Early on in Irrational Man, Joaquin Phoenix cynically declares that there is a significant difference between the worlds discussed by philosophers and the world that those philosophers actually live in. This sentiment provides the driving force behind the latest effort from renowned director, Woody Allen; which follows Phoenix’s jaded philosophy lecturer, Abe Lucas as he attempts to find satisfaction in life by taking the life of a complete stranger.
Throughout the film, Abe seeks justification for the murderous actions he is committing through the works of Kant, Kierkegaard et al, despite his awareness that this justification has very little real world standing, hence the irrationality suggested by the title. The film clearly attempts to satirize the practicality of academic thinking by branding it inherently irrational. It’s a shame then that despite these efforts, Irrational Man remains incredibly, well, rational; at least within the mind of the director.
Irrational Man screams Woody Allen and is filled to the brim with his usual tropes. Black and white title sequence, check. Casual Jazz soundtrack, check. Romantic sub-plot in which a guy going through a mid-life crisis becomes the lust object of a bright-eyed female student, check. Allen is clearly comfortable with a particular style, and as such makes no attempt to do anything new (that would be far too irrational). Whilst not necessarily a bad thing, this means the film feels very safe and thus is something of a let-down, especially considering the film so heavily concerns itself with irrational side of man.
Despite rehashing Allen’s favourite tropes and failing to reach the satirical levels to which it aspires, Irrational Man remains a relatively interesting thriller; that is when it’s being one, which isn’t for at least the first forty minutes. When it does begin to embrace its genre, Phoenix comes alive, galvanised in the same way is character does as he breaks his downward slump. Until then, he just lulls around providing the ‘verbal masturbation’ his character claims that philosophy is, occasionally swigging from a hip-flask.
This means that for a long time, there is very little to really like, especially as a result of an awkward script, resulting in somewhat lack-lustre performances from the supporting cast. That being said, the film does manage to stick the landing, and provides a rather electrifying finale. Sadly the other eighty minutes doesn’t quite build up in the same way one would hope.
Image: David Shankbone; wikimedia.com