Irrational Man (2015) Review
Certificate: 15 Running Time: 1hr 35 Mins
Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone, Jamie Blackley, Parker Posey
Irrational Man is a sumptuously gloomy comic thriller that rides an existential wave of self-reflection. Allen takes us on the ardent journey of re-discovering the vitality for life, the flimsy nature of love and the morality of murder. Building on familiar ethical themes from the likes of Hamlet and his own eclectic past in Match Point (2005), Irrational Man’s fundamental strength is its exquisitely witty tonality in the face of darkness and Joaquin Phoenix’s vulnerable performance as tormented philosophy professor, Abe Lucas.
Abe is down on his luck as he moves to a new role at a small prestigious university. He is defeated by his traumatic past that has driven him to alcoholism and the murky waters of depression. Impressively educated and versed in the world of literature; he forms a tragic figure on the brink of collapse. Evil eyes around campus zone in as he quickly becomes the talk of the town and the eye of the storm. News of his life travels faster than he lives it; he’s a mirage in the desert of society, a circus of curiosity envelops him and he becomes the gossip to idle tongues. Even the infectious enthusiasm of colleague professor Rita (the brilliant Parker Posey) can’t reinvigorate his libido and passion for living. Abe’s existential musings continue as bright-eyed student Jill Pollard (Emma Stone) becomes infatuated with his mysteriously complex persona.
A clash of youth against experience ensues; a breath of fresh air pitted against the dourness of an eroded musk. As affections begin to grow, there’s a moment which changes it all and offers a means of false purpose for Abe; the opportunity to be empowered by committing the perfect murder. Driven by the need to take action to come to the aid of a broken family, Abe is consumed by the notion of taking the life of the ‘corrupt’ judge. Is every life equal? If one commits a crime with a pure intention for the greater good, are they exempt from judgement? It’s a well-trodden territory but one that is explored with great gusto. Abe, reinvigorated, finds the lust for life and embarks on an affair with student Jill.
Abe’s life doesn’t have any meaning in its own right nor from the baseless interaction with Jill; the importance of existence is ascribed by the individual. Happiness is a state of mind rather than a destination that we all strive towards. The most banal act of kindness can resuscitate a broken spirit. Allen’s thoughtful script generates a raft of existential reflection that continues long after the final credits. Whilst the director’s recent successes Blue Jasmine (2013) and Midnight in Paris (2011) have taken several accolades, it’s the much low key Irrational Man that leaves the greatest impression. Joaquin Phoenix is as cool as they come, a bravura turn for the leading man. A final thought to mull over in the days to come: ‘Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom’.