As if all Woody Allen’s films weren’t philosophical lectures in their own right, Irrational Man’s main character is an actual philosophy lecturer. Played by Joaquin Phoenix as a decadent academic rock-star, Abe Lucas is mercifully relieved from the Alvy Singer impersonator styles of Jesse Eisenberg or Owen Wilson. The story revolves around this middle-aged professor facing moral bankruptcy and Jill (Emma Stone), a naïve student who predictably falls in love with him. Starting a new job at a small university, Abe finds a newfound meaning in life through a morally dubious existential act.
Allen advocators will enjoy his recurrent philosophical inquiries: the quest for a “sheer joy of living”, the ambiguity of justice, the dominance of random chance upon human lives and the confrontation of intellect versus instinct. But the constant philosophical name-dropping fails to realise the potential that philosophical concepts have in film. Certainly, Allen knows how to do this, having written many heavy existential dramas like Crimes and Misdemeanors and Match Point. Yet, Irrational Man is more of a self-indulgent dark comedy, eagerly quoting Kant every ten minutes.
Still, the film’s main problem is not the reading or misreading of philosophical texts, but the under-written archetypical characters. Allen is not exactly a feminist filmmaker, but he has created great female roles – if only two years ago, with the Tennessee Williams inspired Jasmine. However, Jill only supports the notion of genius around Abe, with no worries or aspirations of her own, leaving the spectator with very little concern for her.
The film has many strokes of cinematographic magic, including beautiful shots in an amusement park, a kiss in front of a funhouse mirror and a Tarantino-like ending that divides audiences between laughing and feeling guilty for it. That is the greatest accomplishment of Irrational Man: an invitation to moral self-examination. As far as Woody Allen and introspective stories go, this cross-generational romance full of rumours somehow succeeds in achieving universality. But the prolific filmmaker seems to be running out of inspiration sources, apart from re-reading Sartre and Dostoyevsky. Nonetheless, Allen still has an admirable creative freedom. The fact that the film’s potential is unrealised makes one feel tempted to call some of his erstwhile characters to teach a lesson to Abe and Jill, in a Midnight in Paris fashion.
Irrational Man is released nationwide on 11th September 2015.
Watch the trailer for Irrational Man here: