If you have never encountered the works of Ayn Rand, well, you've lived a charmed life. She was what we might call a damaged person, but instead of becoming a drug addict or a stripper like most decent, damaged people, Rand cooked up a philosophy that's as cockeyed as it is inhumane as it is dispiritingly popular. The fact that the Ayn Rand Institute—founded by one-time Rand protg Leonard Peikoff—is headquartered in Irvine is a bigger embarrassment to the county than the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
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Rand outlined what she called Objectivism in such non-fiction books as Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal and The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egosim, and shoehorned it into agonizingly long speeches in the middle of novels like Atlas Shrugged. At their worst, her ideas read like a parody of those awful things we all know libertarians and Republicans are really thinking but are too chicken to say aloud: capital is God, collective action is for wussies. It would make for some good chuckles, but unfortunately Rand wasn't kidding and far too many conservatives really do eat this shit up with a spoon. It's a school of thought that can be used to excuse all sorts of sociopathic behavior; Rand herself used it as a justification to treat pretty much everybody she ever met like crap (including her lover, the humane Nathaniel Branden), and if you're ever on a date with somebody and they start singing the praises of The Fountainhead, no fooling, run home before the check has arrived and bolt the door behind you.
If you're wondering what could have happened to twist Rand into such a nasty piece of work, well, this is your lucky week, as you'll have the chance to see Rand's early life dramatized (well, melodramaticized) in film form, sparing you the chore of reading any of her books. As a girl, Rand saw her native Russia enslaved under a perverse parody of Marxism, and We the Livingconverts Rand's tale into an epic romance, complete with luminous black and white cinematography and one of those great, swooping 1940s film scores. A little bit Gone with the Wind, a little bit Doctor Zhivago and a lot of schmaltz, the picture (based on Rand's first novel) is a fascinating curio with a history that's at least as entertaining as anything that transpires onscreen.
Made in Italy during Mussolini's reign, We the Living was essentially a bootleg; the filmmakers didn't concern themselves with rights issues and didn't pay Rand one red lira for the adaptation. The original novel was one of Rand's least didactic works, and for the film version the story was tweaked slightly so that in addition to assailing communist Russia it could also be taken as an indictment of totalitarianism in general. It was a blockbuster hit in Italy, running for four months before somebody pointed out to Il Duce that he was being made a fool and he yanked it from circulation. Originally released as two separate films, We the Living made its way to America decades later and before her death Rand herself oversaw its transformation into the three-hour, bejeweled monster of a movie we have before us today. You don't have to know a thing about Rand to be absorbed by We the Living's grand theatrics, but knowing the nutjob behind the story takes the film into the realm of wacky gold.
We The Living Screens at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd.,Hollywood, (323) 466-Film; www.egyptiantheatre.com. Wed., 7:30 p.m. $6-$9.