Ir­ra­tional Man

IR­RA­TIONAL MAN, drama, rated R, Re­gal DeVar­gas, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - CONTENTS -

Kierkegaard and Kant, Dos­to­evsky and Hei­deg­ger, the cat­e­gor­i­cal im­per­a­tive and sit­u­a­tional ethics and ex­is­ten­tial­ism — Woody Allen sur­rounds him­self with a few of his fa­vorite things in Ir­ra­tional Man, the latest en­try in his movie-of-the-year pro­gram. And like al­most ev­ery­thing that pro­gram pro­duces, this is in­tel­li­gent en­ter­tain­ment of an above-av­er­age stripe. It’s a re­turn to the precincts of Allen’s moral dilemma movies like

Crimes and Mis­de­meanors and Match Point. What it is not is a com­edy. That’s not to say it’s with­out wit. But phi­los­o­phy is the driv­ing force at work here. And the man in the driver’s seat is Abe Lu­cas (Joaquin Phoenix), who is ar­riv­ing to take a job in the phi­los­o­phy depart­ment of Braylin Col­lege, a small lib­eral arts in­sti­tu­tion in New­port, Rhode Is­land (played by New­port’s Salve Regina Univer­sity). Abe is a man whose no­to­ri­ety for drink­ing and wom­an­iz­ing has pre­ceded him, as has his rep­u­ta­tion as a bril­liant, orig­i­nal thinker, and he soon has tongues wag­ging around cam­pus and stu­dents flock­ing to his lec­tures.

But Abe is not a happy man. In his younger days he threw him­self into sav­ing the world in trou­ble spots like Dar­fur and New Or­leans. Now he’s re­treated into cyn­i­cism. He is also mired in a re­lated sex­ual dys­func­tion, a con­di­tion soon put to the test by Rita (Parker Posey), a science pro­fes­sor stuck in an un­sat­is­fy­ing mar­riage.

This be­ing a Woody Allen movie, another can­di­date for the mid­dle-aged Abe’s af­fec­tions and bed is a young saucer-eyed un­der­grad­u­ate named Jill (Emma Stone, a holdover from Allen’s pre­vi­ous pic­ture). Jill has a nice boyfriend named Roy (Jamie Black­ley) who’s crazy about her, but he’s be­gin­ning to get the memo as she grows more and more ob­sessed with the ex­otic new pro­fes­sor.

Abe may be with­out il­lu­sions and hope — he ter­ri­fies a party of stu­dents by putting a pis­tol to his head in a demon­stra­tion of Rus­sian roulette — but he’s not en­tirely with­out moral scru­ples. He keeps Jill out of his bed for as long as he can, but you know how these things are. And then his lust for life, and for lust, is rekin­dled when he makes an ex­is­ten­tial de­ci­sion to take an ir­re­versible ac­tion af­ter he and Jill over­hear in a diner a stranger’s des­per­ate tale of a bit­ter cus­tody bat­tle, a vin­dic­tive hus­band, and a cor­rupt, abu­sive judge.

The philo­soph­i­cal by­ways of this movie are in­trigu­ing to travel, but the jour­ney never gen­er­ates much heat. Allen’s scenes lay out the is­sues neatly, but you are al­ways aware of the ar­ma­ture be­neath them. The char­ac­ters and the sit­u­a­tions are el­e­ments of the philo­soph­i­cal ma­chin­ery, but they don’t make much of a claim on the emo­tions. Still, Phoenix holds the screen with his over­hang­ing paunch and his search­ing in­tel­lect. Stone is ap­peal­ing, sharp, and in­quis­i­tive, and Posey steals the show with her preda­tory rest­less­ness.

Allen, mean­while, has left this for your con­sid­er­a­tion, and moved on to his next pro­ject. — Jonathan Richards

Sweet and low­down: Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix

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