The novelist Ayn Rand engaged in an affair with a psychologist 25 years her junior by the name of Nathaniel Branden. Branden built up an institute to spread Rand’s ideas, but the two eventually had a falling out. This is the story of the affair, based on the book by Branden’s wife, Barbara.
The film begins with a night view of New York. It's the funeral of Ayn Rand (Helen Mirren), the renown novelist. It's on 8th March 1992. The lady who speaks was her best friend, but because of their falling out, she has to wait outside in the cold to see the body, with many other fans of the writer. Finally, the doors are opened by the funeral director (John Lefebvre). Another lady (Katherine Trowell) at the funeral comments that Ayn Rand wouldn't have liked that display of popular sentimentalism. A security guard (Robert Thomas) appears to tell the ladies to keep on moving.Los Angeles, 1951. The door bell keeps ringing. Frank O'Connor "Frank Rand" (Peter Fonda), with a bouquet of flowers on his hand, opens up the door. A young couple wants to talk to Ayn Rand. She appears, dressed almost as a man. The young couple introduce themselves: they are Nathaniel (Eric Stoltz) and Barbara (Julie Delpy) Branden. They want to interview her about the social and psychological implications of her novels. Ayn uses them as examples of the young fresh people who read her novels. Returning home, Barbara says that she's felt as though Rand could read her innermost hidden thoughts. Nathaniel and Barbara kiss on the car, but she prevents her from going further. He has taken her back home: it looks that they are an unmarried couple.Later, Ayn Rand and Barbara have a conversation, and the former concludes that Nathan is the perfect man for Barbara, but the young girl doesn't feel love within her. Rand says she sees herself in Barbara's confusion. Barbara promises not to disappoint Rand ever. They return to the cocktail party. There, Nathan hears about Rand's new novel, entitled Atlas Shrugged . The man who wanted to write a script about Rand's previous novel is pushed to quit the project because he feels guilt – a feeling which Rand doesn't approve of.A scene of Barbara and Nathan making love. Next step, it's their wedding. Rand attends the wedding and dances with Nathan. She starts to feel that Nathan may be the person who will carry on her work. When she tries to speak to Frank, he's busy gardening. Ayn tells him that she wants to live in New York. However, Fran loves their mansion in the countryside. Ayn tries to make love to him passionately to convince him. She shouts to him "Why do you always have to ask for my permission?", so he tears her beautiful dress into pieceds.New York. 3 months later. During a taxi ride, Nathan reads Rand's book. Barbara writes in her diary about her own identity problems. The marriage calls on Frank and Ayn. She says that the dollar sign is her god. Nathan confides to Ayn that Barbara feels confused and needs guidance.That night, Nathan tries to make love to Barbara, but she is a bit passive, as usual. That night, Nathan doesn't want to make the effort. Barbara feels that she always has to fit an ideal. Barbara is outraged that he has talked about their bedroom problems to somebody outside the marriage. Each one of them sleeps feeling angry towards the other.In a later party, Barbara notices that Frank is sad and depressed as well, because he's having problems in his marriage too. Meanwhile, Ayn chain-smokes while writing her novel. She gets stuck because of her personal problems. Finally, she picks up the receiver to make a phonecall. She confides in Nathan. They both stay behind, sitting, while Barbara and Fran ice-skate. Barbara notices them whispering and smiling, as if they were in love.Once alone with her husband, Barbara tells him that Ayn Rand was in love with him. Nathan denies to be in love with her: he mentions that she's 25 years older than him. He says that Barbara's fears are ridiculous. He encourages her to control her emotions. At the same time, Ayn gives the silent treatment to Frank.Nathan finally visits Ayn Rand. At first, she feels outraged of having been misunderstood by Barbara. However, she finally puts it out there: she says she loves him. They kiss.Another day, Ayn defends her idea of lesser people having to accept the moral superiority of higher people like herself. She is proposing to maintain both marriages but allowing herself to have Nathan as lover. Her words about love come down to being proposing open marriages. Frank refuses to oblige with "this insanity". Nathan tries to talk to Barbara, telling her that he loves her, but that he must be with Ayn as well. Frank takes it the works, but at least Barbara offers her arm in consolation. Frank looks defeated, remembering how Ayn used to tell him that he was her ideal for a man. They both talk at a bar. Frank wasn't sure that was equal to love, but he accepted that. He also recognises that, at 54, he's got no job of his own, he's got no higher education: their lifestyle is financed by her on her own. He's got nowhere to go, so he's got no other choice. He tells Barbara that she's got a choice. Finally, Frank and Barbara decide to accept that Ayn and Nathan must meet twice a week at her mansion. Barbara can't stand Nathaniel to touch her, but Ayn is extra-warm towards Frank. While they are leaving, Nathaniel makes promises of love towards Barbara. She knows him and he loves her.Cut to Nathan and Ayn making love: this causes Ayn to enter a period of high creativity. She writes her ideology of love within her books. They see each other, and Nathan and Ayn go at it like rabbits in heat.Ayn sees her novel to spiral out of control in number of pages. She questions Caroline (Sybil Temchen) and other students about love. David (Donald Carrier) and other students (Tomas Chovanec, Patrick Garrow, Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Tara Meyer, Sergio Di Zio) are discussing the matter of love. Caroline wanted to become a teacher to teach others, but Ayn rejects that view, stating that Caroline is looking for appraisal according to her disposal to think of others before herself. Ayn throws another of her diatribes, this time addressing Barbara, who seems to feel dizzy. Meanwhile, a waiter (Daniel Enright), keeps on serving wine around them. Ayn says that the physical symptoms Barbara has been feeling arise from her anxiety. Caroline is eager to do whatever it takes to get better. Nathan tells her that she's not putting effort in getting better. Barbara leaves but Nathan does not go with her, not even to check that she's all right. Barbara has sweaty hands, breathes heavily, feels everything moving around here… Meanwhile, Ayn and Nathan are at it. Ayn picks up the phone, and Barbara asks her to visit them. However, Ayn gets furious, saying that it's all Barbara's fault, that she's brought her condition onto herself, that she knows that this is Ayn and Nathan's time… and Ayn hangs up violently. Barbara cries and has a panic attack. A man knocks on the phone booth and asks her whether she's alright. When Nathan arrives home, he enquires about the treatment of Barbara's illness.Barbara tries to please Nathan, but it's not working. Nathan keeps on treating Caroline, who wants to stop worrying about anybody else's.All of a sudden, Ayn finishes Atlas Shrugged , after 12 years. Frank and Ayn dance to celebrate it, while Nathan keeps on staring at them, full of jealousy. Frank gives a painting to Ayn as a present. Ayn is very rude to people and rejects a price she's offered. Nathan makes a toast saying how important it was for him to meet his idol, Ayn Rand. She gets up and says that the people who surround her are all heroes and heroines, and also says that her ideology will not have preponderance during her own lifetime. She calls Nathaniel her inheritor. The waiter keeps on bringing liquor to Frank. Nathan finds Frank completely downtrodden and drunk at the end of the party.Caroline reads what she's written, to the effect that she won't care about other people's feelings. She tells Frank, her psychiatrist, that she can't stop thinking about him. They kiss, but Frank says that that can never happen. They separate themselves, only to end up making love in bed.Richard (Tom McCamus) phones Barbara and asks her to see him. For the first time in a huge amont of time, Barbara looks happy. In front of a billboard announcing Bill McManus, they see Atlas Shrugged in the shop window of a book shop.A journalist (David Ferry) interviews Ayn, who defends that better people have been enslaved by the morality of poorer people, who should not be taken into account. People should be selfish, Ayn says, and until they are, America won't get better. Barbara watches on her own. Ayn only loves reason. Rand has to defend herself of bad critics, who calls her a fascist.When Frank takes dinner to her in her bedroom, she complains that nobody defends her or her books. Frank is in silence, and sighs. He leaves her crying. Frank turns to painting when Nathan arrives. He gives a massage to her. The Brandens give conferences about Rand's ideology. A young man (Andrew Dolhan), asks Ayn Rand to make an outline of her philosophy standing on one leg. He's vooed by the audience, but Ayn Rand complies.Barbara has realised that there's something between Caroline and Nathan, so she pursues Richard. They kiss passionately. Barbara asks Nathan permission to see Richard, but he thinks that it's a way of degrading herself, as Richard is so below him. Barbara tells him that she knows about Caroline. Even though he denies everything and calls Barbara paranoid, Nathan is worried of Barbara telling Ayn about it. Richard and Barbara see each other. Caroline also wonders what she means to Nathan. They kiss, and she says she loves him.Los Angeles, 1964. Rand talks about her novels and ideology. People argue with her ideas. In a private dinner afterwards, Nathan wants to discuss business, but Ayn realises that he's changed towards her a lot. Nathan says that his marriage is falling apart because Barbara can't change her petty views. Ayn recommends Nathan to free himself for once and all. A young waiter interrupts the conversation to ask Rand for an authograph.Nathan looks at Caroline, who now works at the Branden Institute. Finally, Nathan admits that he's been sleeping around with Caroline to Barbara. Barbara thinks he's got no principles at all. Barbara wants a divorce.Frank explains a painting to Barbara. Ayn asks Barbara why Nathan's love is lost to her, meaning to Ayn. Caroline tells Nathan, who's giving out a conference, that he must see Ayn at once. He leaves the conference unfinished. Ayn feels humiliated, because Nathan owes all his success to her. Nathan has fallen in love with Caroline. Ayn slaps Nathan three times and puts him out of her house immediately. [That's what Barbara should have done a long time ago]. Barbara tries to offer some consolation, but Frank does nothing, as usual.Frank goes out to the conference room, where he says that he has broken up with Ayn Rand, but that shouldn't matter to the supporters of positivism. His nose bleeds while he speaks. He resigns from the institute. Barbara hugs Nathan. Caroline appears, and even though Barbara stares hard at her to make her go, it's finally Barbara who leaves. When Caroline hugs him, Nathan whispers that he's free at last.Ayn wants to destroy Nathan. Finally, Barbara stands up to Ayn, who's on a hunt for Nathan's head. Barbara asks Ayn to show compassion; she also asks Frank to speak on Nathan's behalf, but Frank, drinking as much as usual, says he's never understood anything. Barbara decides to leave Ayn for good, to which Ayn coolly replies that she's disappointed on her.Los Angeles, 1981. Miss Rand answers questions wittyly in a conference, until somebody asks her what the nature of love is. At the beginning, she's confused, and thinks that it's a young Nathaniel Branden who's asked her that. She says that it's the command to rise to one's potential, that it's the greatest moral achievement and that people love superior things.Years later, Barbara takes some flowers to the tombstones of Frank O'Connor (1897-1979) and Ayn Rand O'Connor (1905-1982). Barbara leaves with her new partner.Images of the Chrysler building and New York at night.—written by KrystelClaire