Ayn Rand's 'The Fountain Head' (1949): Fascist Theme in a Miserable Film



The Fountain Head deserves a re-
view in spite of the fact that it is as
blooming a stinkcroo as ever came
out of a Hollywood studio. But since
this dim view of Us merits as a film
has no necessary connection with the
reason it invites discussion, we skip
the bill of particulars. If you blunder
into it looking for an evening's en-
tertainment, let the consequences be
on your own head.
Thr Fountain Head is a "social
message." Thr nir?nagc is not inci-
dental to the film nor does it hem
to be Hawtd oat of the plot by a
liypercrillral cUm*-angler. It is almost
the sole content of the picture as
planned; even the psychotic "love
story" Is subordinated to it rigorously.
We have no doubt that its pro-
ducers and Ayn Rand, its author,
thought of it as a morality play
AGAINST the totalitarian idea. That's
what makes It Interesting, because it
is in fact written around a thesis
which is totalitarian lo the core.
SUPERMAN' i in mi
The hero is an architect who, in
the face of ridicule, poverty, slander
and public opinion, courageously re-
fuses to compromise with his integ-
rity as an artist, He holds fast to an
ideal of modernism in architecture
and declines to pander to lower
tastes for the sake of orders and
monetary reward. And gradually he
does manage to make his way with-
ou compromising his art.
Bui this laudable theme of the pre-
cious individual integrity of the art-
ist is NOT the theme of the film. In
fact, if the hero were merely an art-
ist, the plot wouldn't work. The hero
is an architect: an artist, indeed, but
an artist whose product is not merely
an object of esthetic pleasure but
an economically necessary commod-
ity—houses, for example—in the pro-
duction of which a host of other peo-
ple are necessarily involved, not to
speak of the people who are to live
in them. "
It is this role of the architect
which makes possible the shift
(which goes by unnoticed in a script
otherwise filled with talky-talky ex-
position) from individualism in art to
individualism as a social philosophy.
The result is the projection of a
Nietzschean "superman" as the pala-
din of . . . democracy.
The climactic episode of the film
(flat as a pancake in execution but
climactic In conception) is Miss
Rand's own proposal for a test of her
philosophy. A low-cost housing pro-
ject is planned, but no architect has
solved the problem of how to keep
it low-cost. Our hero cannot com-
pete because he is persona non grata.
The problem attracts him. not be-
cause it will mean low-cost housing
for people who need it, but simply
because it is an interesting problem
to be solved. (This attitude is care-
fully and belligerently explained as
o necessary attribute of the creative
mind.) He solves the problem; ■ fel-
low architect is permitted to submit
the design in his own name on the
condition that not a single change
be made in it.
The design is adopted and the pro-
ject is built, but despite the stand-
in's objections, the housing directors
incorporate changes which modify
the severely modernistic style. Re-
course to the courts would be futile
(the scenario informs us). What
shall the Genius do about this de-
floration of his brainchild?
In the dead of night he blows the
whole housing project sky-high with
According to Miss Rand's thesis,
now put forward in its full flower,
there is no alternative for him. Gary
Cooper (who, we forgot to say for
understandable reasons, plays the
Genius) dots the i's in a courtroom
speech in which he defends his ac-
Even at this point, if the defense
were conducted on the ground of up-
holding ARTISTIC integrity, one
might still have to comment on the
subject of the SOCIAL responsibility
even of an artist—when what is in-
volved is not the consignment of a
poem to the wastebasket but of a
housing project to dynamite.
But in this key speech, the issue
is not posed in terms of art at all.
Explicitly and huso many words, the
issue is defined as "the Individual
versus the Collective" in all of so-
The dynamiting is put in the con-
text of the struggle against totali-
tarianism in the modern world; the
architect is made a symbol of the
individual's right to refuse to be regi-
mented by "the Collective" (this
word is used for society because it
is supposed to evoke on image of
COLLECTIVISM, which is simpTy as-
sumed to be equivalent to statism
and totalitarianism). If any reader
finds this as madly far-fetched as
does the revibwer, it must be said
on the other side that at least the
jury is convinced.
The test case deliberately picked
by the author is far-fetched, but the
philosophy is not. It is very old.
The architect, being the prototype
of the Creative Ones of the world,
from whom alone all good has come
(this is demonstrated in three min-
utes of the defense speech), has a
right to act as a law unto himself.
Crucial to the argument as given,
and to the philosophy, is the fact
that he has this right NOT because
he is an individual but because he is
a Great Man, a Creator, NOT an or-
dinary human being.
The workmen on the housing pro-
ject naturally have to do exactly
what they're told to do; the people
who are to live In the hcAises have
to live In the houses which arc ex-
actly such as the Genius has planned
for them. nothlng of Miss Rand's
philosophy has any relevance to
them; the problem Is not one of the
relationship between' man and man
in society, but of the relationship be-
tween the Great Man on the one
hand and society on the other.
If a totalitarian dictator needs a
personal rationalization for his use
of the whip (or of dynamite), it is
of course this philosophy of the su-
pra - social rights of the Superman.
More important — since dictators
themselves often do not worry about
rationalizing their roles to them-
selves—it is equally the rationale for
acceptance of a fuehrer and contempt
for the democratic will of the people.
People — including ourselves —
would probably get more stirred up
by a film which glorified strike-
breaking, let us say. Because it deals
with concepts of social philosophy
in abstract fashion (the cqncretiza-
tion in plot is so fantastic that the
sit-and-run customer may excusably
miss the point), the Fountain Head
will doubtless not arouse the hisses
it deserves. But it is surely the most
fascist-minded film I can easily re-
call at the moment—fascist-MINDED