IRRATIONAL MAN. Stone and Phoenix in a humorous play on existential philosophy

“Irrational Man” unfolds on two thematic levels. On one hand, it’s an intergenerational romance, on the other, an existential treatise.

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

5 March 2024

irrational man

In the second decade of the 21st century, Woody Allen didn’t reduce the frequency with which he makes his films. He interspersed one important title with two average ones. I would prefer if he didn’t move directly from one shot to another. I know that the author of Annie Hall, thanks to such an intensive lifestyle, continues to maintain good form. His subsequent productions sustain his pulse; they give him the desire to get out of bed in the morning. He’s a director addicted to continuous work. He often skims through his scripts. He doesn’t do retakes because he wants to finish as quickly as possible. However, this little digression does not concern his latest production. “Irrational Man” undoubtedly succeeded. It’s pleasant and light cinema, albeit not shying away from heavier themes. It amusingly toys with existential philosophy but also finds inspiration in it.

Woody Allen doesn’t toss erudite quotes casually. He reaches for Kant, Heidegger, or Jean-Paul Sartre to build a precise portrait of the main character – academic philosophy lecturer Abe Lucas (played, as always, brilliantly by Joaquin Phoenix). He’s a charismatic personality, esteemed among faculty members and an object of fascination for female students. Abe possesses the character of a embittered and bored bon vivant. He always carries a flask in his pocket, is going through a midlife crisis, lost interest in sex, lost motivation for work. He probably doesn’t believe in the purpose of his profession either, but he must have something to drink for. For years, he hasn’t been able to progress with his book. His vital functions have stagnated. He himself is not naturally a loner or a loser. However, he doesn’t know how to cure himself of this state.

He’s an intriguing character, around whom legendary stories are also woven. Including surviving a tsunami, his mother’s suicide. Often presented in a parodic tone, but still helping to build the myth around Abe. Allen accurately cast Phoenix in this role. This actor doesn’t possess the appearance of a scientific authority, but traces of a turbulent past remain on his face.

irrational man

That’s how Abe, played by him, is – a character with an absent-minded gaze, wandering in his thoughts somewhere in the distance. Endowed with tremendous intellect, but kept in a state of rest.

It’s no wonder that he attracts the attention of a straight-A student named Jill (Emma Stone). She comes from a wealthy family and is raised by two perfect parents. She has read philosophy textbooks and is learning to play the piano. Success is predetermined in her biography. Something draws her to the frustrated alcoholic. Despite a long relationship with her peer, she decides to have a romance with the experienced lecturer. This initiative even comes from her side because Abe doesn’t seem interested at first. He stopped ogling attractive students a long time ago.

“Irrational Man” unfolds on two thematic levels. On one hand, it’s an intergenerational romance, on the other, an existential treatise. Romance blossoms between the characters, and Abe tries to regain his form, to regain the will to live. I don’t want to reveal too much, but these two aspects are not necessarily intertwined. “Irrational Man” is also another variation on the theme of “Crime and Punishment” – references to Dostoevsky’s book are scattered throughout Woody Allen’s filmography.

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

Maciej Niedźwiedzki

Cinema took a long time to give us its greatest masterpiece, which is Brokeback Mountain. However, I would take the Toy Story series with me to a deserted island. I pay the most attention to animations and the festival in Cannes. There is only one art that can match cinema: football.

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