This isn’t a typical Movie Matchup. In fact, it’s not really a matchup of movies at all because even though The Fountainhead was made into a movie starring Gary Cooper in 1949, I’m just going to be talking about the novel.
Amadeus is one of those deliciously ironic cautionary tales of life imitating art. The film is all about mediocrity attempting to snuff out greatness. The director was well-known for making great films. While it went on to win a host of Oscars, its popularity has since faded and its director and stars have been relegated to relative obscurity ever since.
Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead was her first major commercial success. It, too, is about people who try to bring down a gifted individual. Rand had written several shorter novels before writing this ambitious book. One reason why The Fountainhead isn’t better known is because it was overshadowed by Rand’s next novel, Atlas Shrugged.
I admit it’s painful for me to watch Amadeus because it focuses so much on the suffering of a truly great man, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, at the hands of a treacherous leech. It was also painful for me to read The Fountainhead. I had enjoyed Atlas Shrugged immensely, so I was eager to read its predecessor. I was surprised to find myself having similar feelings to what I experienced as I watched Amadeus. The both have a wonderfully conflicting sense of tragedy and triumph. It took me a while to put the pieces together and figure out that these works of art have a lot in common.
I’ve composed a piece showing how the film Amadeus and the novel The Fountainhead are constructed in similar ways. Let’s begin.
The Weak Try to Destroy the Great
Antonio Salieri is a mediocre composer who devotes his life to music in an effort to honor God. He works for Emperor Joseph II in 18th century Austria. He is astounded by the sublime music of a young composer named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but he is horrified when he learns that Mozart is a crass womanizer. Salieri thinks God is playing a joke on him by making him (a pious man) so bad at composing while Mozart is naturally endowed with talent beyond measure as a composer, and he doesn’t show any humility or thankfulness to God for his gift. As a result of this seeming injustice, Salieri decides to fight against God by destroying Mozart. But he can’t help attending all of his operas and other performances. He appears to be the only one who appreciates Mozart’s greatness, and he wants to keep it that way.
There are three parallel characters to Salieri in The Fountainhead.
Dominique Francon is the daughter of a successful architect in 1920s New York City. She falls in love with a gifted young architect named Howard Roark and admires his work greatly. However, she soon realizes that the world hates Roark’s greatness and she decides that world doesn’t deserve his architectural achievements. She attempts to sabotage his chances at gaining new clients in order to keep him all to herself.
Peter Keating is a rival architect who envies Roark’s skill. He achieves success early in his career, landing a job at Dominique Francon’s father’s firm. He uses blackmail on one man to climb the corporate ladder, but he accidentally causes that man to have a heart attack. This is similar to when Salieri, as a child, asks God to make him a great composer and soon his father chokes to death, giving Salieri the means and freedom to fulfill his dream for a time. Keating both hates and loves Roark, fighting against him and feeding off him.
Ellsworth Tooley is a columnist who seeks to control people by swaying popular opinion. He sees Roark as a threat to the status quo, and seeks to squash him at every turn. He knows Roark is a master at his craft, and yet he denigrates Roark’s architectural work in his columns. This is similar to how Salieri has the ear of the emperor, and he poisons him against Mozart, even while he knows Mozart is superb.
Breaking Rules and Paying a Heavy Price
Mozart boldly writes an opera, entitled The Marriage of Figaro, which includes a ballet. The problem is that the emperor has forbidden ballet from being included in any opera. Salieri pretends to support Mozart’s work in order to get him in trouble with the law, but the emperor makes an exception to his rule in Mozart’s case. It seems like Salieri is going to have to admit defeat until the opera opens and the emperor yawns during its premiere. The opera soon closes after just a handful of performances, leaving Mozart in dire financial straits.
Tooley lobbies for Roark to get the job designing a temple for a client looking to honor God. However, Roark tells him he doesn’t believe in God and he only wants to create a structure that is designed to worship the divinity of man. When the temple is completed, the client condemns the result and sues Roark for not doing what he had agreed to do. The temple is soon demolished and Roark is financially devastated.
Helping the Weak with Their Craft
Mozart thinks Salieri is his friend, even right to the bitter end. Salieri acts like a friend to his face even while doing his best to undermine Mozart at every turn. Mozart even offers to give Salieri a hand at his music, helping him turn one of his compositions into a rousing success.
The only way Keating ever became successful was by mooching off of Roark. He always asks Roark to look over his work and make improvements. Tragically, Roark realizes he’s actually hurt Keating by keeping him from failing and moving on to something he would truly love, like art.
Masterpiece Given to a Fool and Then Taken Back
Salieri’s end game is to coerce Mozart into composing a masterpiece that Salieri can then claim as his own. All seems to go according to plan as he takes dictation of musical notes from Mozart while Mozart lies on his death bed. But just before Mozart dies, his wife comes and takes the completed score from Salieri, depriving him of his victory.
Roark gives Keating a chance to do something great by giving him plans to build large-scale, low-income housing at an extremely low cost. All that he asks is that Keating not change anything in the design. However, others meddle with the design and the end result winds up being nothing like what Roark had wanted. He destroys the houses under construction and then eloquently defends his right to do so. He then takes back the design and plans to make them himself.
Their Work Outlives Their Foes
Mozart dies at the end of Amadeus, but his music lives on. Despite all of Salieri’s attempts to destroy the man and his music, he utterly failed. Salieri’s music fades into obscurity while Mozart’s music gains more and more popularity with each passing year.
Despite the efforts of Dominique, Keating, and Tooley, Roark succeeds and his work continues to grow in popularity. He marries Dominique while Keating becomes a shell of a man and Tooley loses his job and influence. Roark definitely comes out on top.
Calm and Composed
Amadeus portrays one man fighting against God and losing. The Fountainhead portrays one man standing against the world and winning. In both stories one man who is born with a gift faces major challenges that seem to make it impossible for him to ever be recognized for his genius. But he is eventually vindicated and triumphs against all odds. Even as the hero stares death in the face, he remains calm and composed.
While Amadeus represented the end of many creative people’s greatness, The Fountainhead portended even better things for its author.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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What an outstanding post, Robert. I really appreciate the time you take to come up with such interesting ways of comparing and contrasting texts. Amadeus is one of my favorite films and I have been meaning to read Ayn Rand’s ‘The Fountainhead’ for decades.
Thank you! And sorry for the spoilers. I hope this inspires you to finally take the plunge and read The Fountainhead. I love how Ayn Rand puts to words seemingly indescribable ideas. It’s just amazing.
It’s long overdue I read it.
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