Thursday, July 23, 2015

Irrational Man [2015]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (1 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (C+)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (I. Vishnevetsky) review  

APUM (A. Saez) review* (A. Jourdain) review*

Irrational Man [2015] (written and directed by Woody Allen) is a film that will probably be embraced by die-hard Allen fans even as it will bore and possibly / probably even creep-out others.  It's the third time that he has tread the path of Dostoyevsky's [wikip] [GR] novel Crime and Punishment [wikip] [GR] [WCat] [Amzn] -- his previous two films on plotting (and largely getting away with) murder have been Crimes and Misdemeanors [1989] and Match Point [2005] -- almost begging / egging viewers to ask _why_?

In his current revisit to the theme, Abe, a thoroughly disillusioned / reduced-to-drink small-time-liberal arts college philosophy professor (played by Joaquin Phillips) finds renewed meaning for his life, when he and a bright-eyed, still somewhat/necessarily naive college student of his named Jill (played by Emma Stone) having met (somewhat at the edge of scandalously) for lunch at a random off-campus diner quite randomly _overhear_ the laments of a mother involved in apparently a rather ugly custody battle with her ex-husband over her / her ex's children.  The mother blames the judge for her troubles who she accuses as being corrupt and a friend of her ex-husband's lawyer.

Without ever questioning the veracity of ANY of this random woman's complaints that she expressed in a conversation that he wasn't even legitimately part of (he and Jill simply overheard her conversation with her friends in the next booth), Abe decides to do her (and the world) a favor by searching out and killing the judge.  He figures, in fact, a la Strangers on a Train [1951], that his murdering the judge would be "a perfect crime" (or perhaps even the perfect execution of a just sentence against a corrupt judge): Abe had no link to the judge and with except for this random conversation _that he simply overheard_ (without anybody else except of his "student friend" Jill knowing).  And he had no connection with any of the judge's colleagues, cases or acquaintances either.   Thus, even if the authorities could figure out that he committed the murder, they could never pin him with a motive.

So Abe sets of then on this mission to kill the judge.  And (still minor spoiler alert) he succeeds:  As a quite intelligent, well educated man, without ever resorting to a traceable computer search, he's able to identify/find the judge at the local court house.  Then ever carefully / from a distance, he patiently learns the judge's routine.  Using the card catalog / indices at the local public library, he researches the best way to quickly, untraceably kill the man -- through spiking the judge's drink with cyanide.

(Note that while being a clever device for a movie, as a former chemist prior to entering into the seminary, I'd argue that THANKFULLY this would almost certainly NOT WORK as portrayed.  As cornered spies / former Nazis have attested, cyanide is effective as a means of a quick and once deployed untreatable path to suicide, but as an untraceable weapon for murder?  No.  The perpetrator would almost certainly kill him/herself with it before reaching his/her intended target.  Alternatively, any "cyanide pill" would leave tell-tale residue).

However, be all this as it may, Abe finds his opportunity to strike, does so and (in the film) kills the man (with the "untraceable" cyanide spiked drink).

Of course, as in the case of the Dostoyevsky novel and Allen's two other films, the rest of the story follows with the central question being: Can one really "get away with the perfect crime?" 

It does become somewhat disconcerting that Allen, whose personal life has clearly not been without blemish  -- he fell in love with and married a step-daughter of his, who was 17 y/o at the time, and has been accused of, but has never been proven to have, sexually abused another even younger daughter of his as well -- would revisit the theme of "getting away with the perfect crime" (albeit murder) three times in his career.   Is he begging to be (finally) caught?  

Or is he trying simply to make thought provoking films that others perhaps don't have the courage to make, precisely because he has been previously accused of / tainted by a crime that he did not commit?  Or, finally, are his films an attempt at redemption?

I do have to say that there is NO FILMMAKER TODAY who's making films where Kant, Kierkegard, Heidegger or Sartre come up _regularly_ as part of the dialogue.  And (perhaps ironically, on more than a few levels...) I can honestly say that OUTSIDE OF THE SEMINARY I can't remember a time in recent decades that I've heard these figures come up in conversation let alone in the movies.  And I do consider that to be an interesting (and again, perhaps telling) loss.

What then would I, as a functionary in a Church that clearly _hasn't_ had a morally clean slate in recent decades, have to say about Allen, a film-maker who _also_ hasn't had a morally clean slate in his personal life but who continues to make movies that do actually ask moral questions that the rest of the culture doesn't seem to want to ask?

I'd suggest a number of things:

First, for all its faults, the (Catholic) Church actually has a more realistic view of the world, as well as a more realistic program _for continuing_ to walk in this world than the society in which we live.  I say this because because we live in a society that first denies the existence of Sin (Evil) in the world, and, then confronted irrefutably with its existence, turns around and denies the possibility of Pardon/Forgiveness as well.  So as a society we have to hang Evildoers, even as we prefer to deny their presence for as long as we can.  In contrast, honestly, the Catholic Church never denied the reality of Sin/Evil existing in the world, even as it does offer IMHO the only realistic means of "going on" in the presence of such Sin/Evil in our midst ... first Naming Evil for what it is but then offering the possibility of Forgiveness/Reconciliation.  As a result, more people actually "get to Live" (Legitimately) in the Catholic Church than Outside of it.

Turning then to Allen.  He's never been convicted of doing anything wrong.  Yet, he's been both accused of a committing terrible crime (sexually abusing his daughter when she was a minor) and he has made three movies now about "getting away with the perfect crime."  Has he (committed "the perfect crime")?  As our society is structured now, we'll never know, because the crime that he's been accused of is both unprovable, and yet the penalty so great, that he'll probably never admit to it, except _perhaps_ on his deathbed.  

Our society needs a generalized Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In the meantime, I can definitely say that while we are all sinners, we are all greater than simply the sums of our faults, failings and sins.  And Allen with his movies is practically a poster child of this.

Yet, our society has presently has no (secular) means of acting on this reality (of the existence of sin and yet the need to forgive / reconcile in order to go on).  So we watch films like this, and not know (or even be able to know) what to think.

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