Love and Mercy. This is the best movie I’ve seen this year, in part because it has the advantage of having Brian Wilson’s music as its soundtrack. (Some of us are just young enough to have only faint memories of the better Wilson songs, until they were brought back to everyone’s attention as the score to HBO’s BigLove). It’s also the most libertarian, combining themes from Ayn Rand and Thomas Szasz. Also a feminist movie, with a working class divorcee the White Knight who saves the day.
It’s the biography of Brian Wilson, the singer/songwriter/composer responsible for the Beach Boys. Seeking treatment for mental illness, which may or may not have been aggravated by a physically and emotionally abusive father (and a 60s drug use problem), Wilson was literally enslaved by his psychiatrist, who over medicated him, took his money and property, and tried to force him to produce more hits while drugged into submission. Only the love and concern of car saleswoman, Melinda Ledbetter, he chances to meet (capitalism!), saves him from death. After his recovery, he marries his princess charming rescuer, and they have 5 children and he composes two more award winning albums. Wilson is played young and old by Paul Dano and John Cusak, but the scenery is really eaten up by Paul Giammati as the evil psychiatrist slaver and the ubiquitous Elizabeth Banks as Melinda. Wilson is a Hank Rearden character, who believes he deserves punishment and is essentially evil, something his father had beaten into him and something his own sins as a husband and father in a first marriage (never fully explained or revealed) have for him confirmed; and Dr. Landy (Paul Giammati) is the Lillian Rearden ready to tap that guilt for sadistic fun and envious profit. With Banks it’s as if Atlas’s Cheryl Taggart had met Rearden and they save each other together. All against a yummy background of California scenery, from Malibu to the Hollywood Hills and retro shots of 60s Los Angeles pool parties and recording studios.
This movie reminded me of The Man Who Fell to Earth, the 1976 film where David Bowie played a Martian who falls to earth and is exploited by a cabal of government bureaucrats and crony corporations for his advanced scientific knowledge. Association of Libertarian Feminists co-founder Sharon Presley penned a great review of Fell back when she was a hipster NYU grad student, pointing out how much it shared with Atlas Shrugged. (Presley’s review is pre-internet and not online, so frustratingly I cannot link! If someone finds a physical copy of it I’d love to post it at the Insomniac Libertarian blog.)
(Side Note: Paul Dano is the new male Catherine Keener. A touchstone like Keener, if he is in a movie, often a quirky indie film you know nothing about, you can assume, 99% of the time, it’s pretty darn good. These people either know how to read a script and assess a project in advance, or they have the freedom to turn down garbage.)