Film Review: Irrational Man

by Vincent Chan

Rated M. Starring Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix. Directed by Woody Allen.

You may be asking what may be the point of reading a review about a movie that asks what the point of life is. If so, read on to find out.

Irrational Man is a philosophy lesson played out through one man’s existential crisis and his resolve to find meaning. It’s got the trademarks of Woody Allen written all over it with character narrations and quirky dialogue to carry the film. Set in middle class suburbia, the film is saturated with hues of beige, people wearing cardigans and polo tops and characters that ooze the ‘everything’s perfect but something is not quite right’ feeling.  

The film’s perspective is taken through its key characters: Abe Lucas (Phoenix), the alcoholic yet enigmatic philosophy lecturer and Jill Pollard (Stone), the student who finds herself infatuated to him. The star of the show really is Abe, the film’s title character. Fed up with life, Abe discusses philosophy but finds it empty when applied to the ‘real, nasty, ugly, life’. He faces an existential crisis of talking about the bigger questions to life yet not being able to find answers in them. In this, Joaquin is the perfect actor. He’s got those broody ‘look into me too long and you’ll lose yourself’ eyes and he doesn’t have to dig too deep to find that ‘I can’t be bothered’ look either. And he’s got a pot belly. Oh man, I don’t know what kind of diet Joaquin had to get onto for this role, but he shows that belly for all it’s worth.  

If you’re a Woody Allen fan, you’ll probably like this film. If you’re a philosophy student, you’ll also probably like this film. If you’re like me and like funny dialogue and witty films that have a nice twist, you’ll also enjoy this film. In other words – I really liked this film! It switches pace smoothly, going from discussing the philosophers and their teachings to laugh out loud scenes as Abe comes to certain epiphanies. Especially as Abe begins to find these epiphanies, the more absurd it gets the more fun the film becomes.

It’s not without its flaws though. Certain scenes feel more suited for a stage act rather than the cinema setting. And as far as movies go that explore the human predicament, it never reaches too deeply, choosing instead to play itself out through humour rather than offering a real social commentary. 

‘I can’t come up with the arguments you have, but I just know it’s wrong.’

As a Christian, there is much this film helped me to see. On one hand, Abe is irrational because he justifies everything he does. Whether it’s the use of utilitarian theory or consequentialist, he’s got the right answer to condone his own actions – with the conclusion that he is never wrong. Even as Jill tries to rationalise with Abe it’s of no avail. Psalm 14:1 –

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God”

Yet the Bible tells us that that is actually the reality of everyone. Without God, we all justify our actions and our thoughts, no matter what they are. In a film, that’s funny. But in real life, that’s scary. The great atheist lie is that if no one ever finds out, you’ll get away with it. However, the great Christian hope and challenge is that ultimately we’ll all face God. One day every individual will be called to give an account before the God who knows everything and has seen everything. On that day, the Christian looks for their hope only in Christ. And this film is really great conversation starter to generate bigger discussions on life, morality and purpose.

Irrational Man is a fun film, filled with witty dialogue and existential twists that you won’t see coming. I’m giving it four stars.

Irrational Man will release in Australian cinemas on August 20. It is currently screening in the U.S.

For more film reviews from a Christian perspective, connect with Reel Gospel on Facebook and Twitter.

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