The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999) from Tuna

The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999) presents a side of the author of The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged that I was unaware of. Based on a biography by Barbara Brandon, long-time follower of Rand (Helen Mirren), the story is told from her point of view.
Brandon and her then college boyfriend met Rand after Rand liked something Nathaniel Brandon (Eric Stoltz) had written to her in a letter. They became fervent disciples, and even married when Rand convinced them they were the perfect couple.

Nathaniel became a psychologist, and Ayn's protégé.

Barbara proved to be frigid, and somewhat of a mouse, and Ayn's husband Frank (Peter Fonda) was also rather slow next to Ayn and Nathaniel, so ....


Helen Mirren's nudity was brief and inexplicit. (Dark side or side-rear views of her breasts)

Sybil Temchen, however, is seen topless in an adequately lit sex scene.

Finally, Ayn and Nathaniel decide they want to have sex together, but ask permission of their spouses, which was reluctantly given. Everything falls apart several years later when Ayn discovers that Nathaniel has been intimate with one of his patients (Sybil Temchen), and has fallen for her.

This film was produced by Showtime, and earned awards for Fonda and Mirren. Mirren was absolutely the high point of this film. The entire film is dark and grainy. Although the story is somewhat soap opera-like, Ayn Rand is an interesting enough character, and Mirren did such a great job with the role that it was watchable.

Scoopy's notes in yellow

  • Objectivist and free-thinker Ayn Rand was an interesting person, as Tuna contends. She consistently challenged the assumptions inherent in Western culture, and was keen to expose those assumptions as arbitrary and/or unjustifiable.
  • Rand was not, however, a likeable person, either in real life or as portrayed here, and that may pollute your enjoyment of a film centered around her selfishness and the selfishness of her protégé. Rand found altruism to be tantamount to weakness. Mirren captures Rand's direct and penetrating mind accurately, to my limited understanding, but that doesn't make her any easier to relate to. The only really likeable character is the unassuming husband whose centered and unchallenging personality provided stability in Rand's life. The uncomplicated and gentle soul was played with the dotty ex-hippie charm that Peter Fonda exudes effortlessly.
  • I remember reading Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead years ago and feeling the same way about them that I felt about this movie, that they possessed features to admire, and features to debate, but none to like.
  • In a world in which French and English speakers find it so difficult to master each other's pronunciation, Julie Delpy gets my award for the native French speaker with the best command of English (especially American pronunciation and idiom). She won this competition by so much that nobody finished second. Delpy plays an American woman in this film and she could almost pass. If you listen carefully, you can hear that she is foreign, but I can't pick up any trace of a French accent. I mean none at all.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • no widescreen version

  • no features

  • Mirren is battling it out with Sally Kirkland for the award for "oldest nude scene not involving Jessica Tandy". She was about 53 when she did this.
  • I notice that as Helen gets older, she looks more and more Slavic. Although she was born in the U.K., her real name is Ilynea Mironoff - or probably more correctly, Mironova. Ayn Rand was Russian, and Mirren was a masterstroke of casting in just about any way you can imagine. I doubt if they ever considered any other actress.

The Critics Vote

  • no major reviews online

  • there is a very well-written newsgroup review that you might want to read.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.3.
  • made for cable TV
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C or C+.

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