So this is the part of the movie where Howard (played by Gary Cooper) does the mad bad thing. What am I talking about? Only one way to find out – other than actually watch The Fountainhead, which I don’t recommend…
This is the part of the original movie that so incensed me. Howard Roark blows up the low cost quality housing project he designed because they dared to alter his plans. Not alter it in any way that made it unsafe or unsound – they just altered superficial elements. Yes, I know it’s a piece of fiction. I do. But listen this act of violent vandalism is made out to be a noble act – the supreme act of the individual who refuses to compromise on his core values.
They add balconies to the building’s design. They also add awful trim to the front porch, but I was watching it thinking – well, I’d want a balcony – who wouldn’t want a balcony in an apartment?
Yes, I know it’s fiction. And from the 1940s. But even with things written in the 1940s you don’t expect psychopathic (or is it sociopathic?) behaviour to be held up as an example of heroic individualism.
And the thing is in the bits leading up to it there are things that while I didn’t agree with completely I did think were valid points.
The way Howard refuses to seek revenge on those who have unjustly opposed him – not because he’s some saint but because he has stuff he wants to do and he’s not going to be distracted by his detractors. I think that is great. Revenge is not only wrong it’s also a bad idea that isn’t in an individual’s self-interest. An individual’s life should be about giving expression to what is good and great and unique within them – you can’t be doing that if you’re consumed with getting revenge on the idiot who called you a … a … flying monkey?
I also agreed with the way Howard says that if you want to get something done, and you want it done well, you have to love the doing of it and not be doing it for the good of others. I think you can do things for the good of others but I do believe that people who do excellent work do so because they love the doing of whatever that work is. Unfortunately he then goes on to compare working voluntarily (without payment) with slavery which is both insulting and nonsensical.
So up until this point I was thinking – well it’s no feel-good-Capra style old movie but it’s alright – a story about an architect championing a new design style, fair enough… And then our “hero” blows up Cortlandt Homes. And this is to be viewed as a heroic act!?! – I still can’t believe it.
Yes, I know it’s just a movie. And not in any way real. Still though…
If you really agree with individualism – and let me state quite plainly here, I do – how could you, how could Ayn Rand, possibly think this sort of action would be correct? I want to live in a world where we are all free to be … whoever we happen to be. But if you are an individualist how can you believe that any individual’s rights supersede the rights of other individuals? Because that is what this story is really about – because Howard Roark is such a strong individual with such a strong vision then he is right and justified in doing whatever he feels he must do to defend his vision, his work, his insanity.
Yes, I know it’s just a story. From the 1940s. 70 odd years ago…
So yeah, that is really why I wrote this. That and the fact that I was looking for accommodation when I first saw this so watching someone blow up low cost quality housing was especially galling. – That’s why I included all the new characters to give a sense of how his actions might affect other individuals. Well, some of them I just wanted to add – like Gene Tierney and Cab Calloway… They’re not in this bit.
That’s another issue I have with The Fountainhead. Ayn Rand tackles mob mentality in it. As a slightly odd individual I understand how scary the mob can be. I love when people act in solidarity but I also find the idea of a society that is totally united in its conception of what is right and what is wrong a little frightening because – well, what if they get it wrong? And what if I’m in the group of people – or even just the individual – that they have decided isn’t right? That is scary. But I think movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers are much more effective critiques of mob mentality. The critique here makes no sense because in this instance the mob are right. They believe that Howard Roark’s arson attack on the housing project is indefensible and who on earth wouldn’t? Also they are not really acting like a mob; they aren’t looking to lynch him, they are not after some sort of vigilante justice, they simply want him to answer for his crimes in the prescribed manner.
Now it’s true that Ellsworth Toohey’s condemnation of Howard Roark is daft – saying that self-sacrifice is the order of the day and he must sacrifice his vision to the needs of the greater good… In the same way that I don’t think I could ever be convinced that one individual is more important than other, I cannot accept that society is more important than the individual. I am an individualist but for me that means accepting and respecting the rights of all individuals – integrated individualism. And compromise isn’t sacrifice, it is not a violation of your core values, it is an acceptance that you are not a supreme being, that you are an individual in a world of individuals whose vision, work and sanity are improved by taking on board the input of others – that is not a negation of self, that is a realisation of oneself and the part each of us play in this world.
It’s true though that Howard isn’t consulted about how his design would be altered so this couldn’t really be considered a compromise – but then Howard didn’t submit his own design so he couldn’t be at the meeting where they announced they would be making some changes to the plans.
Yes, I know it’s fiction. Dammit…
O.K. there is more stuff about Howard and Dominique in this bit. I’m sorry but I cannot see what is romantic about this coupling – in no way do this pair seem romantic to me. In fairness I’m not the world’s most romantic person – but still they make no sense to me.
Meanwhile Gail is the ever-loving husband. When Dominique nearly ends up killing herself, aiding and abetting Howard in his crazy crime capers, Gail is at her bedside waiting for her to wake up, full of sympathy and warmth, and never for even one moment suspecting that there might be something more to Dominique and Howard’s relationship. I thought that was sweet.
So without further yapping on, here the next bit:
And the earlier bits:
I love Dominique’s outfit here – just would like different buttons.