Irrational Man


When I spotted this 2015 DVD on the library shelf, I wondered why I had never heard or read about it before, since it stars Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone. Could it be because it is written and directed by Woody Allen? But why? His Blue Jasmine made money here.

From quite early on, I suspected I had an answer. By the end of the movie, I was secretly applauding the distributors for not bringing this film in, otherwise they might have made a loss.

The irrational man is a lonely professor in existentialist philosophy, Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix). Soon after arriving in a small town college called Braylin, he gets involved with two women :  Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), his best student who becomes his closest friend and Rita Richards (Parker Posey), a colleague who wants him to rescue her from an unhappy marriage.

While Jill loves her boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackey), she finds Abe’s tortured, artistic personality and exotic past irresistible. Pure chance changes everything when Jill and Abe overhear a stranger’s conversation. When Abe makes a profound choice, he is able to embrace life to the fullest again. But his decision sets off a chain of events that will affect him, Jill and Rita forever.

As can be expected from anything written by Allen, there is a copious amount of dialogue that can become overbearing. In this film, there is an extensive amount of information about philosophers such as Kierkeggard, Husserl, Dostoyevsky, Simone de Beauvoir, Martin Heidegger and concepts such as phenomenology, fascism and of course existentialism. How many movie-goers would appreciate such lengthy discourse?

And then, only some would appreciate when lines from poems by Emily Dickenson (“To Be Drunk On Air”),  Edna St Vincent Millay (“Conversations at Midnight”, 1937) and Hannah Arendt (“The Banalty of Evil”) are quoted at length. Added to this are paintings by Willem de Kooning (“Figure & Landscape No 2”, 1951), Paul Klee (“Printed Sheet with Pictures”, 1937), Saul Steinberg (“Poster for Spoleto Festival” 1919), Nicoloas de Stael (“Still Life with Candlesticks”), Milton Glaser (“Copperstown Summer Music Festival Poster” 2012), R. B. Kitaj (“Words”, “Sighs from Hell”, “Anne on Drancy Station”) and Edward Bawden (“Backyard No 58″, 1957).

I could appreciate the beautiful jazz music in the background, such as Good To Go (by Daniel May), The In Crowd (by Billy Page) and Cut Loose Mix It by Michael Ballon; and the classical pieces Prelude and Fugue No 2 in C minor, Prelude and Fugue No 18 in G-sharp minor and Cello Suite No 1 in G Major, Prelude – all by Johan Sebastian Bach; but I can’t imagine loving the script because of these.


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