Abe (Phoenix) is a very good but disconsolate philosophy professor who teaches summer classes at a university lecturing on rational arguments about different approaches to understanding life. It’s a bit surprising then when he comes up with an irrational plan for solving a problem that is not even his own. Nevertheless, this plan gives meaning to his life, and he immediately becomes purposeful and even ebullient; hence, the title of the film, Irrational Man.
Right from the start, it’s troubling to see Abe continually drinking booze from a flask in his pocket. He is known as a controversial figure from his published works and his lectures. When he is aggressively pursued by colleague Rita (Posey), he easily gives in, although depression keeps him from performing up to his ideal. He holds off on another crush from a student, Jill (Stone), as long as he can, insisting simply on friendship; but she is also persistent, and he succumbs to her as well. One day, she gets caught up in a conversation going on in the restaurant booth next to them, and has him come closer so he can hear. From this brief snippet of information, Abe comes up with his plan.
Writer/director Woody Allen often comes up with moral dilemmas (e.g., Crimes and Misdemeanors, Magic in the Moonlight, Match Point), as a way of telling a story; this one, like some of his others, having to do with murder. He is careful to set the stage so that the act has a certain degree of justice and righteousness to it. Allen’s interest also seems to be in illustrating the self-righteousness of academics and women’s naiveté, and sometimes lack of a moral compass.
Phoenix captures the moody philosopher’s role, and easily transitions to the man who has come up with an answer that satisfies his need to help someone in trouble and vent his anger toward the system. Stone is just as good at playing a bright young woman who is able to challenge an older intellectual by asking probing questions and having a mind of her own. Posey carries off a devil-may-care attitude in going after what she thinks will save her from life in a rut.
Irrational Man is light fare, but becomes interesting in its twists and suspense during the last half of the feature.
An irrational plan to relieve an existential crisis.
Grade: B By Donna R. Copeland