Friday, July 24, 2015

"Irrational Man": a philosophy professor tests his own nihilism and creates a Hitchcock-like mystery

Irrational Man” is the new black comedy about philosophy from Woody Allen, and it didn’t stay on the course I expected as it started.  It migrated toward being more like a Hitchcock mystery.
Joaquin Phoenix (whom I thought was going to quit acting (story ) plays Abe, a philosophy professor newly hired at a college in Rhode Island. He is quite slovenly and unappealing, with a sloppy pot belly. People (even his boss at the outset) are asking him is he is “all right”.  He soon meets another professor Rita (Parker Posey) and takes after a student Jill (Emma Stone) who already has a likable boyfriend Roy (Jamie Blackley).
Early on, he is lecturing about Kant, and whether it is ever OK to lie.  The film goes out of the way to make all the college students (male and female) physically and personally appealing. 
At a social, attended by students, in a faculty home, he finds a pistol, and shocks everyone with the “Russian Roulette” game, on himself, known from the 1979 film “The Deer Hunter”.
He is questioning “why” he lives, and seems caught in the “meaningless” that (coincidentally, we hope) Andrew Holmes in Colorado had demonstrated in his notebook.  (There is mention of the horrific idea, of knowing what it is like to kill somebody, as if such an event could be reversed – only in a dream.) Others call this “Abe talk”.
But when he learns that Rita has a custody problem aggravated by a “badass” local judge (Tom Kemp), Abe suddenly has a reason to feel he has a purpose in life, enough to get over his writer’s block.  He can murder the judge, commit the perfect crime, and never be a suspect. At this point, the movie sounds a little like a game of Clue.  The “poison” will be all too simple to administer, and the actual event will pass quickly.
But the police are more onto this than Abe suspects, and soon Rita suspects.  Furthermore, the police are ready to frame a previous legal assistant who somehow had access to chemicals and who may have harbored a judge.  An existential crisis will follow, and Abe’s true colors may well come out.  He is capable of more direct violence than we had suspected.

Because of the intricacies of Abe's activities, the DVD that comes out may well have some deleted scenes, and will merit some commentary.  There is also a question of omniscient observer integrity in this film; several characters narrate in mockumentary fashion (without face speaking to camera);  even Abe narrates, as if from the afterlife. 
Now, when I moved to Minneapolis in the fall of 1997, shortly after publishing my first book, I got a quick lesson in the value of philosophy as an undergraduate major.  A senior at Hamline (who had run for City Council in St. Paul in the Libertarian Party) arranged my lecture at Hamline.  Some last fall, I saw someone on the Metro with a build resembling Bryce Harper’s with a stack of undergraduate books, reading “The History of Philosophy”.

The official site is here (Sony Pictures Classics).
I saw the film Friday afternoon before a small audience at Angelika Mosaic in Merrifield VA.  “Southpaw” was also playing at about the same time, but for today, I passed up the chance to see Jake Gyllenhaal’s previously manly bod “ruined” by shaving and tattoos.  I hope they’re temporary.
Wikipedia attribution link for picture of downtown Providence RI, by P D Tillman, under Creative Commons 2.0 Share Alike License. I visited West Warwick in 2003 (late filmmaker Gode Davis). 

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