After exiting the DC Comics cinematic universe, director Zack Snyder this week repeated something he's been saying for many years: He wants to adapt Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, the 1943 novel that, while more about art and the media than politics per se, marked Rand as an effective public voice for individualism.
The only new news here is that Snyder told someone on the social media site Vero that this will be his next project. Rand fans should see this as tentative in the extreme, vaporware until proven otherwise. Why, the movie's IMDB page doesn't even mark it as being in pre-production yet, merely "announced."
In short, Snyder's interest in filming The Fountainhead doesn't mean he'll find the funding, actors, script, and other ingredients necessary to actually get it to a cineplex near you.
All that said, Snyder would be an interesting director to take on Rand's story of Howard Roark, an architect whose self-driven mind leads him to abandon conventional worldly success to practice architecture only under terms acceptable to him. This eventually leads him to—spoiler alert—blow up an (unoccupied) public housing project.
Snyder's attitudes toward heroism, as expressed in his DC movies, have been attacked as contrary to what people love about Superman. He made Superman selfish, fans complained. He was slammed for presenting a Kent family that didn't encourage Clark to publicly use his powers to help others even at risk to his own happiness or peace. He's been accused of not wanting to present well-rounded human characters but just "contrivances designed to explore whatever idea seems to be on Zack Snyder's mind," and of having a "neoliberal" view that heroism is about individuals using their abilities as they wish.
Writing in Splice Today, Todd Seavey, very knowledgeable on the aesthetics of both Rand and superheroes, looks at Snyder's film 300 through the eyes of a Russian emigre friend and sees the "freedom-fighting she'd come to this country to embrace combined with the superhuman propaganda-poster aesthetic she'd been born into, which is roughly immigrant Rand's own story."
Snyder's views on heroism thus might be perfectly suited to properly present Rand's Roark, whose heroism is expressed via the freely chosen expression of his own genius, ignoring or fighting against the pressures of the leading minds of his field, of the market, and of other people's needs.
Roark is most definitely not a hero who sacrifices himself for others. That standard definition of heroism is in fact exactly what Roark fights. See how Roark defends himself against criminal charges for blowing up the unoccupied public housing project Cortlandt Homes:
It is said that I have destroyed the homes of the destitute…but for me the destitute could not have had this particular home….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, how large their number or how great their need. I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others….The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing….[T]he integrity of a man's creative work is of greater importance than any charitable endeavor….I recognize no obligations toward men except one: to respect their freedom and to take no part in a slave society.
Does the jury buy it? Sorry, no more spoilers here.
Are those lines likely to appear in any possible Snyder-directed film of The Fountainhead? Seems unlikely. But Rand felt that important ideas and a proper sense of life could (at least in theory) be inculcated through art without such explicit political or philosophical messaging.
Rand deliberately wrote the novel as a volley in a war against New Deal–era centralism and statism, marveling at the time that "I performed a miracle in getting a book like this published in these times when the whole publishing world is trembling before Washington….[I]f it's allowed to be killed by the Reds—our good industrialists had better not expect anyone else to stick his neck out in order to try to save them from getting their throat cut."
Still, Rand first loved America less for the Declaration of Independence than for Cecil B. DeMille. To the extent that the 21st century lives up to Rand's sense of human glory, it will be less because of politicians than creators—as I once wrote, "the men and women who will develop new computer technologies; new sources of energy; new methods of bringing the physical world, from steel to our very genes, under our control; and the physical and market techniques to take us off the planet's surface. It is for those sorts of people—the businessmen and technologists who make life richer and more option filled for everyone—that Ayn Rand is patron saint and inspiration."
That she should have her vision play out in big-budget Hollywood cinema, whether the results please all her fans or not, is only appropriate.
I deeply regret that Philip Seymour Hoffman didn't live to get a chance to play the novel's social and artistic critic-villain Ellsworth Toohey, perhaps as the editor of a Brooklyn-based political-literary journal and website. But maybe Snyder will give us a dramatic slow-motion sequence of Cortlandt Homes blowing up when Roark decides his rights as a creator in designing the public housing project have been violated.
In other possibly-on-the-horizon Rand film news, a TV miniseries based on her book Atlas Shrugged remains a possibility. I reported in real time on the Atlas Shrugged feature film trilogy version that came out earlier this decade: parts one, two, and three.
The trailer for the 1949 Fountainhead film, featuring a screenplay by Rand (though an edit she did not approve of) and Gary Cooper as Roark: