Ayn Rand

Zack Snyder Hopes to Film Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead

The things that made DC Comics fans hate Snyder's vision of heroism might make him just right for Rand's Roark.


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.

Warner Bros.

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:

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  1. Slightly O/T: is the recent Atlas Shrugged trilogy worth taking in?

    1. “It’s better than you anticipate.”

    2. Depends what your time is worth. If it’s worth anything then no.

    3. Atlas Shrugged was always a mess. In both literary form as well as movie form. I don’t recommend that novel to people ever.

      Fountainhead is such a better book in regards to demonstrating the ideas of objectivism. It literally destroys the liberal premise that selfishness is about greed. In Fountainhead the protagonists are poor, refusing to compromise their ideals for acceptance or money. Such a better book than Atlas Shrugged. So is We the Living.

      1. I think We the Living is her novel most suited for film.

        1. They could probably do something good with Anthem.

          Rush made an epic song of it.

          1. Anthem is my favorite of her books, I think.

          2. Anthem is my favorite of her books, I think.

            1. Yeah, Anthem is decent. Rand was… not a great novelist.

        2. I think We the Living is her novel most suited for film.

          It was filmed, though without Rand’s permission:


          It is a great novel.

        3. There’s an old We the Living film made in the 40s in Italy that’s now on DVD. I’d love it if Netflix picked it up.

      2. So is We the Living.

        Absolutely. My favorite work of hers. Does an excellent job encapsulating the fucked up collectivist ideology.

        1. I resemble that book.

      3. Fountainhead is also a profoundly anti-capitalist book. Rather than give the market what it wants, Roark clings to his subjective beliefs of what is beautiful, even if it means not working and staying poor. Of course, he eventually finds his niche market, but not before violating the property rights of the developers of the housing project.

        The Fountainhead would be a much shorter book today. Roark could simply post sketches of his buildings online, or buy some Google ads, and see if anyone is interested in hiring him.

        1. Which is why Hollywood made a movie about it in 1949 with an A list star, and still hasn’t about Atlas Shrugged.

          Roark was basically an artist, not a capitalist. Hollywood movie directors can relate — they want to make art for art’s sake (it’s even the motto of one movie studio), not give audiences what they want.

    4. I thought the first was okay, but wow did they run out of money after that one. Jesus they are bad.

    5. If you are an admirer of Ayn any honest attempt to spread her ideas is welcome, even a mediocre one, however disappointing. As long as it does not misrepresent it will help introduce more people to her counter-culture. This is essential to the survival of our species.

  2. Because Atlas Shrugged worked out so well.

    I’m still waiting for Confederacy of Dunces.

    1. Having read both, Fountainhead is much better architected as a story. Much more adaptable to a movie script as well.

      1. Architected you say….

      2. But reading Confederacy of Dunces is actually an enjoyable experience.

        1. And rumor has it John Waters was in the running to direct it.
          That would have been worth seeing.

  3. The three [Atlas Shrugged] films, while popular among Libertarian fans of Rand’s book, made a collective $9 million at the box office.

    “But I don’t think of you.” 8-(

    1. Best line in the book.

  4. Let’s just hope he leaves out *that* scene.

    But I don’t have high hopes for this, both because Rand’s strength was not in her storytelling and characters, and because Zack Snyder.

  5. 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.

    So he was a terrorist, got it.

  6. Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel and Batman v Superman are very underrated. They aren’t very similar to previous superhero movies, but are memorable movies in their own right. Justice League, started by Snyder and finished by Joss Whedon, is a mess.

  7. “Are those lines likely to appear…Seems unlikely.” Then I hope he doesn’t get to make the movie. I don’t want to see her ideas mutilated. This is not just about Ayn. This is respect for ideas. I was horrified and angered when I saw an edited version of “Blade Runner” that cut dialogue from the rooftop death scene. This scene made the movie. It explained why the professional killer (LEO) retired. It saved him, or what was left of his life.

  8. “Anthem” was a bare-bones novel, a great intro to Ayn’s counter-culture individualism. It would make the best movie to start teaching someone indoctrinated in self-sacrifice. For that reason, I would like to see it made, but by a producer who is an Objectivist.

    Where would the money come from? Go Fund Me? Or Mark Cuban? Or both?

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