Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Fountainhead

King Vidor, 1949, 114m

Howard Roark, an architect, is the protagonist, created to serve as a mouthpiece to embody Ayn Rand's strident philosophy of ultra-individualism, for which this film might serve as a crash course. The film is based on Rand's thick novel of the same name. The script also is by her. Ayn Rands philosophy of "objectivism" speaks of man's prerogative to pursue his self interest, as opposed to the idea that a human being is a means for the collective good. Somewhere locked in this way of thinking is the idea of the Superman as contrasted to the herd. Rand, who grew up in Russia before immigrating to America, is a champion of capitalism, as a system which allows an individual full scope to pursue his individual dream.

The architect Roark risks his livelihood, reputation and love in order to design buildings according to his own genius, refusing to pander to popular trends. In one sequence he gets his lady love to blow up a huge building designed by him, because changes to the design had been made by others. The story builds up as an engrossing if highly voluble drama, punctuated by extended patches of philosophical discourse, ending in a court room speech where Roark has an opportunity to deliver a straightforward  lecture on his philosophy. To quote in part:

"The reasoning mind  cannot not be subordinated to the needs, opinions, or wishes of others. It is not an object of sacrifice... It is an ancient conflict. It has another name: the individual against the collective. ...Our country, the noblest country in the history of men, was based on the principle of individualism.... It was a country where a man was free to seek his own happiness, to gain and produce, not to give up and renounce....... I came here to say that I do not recognize anyone's right to one minute of my life. Nor to any part of my energy, nor to any achievement of mine. No matter who makes the claim....The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing....I do not care to work or live on any others. My terms are a man's right to exist for his own sake. "

What do you think of that? Even though it sounds reasonable that people are ends not means and entitled to seek self fulfillment, one may ask whether self fulfillment is possible at other's cost. After all, we are supposed to be social animals.

At least movies really talked in the forties and thirties! Think of Casablanca, Double Indemnity, Who's minding the baby?, Ducksoup and even Citizen Kane. Nothing like the later films, where the things are muttered at bare audibility with minimal opening of the trapdoor. (Chigurh and Vito Corleone). The dialog is all in paragraphs, and loud, in this one.

The film is hardly distinguished by cinematic merits. However it is an unusual experiment as a device to put forth ideas in the raw. The philosophical novel has been translated into philosophical cinema with considerable success. Perhaps the correct view of life lies somewhere between Ayn Rand's overbearing individualism and the individual-demeaning extinct philosophy of communism. 


Ronak M Soni said...

A rare sensible view of the woman. The internet is crawling with pro- and anti- Ayn Rand fanatics (a good example of the anti- type is
Reading Atlas Shrugged in my eleventh was an eye-opener; till then, I had staunchly stuck to "liberal" ideas. Even though I could almost immediately tell what was wrong, you have to admit that she is a, much-needed, view of the other side.

S. M. Rana said...

I was unsuccessful in completing Atlas Shrugged but did read the whole of Fountainhead and this was around your age. Even then I did not find Roark a very pleasant persona finding him unpleasantly self centered .

Now I am clear why. Nichiren Buddhism, based on a scripture called Lotus Sutra claims that all human beings have vast potential, hence Roark was wrong to demean a common man.

The Buddhist philosopher and activist Daisaku Ikeda, President of Soka Gakkai International, a lay organisation which practices Nichiren Buddhism, says:

"Life is filled with potential that is truly unfathomable. At last we are coming to see the enormous power it possesses. That is why we must never write anyone off. In particular, we mustn't put boundaries on our own potential. In most cases, our so-called limitations are nothing more than our own decision to limit ourselves"