Irrational Man

Irrational Man (2015). Dir. Woody Allen

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Abe (Joaquin Phoenix): “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom”.

Irrational Man. Wow. Such a movie. A delight for anyone who loves philosophy, especially existentialist philosophy, my favorite!

The beginning of the movie is amazing. You can only hear a car and, right after the opening credits, Ramsey Lewis’ amazing funky jazz. The first word, pronounced by Joaquin Phoenix, is “Kant”. Woody Allen seems to have made Irrational Man for philosophy lovers: Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, Dostoevsky, and Hannah Arendt’s thesis dance in this film. Anxiety, despair, the meaning of our existence, choice, morality, suicide, and murder are the film’s main themes.

Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is stunning. Really brilliant. Phoenix gained 33 pounds for the role of Abe, a controversial philosophy professor, anguished, depressed and a nihilist who talks to his students about how cruel and frustrating human existence is. Phoenix appears like a man made of blood and flesh, vulnerable and tormented, who prefers to live philosophy than to talk about.

I must admit that I am not a big fan of Emma Stone. I find all her performances basically the same. Nevertheless, her performance in Irrational Man is convincing thanks to Woody’s amazing writing. Still, she could have bothered herself and take some piano lessons if she was going to play the role of a piano student. Oh, well, those young divas…

The other woman is Rita, performed by Parker Posey, an awesome actress. Her performance is fresh, elegant and very real.

Ethan Phillips (who played the nasty IRS agent Gorsky in the 90’s comedy Green Card) has a small role in the movie and plays Jill’s father. I read some negative reviews about Jamie Blackey’s performance, who plays Jill’s boyfriend, Roy, but truthfully I think that he plays his role to perfection (a simple guy in love, plain and zero exciting).

Irrational Man has a bit of Match Point and a lot of Cassandra’s Dream, being at the same time original, genuine, and surprising. The end is unpredictable and has a taste of Hitchcock. Woody had already used Crime and Punishment in Crimes and Misdemeanors, Match Point and Cassandra’s Dream. Ramsey Lewis (who, I must admit, I didn’t know –I have already bought several CDs of his) accompanies us with his amazing funky jazz during all the film. Woody’s taste in music is definitely the best.

The Adair University (fictitious), where Abe taught before, is the same University that honours Harry Block in Deconstructing Harry and where Sondra Pransky studied journalism in Scoop (how funny).

Irrational Man is the last movie produced by Jack Rollins (Woody’s producer for over 45 years). Rollins died in 2015, age 100.

Abe brings to the extreme the first principle of existentialism: human beings are what we make of ourselves (“l’homme n’est rien d’autre que ce qu’il se fait”, argues Sartre in L’existentialisme est un humanisme). Man is what he decides to be, in complete freedom. Sartre argues that we don’t have freedom, but that we are freedom. Our freedom can never be renounced. Even if we decide not to be free, we are deciding in complete freedom not to be free. That’s what reflects Sartre’s explosive sentence “l’homme est condamné à être libre[1]. We are free and we are completely responsible of what and who we are. There is no God. We are alone in the Universe. We are the solely owners of our own existence and the only responsible ones for our own choices.

Sartrean existentialism is a philosophy of freedom and action. To think about doing something, to hope, to wish, does not count at all for Sartre. Only to act has real value, and Abe knows it. If we wish for somebody to be dead, the only coherent action is murder. But what about morality? Well, are all men worth living? Really cruel people are parasites, are they not? Wouldn’t the world be a better place with less parasites?

When Abe decides to kill the corrupted judge, his life makes sense again. He starts enjoying life: he has big breakfasts (not only back coffee), is able to make love again, writes poetry again, and feels strong and alive. Suicide is not an option for Abe any more. His life has meaning. His murder plans are what give meaning to his existence.

Man is a being in search for meaning. That was brilliantly said by Viktor Frankl in 1946 in his heartbreaking book Man’s Search for Meaning (originally written in German and untitled …trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen. Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager). Frankl’s thesis is a yes to life with capital letters. His message: an unconditional faith in the meaning of existence: “meaning is available under any conditions, even the worst conceivable ones“[2]. Life has always meaning, until the end (“life has a meaning to the last breath[3]) and it’s our duty to look for this meaning. Our main task is to have to give a meaning to our own existence.

Frankl argues that a person who has found the meaning of his life is able to give his life for that meaning, and a person who has not found the meaning of his life can easily commit suicide. At the beginning of the film, Abe suffers from existential vacuum and does not mind at all to die when he demonstrates to his students how to play the Russian roulette. But when he starts planning the murder and finds a meaning for his existence, he rejects suicide and embraces life.

Frankl argues that life has always meaning. Sartre, on the contrary, argues that nothing has real meaning: everything is absurd (like Camus). We are alone, without God and without excuses, and we have to carry courageously the emptiness of our human existence.

Frankl defines man as freedom, responsibility and meaning. Sartre defines man as freedom, responsibility and anguish. In the first half of  Irrational Man, Abe follows Sartre, and, afterwards, follows Frankl. Frankl’s thesis is less dark than Sartre’s. Nevertheless, I have always found an answer (even if a hard and depressing one) in Sartre’s philosophy, and, for what I’ve read, I think that Woody too.

In an interview from 2010, Woody was asked about his vision on life, and said: “I have a very grim pessimistic view of it. I always had. Since I was a little boy. It hasn’t gotten worse with age or anything. I do feel that it’s a grim, painful, nightmarish, meaningless experience and that the only way you can be happy is if you tell yourself some lies and deceive yourself (…) One must have one’s illusions to live. If you look at life too honestly life does become unbearable because it is a pretty grim enterprise“[4]. I agree completely. I think that neither life nor death have real meaning, so we have to create, love and grow as much as we can in order to not to succumb to despair.

Irrational Man is an absolutely brilliant film. A delightful masterpiece. 10 / 10

The best: the huge dosis of existential philosophy, Joaquin Phoenix’s stunning performance, Parker Posey, and Ramsey Lewis’ funky jazz.

The worst: Emma Stone’s perfectly combed hair.

cropped-antonia-dalit-2.jpg Antonia Tejeda Barros, Madrid, August 16, 2018

NOTES

[1] Sartre, Jean-Paul. L’existentialisme est un humanisme, p. 39

[2] Frankl, Viktor E. The Unheard Cry for Meaning, p. 41

[3] Frankl, Viktor E. “Introduction”, The Doctor and the Soul, p. xix

[4] Allen, Woody. Press conference You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, Cannes, May 2010

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Frankl, Viktor E. … trotzdem Ja zum Leben sagen. Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager. München: Kösel, 2014 (2009), pp. 7–191

Frankl, Viktor E. Man’s Search for Meaning (trad. Ilse Lasch). Boston: Beacon, 2006, pp. ix–165

Frankl, Viktor E. The Doctor and the Soul. From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy (trad. Richard y Clara Winston). New York: Vintage Books, 1986, pp. ix–318

Frankl, Viktor E. The Unheard Cry for Meaning. New York: Touchstone, 1978, pp. 13–191

Frankl, Viktor E. TV interview, Toronto, 1972. THE WILL TO MEANING.

Sartre, Jean-Paul. L’être et le néant. Essai d’ontologie phénoménologique. France: Gallimard, 2010 (1943), pp. 11–676

Sartre, Jean-Paul. L’existentialisme est un humanisme. France: Gallimard, 2003 (1945), pp. 9– 109

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La La Land: An Annoying and Cheesy Torture filled with cliches

 La La Land (a 2 hour cheesy torture). Dir. Damien Chazelle

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I love Cinema & Art. I don’t usually write negative reviews, because I like to spend my time and my words on the movies that I love and not on the movies that I hated. But since this movie is stealing all the awards so far, and some people are calling that dull & cheesy film “a masterpiece” I felt forced to write something about it. This is my Blog’s first critical review.

When a movie is bad and nobody seems to care, I never bother writing anything about it. But when bad movies and mediocre actors get all the attention and cast a shadow on really good movies and really talented actors, it makes me really angry.

La La Land is a movie made from plastic. It is full of cliches and it has a fake aroma of nostalgia. The beginning of the film (with that deodorant commercial tone) doesn’t have neither weight nor meaning. The director only wants to tell us here, in case we don’t notice afterwards, that this movie is a musical. Good for him, because who could have guessed that with all the bad singing and the bad dancing!

The love story is completely predictable and fake for the first hour or so, with terrible dialog and a lack of any real emotion, until the first fight (which is one of the very few situations that feels real in the movie).

Somebody has said that this is a super-white film about 2 “baby-dreamers”, and I completely agree. Where is the Art? Where is the real struggle? Is it so terrible not to succeed in a theatre play? There are today millions of people dying from hunger, wars, violence, and incurable diseases, and to sink because a play didn’t turn out how you expected or you cannot be the jazz pianist number one is really childish.

Good things about the film: the cinematography and the flashbacks are very good. The end is the best. That turn is actually original but does not make any sense any way. Let’s not forget that the girl and the boy are where they are because she was depressed about her career failure. As simple as that. So, the twist does not actually make any sense. The jazz is good too (I mean, the REAL jazz musicians). And Ryan Gosling (who is OK in the film but not amazing) is actually playing the piano, which, in a Hollywood movie is already a lot. Apart from that, the film is a 2 hour cheesy torture.

Annoying things: the worst is, in my opinion, Emma Stone. I never understood her “talent”. She is just a “pretty” face with a skinny (anorexic?) body who seems to think she is too good to prepare for her roles. Her singing in the film is awful and her dancing is not good enough. Let’s remember that in Irrational Man (I love Woody Allen!) she didn’t even bother taking a piano lesson for her role as a “pianist”. Her hairdo is very fake (she always seems to have just come out from the hairdresser) and I never understood why she cannot appear in even one frame without make up. How this mediocre actress won the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy in stead of the amazing Meryl Streep or the amazing Annette Bening shows how Hollywood is losing it. And the fact that she won the SAG Award (Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role) in stead of Meryl Streep or Natalie Portman shows how this movie has blinded Hollywood. The most hilarious thing would be that she wins the Oscar (and, sadly, she probably will), being in the same category as Ruth Negga (who made an stunning performance in Loving), Meryl Streep (always amazing and always great), Natalie Portman, and Isabelle Huppert (one of the best European actresses today). But, hey, if Sandra Bullock got and Oscar in 2010, Stone could definitely get one too!

Gosling can play the piano but he definitely cannot sing: his voice does not have any power and it sounds like olive oil. His dancing is, as his partner’s, mediocre. How come he ended wining the Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy in stead of Hugh Grant (who gave his best performance ever in Florence Foster Jenkins) is a real mystery. Luckily, and for the sake of Art, he didn’t get the SAG Award (who went to the amazing Denzel).

The cliches of La La Land are endless: girl meets boy and at first they hate each other but after they like each other. The detail with the famous actress who enters in the Cafe is also so predictable (and how rude -not cool- it is to refuse an invitation). There are lots of holes in the movie. Boy and girl keep bumping into each other in a city as huge as LA, and many more, but I am not going to tell them because I don’t want to reveal the “plot” of the movie.

14 Oscar nominations? Give me a break! As somebody said, it’s the endless story about Hollywood in love with itself. Pity, I will definitely not watch the Oscars this year. There were lots of really great movies this year and they did not get 14 Oscar nominations: Collateral Beauty, Loving, Hidden Figures, Lion, Moonlight, Elle, Florence Foster Jenkins, Smrt u Sarajevu, Fences… In my opinion, La La Land should have got 1 Oscar nomination only (cinematography, Linus Sandgren). 

The whole movie, even if it features some great black jazz musicians, has a whitish taste that is unbearable. I don’t care AT ALL if the actors are white, black, yellow, orange or green. But this cheesy movie with 2 black actors definitely wouldn’t have got 14 Oscars nominations. Why? Because from the 6,000 and something Academy members, 73% are men, 27% women; 89% are white, and only 11% are people of color (and it’s not even clear which group the Latinos belong to). The world is, sadly, still very racist. That’s why many people are calling this film White White Land for a reason. The age average of the Academy members is 60 years old: that can explain the love for this mediocre musical (I would not call it a musical, because in the musicals the actors actually know both to sing and to dance).

The fact that this film is stealing all the awards and probably will also steal many Oscars shows the decadency of cinema today in the States. Either that or people are really bored and need an empty and cheesy love story to be entertained. I love many Hollywood movies, but I think that Hollywood should learn from the reality that European cinema knows to depict, away from cliches and empty love stories, away from pretty actors with fake hairdos and plastic bodies. If La La Land has achieved something it is that: a new line of decadence, cliches, and cheesiness in American cinema.

dalit-antonia-joker-2016 Antonia Tejeda Barros, Madrid, February 7, 2017