Chance... predetermination... free will... accident... random vs intentional actions...
Not ten minutes into Woody’s new film, IRRATIONAL MAN, we have references to Kierkegaard, Kant, and Phenomenology... Woody is at it again. New adjunct philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) has come to a small New England campus to teach all that stuff. Yes, “stuff.” The alcoholic Lucas is tired, listless, impotent, sapped of ambition and meaning, and suffering from writer’s block. It’s all just “words” to him now. But when, by “accident,” he overhears news of a thoroughly corrupt local judge, he decides to ACT. To act... Existential meaning resides in MAKING YOUR OWN MEANING. Empowered by Satrean rationales, Abe stage-manages a perfect crime and knocks off the offending judge. Eureka! The world’s a better place. And he’s a new man, re-energized with new life, energy, and potency.
But what happens when his new girl friend, a student in his philosophy class (Rachel McAdams), discovers his guilt and takes a moral high ground. She’ll go to the police unless Abe can confess.
I mean, what’s a murderer to do now?
I liked IRRATIONAL MAN quite a lot. There’s genuine suspense in the second half of the picture, once everybody stops talking and Abe starts squirming. Just as Woody evoked Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy in MATCH POINT (my favorite Woody movie in recent years), now he’s trolling Dostoevski’s Crime and Punishment.
I remember a conversation I had with Woody many years ago, in 1983, about his underrated A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY. He was startlingly young then. See my portrait of him at the time, which he signed (the signature now fading)...
|Drawing by John C. Tibbetts|
He had just returned from the mellow countryside of the Hudson River Valley. His film caught him in a sunny mood, and the results looked as if he were channeling Ingmar Bergman’s SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT:
“American audiences as a general rule have never been great audiences for the European style film,” he told me at the time. “You know, the more urban, civilized, charmingly-paced kind of thing that one hopes to do in the movies. I’m just hoping that this one’s funny enough, and that since it has an American cast, it will get at least enough people in the theaters to repay its cost.”
“Is Woody Allen mellowing out?, I asked him. “A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S SEX COMEDY is very easy and Innocent.”
Woody replied: “That’s just that a part of me that I’ll cover up quickly. You won’t see that charm again for a long time. So don’t worry...”Indeed, subsequent films like CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS, MATCH POINT, and now IRRATIONAL MAN, are bearing his prophecy out: Some of the mellow charm may be gone. But a harder edge has replaced it.
And it seems to be quite intentional.