Admirers of Ayn Rand’s novels may well enjoy The Aviator, Martin Scorsese’s new film about filmmaker/aviator/businessman Howard Hughes.
Defying prevalent cinematic anti-business norms, in Aviator Scorsese deftly dramatizes the productive achievement and dogged determination, persistence, and audacity that marked Hughes’s rise from industrial tool manufacturer to cultural icon and head of airline TWA.
Via John Logan’s smart script and the onscreen flair of Leonardo DiCaprio, Aviator portrays Hughes’s exploits as producer/director of innovative films (such as Hell’s Angels and Scarface), pioneer of high-speed airplane engineering, daring and record-setting aviator, and even, in his spare time, creator of the half-cup bra.
DiCaprio is compelling, in spite of a boyish appearance that seems stubbornly resistant to his acting talents, as the driven, fiercely independent Hughes. And Cate Blanchett puts in a convincing, psychologically sensitive performance as Hughes’s love interest, the eccentric and steely-spirited Katherine Hepburn.
Aviator also contains an unlikely political component, encapsulated in the character and actions of Senator Ralph Brewster (Alan Alda). When the slimy Brewster attempts to pass a bill that will give TWA’s rival Pan Am a legal monopoly on trans-Atlantic flights, Hughes fights the bill in the name of fair play and exposes Brewster as a political shyster.
Considering this mildly anti-regulatory plot element in conjunction with a scene that makes fun of the idle-rich socialism of Katherine Hepburn’s family, one cannot help but wonder about Scorsese’s political inclinations — and about whether he might be interested to wrest from left-leaning Oliver Stone the rights to re-make The Fountainhead.
That said, The Aviator does raise an interesting cultural question.
One of the challenges Hughes confronts in the film, as he did in real life, is a slowly growing psychosis, marked by increasing paranoia and obsessive-compulsive behavior. Indeed, Scorsese and DiCaprio portray Hughes’s ailment artfully and sensitively, seamlessly integrating it into Hughes’s character and the film’s plot.
But viewed in the context of a moral culture that is often skeptical at best of business achievement, and a film culture that is not quick to portray business achievement in a positive light, the question raised is this: Would Scorsese — or any other modern director — have produced such a glowing portrait of a business hero, if the hero did not suffer from a sickness that conveniently allows a modern-day audience to feel sorry for the hero and forgive him his genius and productive accomplishments?
Perhaps not. Certainly the heroically productive (non-psychotic) businessman is not a staple of modern cinema.
But, all things considered, this writer will gladly take a bit of artfully portrayed psychosis for the opportunity to witness the virtues of Scorsese’s and DeCaprio’s Hughes. For those virtues are hard to come by, and welcome when they appear.
The movie is available from Amazon.com. For more information, visit the movie's official web site.
Andrew Schwartz is a math tutor and bodyworker who recently finished a two-year stint as a psychiatric counselor. He is a former editor and interviewer for the Atlasphere, has counseled individuals privately and led personal growth groups from his home, and has given talks in various settings on his theory of free will. Andrew also maintains a personal web site, which houses his articles, interviews, music, poems, and intellectual influences.