Ever since I created the Heroes category for my articles, I have felt the need to write one about my ultimate hero: Ayn Rand. The problem has been, as any of my readers know, my reverence for this great human being is evident throughout this blog. Finally, I realized that an expansion upon what inspired that reverence in the first place was in order. And that was her book The Fountainhead.
In my Opening Rant article, I described the book as “the story of a man [Howard Roark] who stood against the merciless tide of collective humanity out to destroy him for his unwavering stance in favor of his individual right to live as a free man – by his own standards and at his own expense.” That statement remains accurate, and yet leaves so much unsaid. To help fill that gap, I want to discuss what I think was a glaring error in the making of the movie version of the story. Now I know that others who love the book will be quick to point out that saying the movie had one error is a gross understatement, but I think all would agree the other mistakes pale in comparison to this one: Leaving out the part of the story that is most essential to understanding Rand’s message – even to understanding the story’s title – the fountainhead itself!
In my paperback copy, the book’s teaser says that “man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress.” One point of story is to show that, in the real world, men like the character Ellsworth Toohey seek power over men through the destruction of their egos. Howard Roark, the architect, is the ultimate symbol of what a pure and unbridled human ego can accomplish, so he must be destroyed if Toohey’s plan for the conquest of man is to be achieved. To that end, Toohey browbeats simpleton rich-guy Hopton Stoddard into hiring Roark to design the Stoddard Temple of the Human Spirit – all the while planning to make a mockery of the temple using the power of the press to influence the masses who are unwilling to think for themselves.
But Howard Roark convinces Steven Mallory to sculpt the temple’s fountainhead statue using Dominique Francon as the model. Steven Mallory had tried to kill Ellsworth Toohey because, on an unconscious level, he recognizes the absolute evil that he represents. Roark chose him however, not because of his history with Toohey, but because he was the only artist equal to the task assigned to him by Roark’s vision. And Dominique Francon, in mentality, appearance, and stature – if not faith, was the living embodiment of what the temple was designed to pay homage to. Neither Francon or Mallory could hide the fact that they lived in dreadful fear of the power they thought Toohey had to destroy Roark. But in spite of their trepidations, the greatness of his vision was too much for them to resist.
The most important thing to understand about Roark, you see, is that in all the world he is the only one to recognize that, ultimately, Toohey is as insignificant as a bug on the windscreen of the vehicle of man’s forward-moving spirit. Even after Toohey’s media blitz caused the temple to be all but demolished and the reputations of everyone involved to be covered in slime, he remains unfazed. Even after those who loved him turned away in shame for having participated in what they thought of as his destruction, his only emotion was disappointment at their lack of faith.
As it did in the book, having that back story in place in the movie would have added so much to what I think is quite possibly the most memorable scene in the story: when broke and temporarily unable to find work, Roark is approached by Toohey one night while wandering the streets looking at projects under construction by other builders.
After starting with the usual Toohey-speak designed to induce fearfully-respectful babbling from most, Toohey finally asks: “Mr. Roark, we’re alone here. Why don’t you tell me what you think of me? In any words you wish. No one will hear you.”
In response, Roark’s answer is both short and sweet: “But I don’t think of you.”
I want ice water.