The Irrational Man
The Personal Weblog of Edward W. Farrell   
The Irrational Man Sunday, January 24, 2016
This is Woody Allen's second variation on the theme of Crimes and Misdemeanors. The first variation was Match Point, and now we have Irrational Man. In Crimes and Misdemeanors, we have a murderer who gets away with his crime and is wracked with guilt over it, but observes his guilt vanish with the passage of time. In Match Point, we have a murderer who feels no guilt at all but only a fear of getting caught, and then gets away with his crime through an event of pure chance. In Irrational Man we have a man who murders and considers it a good deed, but when he is found out and brought to account for his crime, he attempts to cover his tracks with another murder, and dies through an event of pure chance. The first two films are masterpieces, the third is a stinker.

The Irrational Man (Joaquin Phoenix) is a philosophy professor so jaded that he's become his own version of the philosopher's stone. In his case it's a stone that drinks single malt whiskey and shits existential philosophy to classrooms of bored males and infatuated females. We never learn exactly why the males are so bored but since they are largely stage props it doesn't seem to matter. The females, we soon learn, are infatuated--sometimes dreadfully so--with the professor's extreme ennui, his utter indifference to all that walks and breathes, and his self-absorption (which is so profound that it presents a perfect picture of selflessness arrived at through the self having devoured itself gluttonously). We are led to understand that all females that encounter the Irrational Man are similarly infatuated with him, though the film quickly focuses on only two of them: a college professor (Parker Posey) whose jadedness is on the same trajectory as the Irrational Man's but is temporarily stalled in an elliptical orbit around him, and a young student (Emma Stone) who is the very picture of youthful innocence desperately seeking a soul-thumping debauch.

Between the drinking and the shitting there is no action within the Irrational Man--all systems are down:
  • relationships: no interest whatsoever
  • sex: can't perform but who wants to anyway
  • eating: perfunctory; we have to eat but who cares
  • drinking: by all means, it kills consciousness
But wait: all systems are not permanently down, they're just awaiting a reboot. And a reboot is what they get--and we get to explore Allen's moral question of the film: is it moral to be the judge, jury, and executioner of a man you only know through an overheard conversation and then kill him with a sense of perfect righteousness? Especially when this act banishes every last scrap of your existential blues and restores your libido in spades? What? Is this a rhetorical question? Is it a joke?  No, because as we shall see in the course of this screwball film it's a question with not one but TWO obvious answers, one, the Irrational Man's answer (yes, it's moral) and two, everyone else's answer (no, it's absolutely not moral). But the Irrational Man's answer trumps and he carries out the act: he decides to kill a man, and does, and is reborn as Dionysus, who as such quickly knocks the female professor from her elliptical orbit around the Irrational Man into a rapidly decaying Earth orbit, and pulls the female student into a new elliptical orbit around the Irrational Man, but her orbit is increasingly bumpy and threatens to become hyperbolic, and then quickly does become hyperbolic.  And when the student goes hyperbolic the dominos fall, and Dionysus gets shafted by an elevator shaft. The end. And so the end of Irrational Man leaves us with only one remaining answer to Allen's moral question: no, the actions depicted are absolutely not moral. And there was never any doubt of this answer from the get-go, which renders Irrational Man an unusually absurd and utterly pointless film about a preposterous notion told in a ridiculous way.

Anything redeeming here? No, but Emma Stone and Parker Posey are superb within the limits of the roles they're given.

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