews of another, unrelated product instructed me to limit my reviews to whether I liked a product or not. “Can’t you just say whether it was good on not,” were his exact words. Implicit in such a statement is the idea that I tend to get a little wordy, and that I tend to add unnecessary creativity to my reviews.

Before I continue, let me hurry up and tell you that I am an Ayn Rand fan. I add this quickly for those who wish to dismiss my opinion of the movie based on that fact. Her philosophies have joined the soup of the philosophies, ideas, and theories I have in my head, and they have remained in there no matter how many critics have told me, over the many years it’s been since I read the book, that her ideas are sophomoric and simplistic.

The book Atlas Shrugged was written in 1957. The book had 1957 dialogue. Supporters say the dialogue is timeless and shouldn’t be tampered with. Detractors say the book’s dialogue was stilted, and that it didn’t round the characters out well. I ask these detractors if they understood the book at all. The characters weren’t supposed to be “well-rounded” in the manner critics believe every human on Earth should be well-rounded. No males cry in the book or the movie, there are no discussions of hallucinogenic substances, and the main characters are in complete control of their facilities throughout the entire movie. Critics hate that. They desire more definition in their characters.

These were archetype characters that Ayn Rand believed should exist in every society and every walk of life. These were the characters that spelled out every characteristic of the individual in her idealistic vision.

The dialogue of the movie was updated to, presumably, attract today’s viewers. Some won’t like that. Purists will say that it took Ayn Rand 10 years to write the book, and that she and her assistant Nathaniel Branden poured over every detail, every word, period and comma. They will say that nothing should be changed, edited to time constraints, or altered and updated to fit the times. Others will say that updating the dialogue was essential to introduce Ayn Rand’s objectivist ideas and ideals to a new group of people who have never heard of her or Atlas Shrugged. They will say that the book reading public has so dwindled in certain age groups that Ayn Rand’s objectivist ideas and ideals would be lost on a generation of people who say: “If I wanted to be that bored, I would’ve read a book.” If the latter was the case, I say bravo. I should note that the script is not so updated that they have people saying bra and dude and the choice swear word of the day. They simply changed some of the verbiage to match that of today’s viewing public. I went in with a careful eye on the dialogue. I left realizing that it wasn’t a distraction. It was, in fact, seemless.

The woman who plays Dagny Taggart, Taylor Schilling, is a stunning actress. I found her subtle and in charge, the way Dagny was throughout the book. I didn’t like the actor who played Hank Rearden, Grant Bowler, at first. I had pictured Rearden as a character with unbridled charisma, but that wasn’t Hank Rearden. That was my personal portrayal of Rand’s Rearden character. Throughout the movie, I remembered that Rearden was friendless, quiet, and the type of guy his wife described as one that would sit in the corner all night in the middle of a party. With that in mind, the actor played Rearden spot on.

This is a movie without big name stars, an enormous budget ($5 million), or high flying action scenes with massive explosions. It’s a simple movie with grandiose ideas, like those in the book. It’s a movie without big name stars, but in my opinion that allows the story (Screenplay written by Brian O’Toole) to breathe like a fine wine as opposed to most great stories getting crushed under the weight of the screen presence of the big time star. The five million was put up by one man, director John Aglialoro, which means that it was not funded by Hollywood, which means that it’s not weighted down with the Hollywood demands that execs make on moviemakers to draw audiences, and to me that means that movie buffs should love it all the more. I will also tell you, as an Ayn Rand fan, that Randians around the world should go nutso over this thing. I had chills in many scenes. I nearly cried in one. Not because it was sad, but because Aglialoro and O’Toole got it right. I tried to view the movie from the perspective of someone who never heard of Ayn Rand. I couldn’t. I love the story and the ideas way too much for that to be possible. They got it right.