'The Aviator' Dramatizes Productive Audacity

Martin Scorsese's new biopic about Howard Hughes artfully portrays the daring accomplishments of an American legend.

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.

3 comments from readers  

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I just read your review and definitely agree with you. This is a very strong story and you critically analyze it from the narrative and the cinematic context of its existence.

Films about genius tend to only focus on that which sadly comes hand in hand with psychosis. Pi, Amadeus (arguments can be made he was just eccentric), Citizen Kane, Pollock, and now the Aviator.

Truthfully however, Howard Hughes is one of the great American embodiments of free will and accomplishment. And that is truthfully the focus of the film.

He is a hero and was a great leader in his day, setting precedent by carving his own path.

Great review. I wonder, do you know of any films before or since the Aviator that look on a non-troubled mind succeeding at Hughes-like proportions?
Consider what Rand says about selectivity in art, and that a blemish on a lip of a beautiful woman is a negligible characteristic, but in a portrait reveals that the artist believes that accident the rule of life, and that man is grotesque.

Martin Scorsese does a terrible job with this story as he does in all his films. Scorsese has the very definition of an awful sense of life. He ends the film with Hughes descent into madness...a negligible characteristic for one so heroic. By placing it at the end, Scorsese gives the madness the strongest statement of the film, instead of Hughes' numerous victories over his handicaps...like ending a movie about Christopher Reeves twisted and in pain in a hostpital bed, or a movie about Ayn Rand with the death of her husband-- as if to say, rise as high as you want, but the bad will catch up with you.

If you want a heroic movie about an industrialist that doesn't default completely on its subject, try "Tucker, A Man and His Dream", by Francis Ford Coppola.
A generally good review. But why the question would only a life of a businessman be depicted because he he suffered a psychosis giving the audience a reason to feel sorry for the hero? I'm not personally aware of ANY businessman or anyone else, no matter his or her achievements, who doesn't have "stuff". If you're going to do a portrayal of a life and have it be anything other than bs propaganda for an ideological point of view or lie, that "stuff" and how the subject dealt with it is necessary and valuable. I don't think people creating the film sat around a table saying let's make a movie about a businessman, but we have to find one with a terrible sickness so people will feel sorry for him. More likely they knew they had a hot property in portraying a the life of larger than life character, warts and all, that would make a great movie and do well at the box office. Sometimes it helps to get outside the Objectivist ideological box in order to see some simple occurrences a little more objectively.
To post comments, please log in first. The Atlasphere is a social networking site for admirers of Ayn Rand's novels, most notably The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. In addition to our online magazine, we offer a member directory and a dating service. If you share our enjoyment of Ayn Rand's novels, please sign up or log in to post comments.