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Documentaries can sometimes come off as highfalutin, “in the know,” ways of signalling to people that you possess more information than they do. And to some extent, people are right about this. Often hoity-toity and dealing with heavy subject matter, few directors, unlike the muckraker Michael Moore, ever get their due. Not even at the Academy Awards (which Moore has won). But one documentary that stands out as one of the best autobiographical works is the Oscar® nominated Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life by writer, director, and producer Michael Paxton. It concerns the life and love story of the most profound mind in just over two thousand years, Miss Ayn Rand. I first encountered this documentary after listening to a snippet from a radio show. It didn’t stop there.
Once I visited the library to check out this work, I immediately got giddy. Once I fired up the DVD player, I witnessed something as close to art as a documentary can get. I absorbed Miss Rand’s beginnings in Russia and her triumphant struggle to make it to the United States of America. The film depicts Rand going from unknown to spectacular success through her words. I took in all of this like a feline chomping on catnip. Most of the elements that make up fictional, narrative stories fall into place in Life. Mr. Paxton imbues into the piece a conventional cradle to the grave motif but interweaves the excellent narration by Sharon Gless with animation, stills, and video clips. My eyes became affixed to the screen as the love story between Ayn Rand and Frank O’Connor plays out through most of the picture. A spark that had existed in my mind now became a raging fire that burned with questions and the search for more material by Miss Rand. The mind power that drove the making of this documentary should be applauded. For the sheer effort and monumental research that the film involves, Paxton and his team ought to revel. At just over twenty years old, the film still holds up more than well. With interviews by Dr. Leonard Peikoff, Dr. Harry Binswanger, Cynthia Peikoff, among others, the film is a living history of a life that was well worth living.
Animation plays a significant part in illustrating Ayn Rand’s four major works of fiction, We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged. These vivid depictions further showcase the wondrous worlds that Ayn Rand concocted. The music by Jeff Brittling provides an invigorating and at times somber tone to the images and voices on the screen. All of the elements fit together like some three-dimensional puzzle. This documentary formed the catalyst in my mind to seek out and devour more of Miss Rand’s works. I wanted to consume every interview, every book, every fragment that had to do with Ayn Rand. This was at a time when I was still a high schooler who never came in contact with Ayn Rand except through media. No school teachers included her works on the syllabus in the classes in which I was enrolled. I had to find out on my own just who this lady was and this documentary was a keen start. I developed into a junior connoisseur of all things Ayn Rand. A Sense of Life galvanized me and never left me.
At the 2017 Objectivist Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I claimed the honor of meeting Mr. Michael Paxton and having a copy of the Blu-ray case signed by the man himself. I cherish this keepsake and have never forgotten what it means. Mr. Paxton graciously signed the cover and even shared a few words with me after I told him my story with the documentary. I am forever grateful to him and to everyone who has encountered Miss Rand’s work and made their own lives better.