Saturday, January 02, 2016

"Irrational Man": A Movie Review.

January 4, 2016 at 1:56 P.M. No response has yet been received (by me) from any American public officials to the communications and evidence forwarded to them by me (and others) concerning computer crime, censorship, and much worse crimes committed against me and other innocent persons.

Efforts to intimidate Mr. Bratton through public criticisms based on false facts on the part of Mr. Kelly (possibly at the request of Mr. Christie and other GOP figures) will not succeed (I hope) in brushing Mr. Bratton "back from the plate."

The OAE is expected to post fake photos of me online along with the usual insults or scurrilous accusations of me that are meant to distract from the evidence and information previously posted at these blogs and already in the possession of U.S. authorities. (Please see the introduction to "Menendez Charged With Selling His Office.")

I leave it for readers to decide whether I am an ethical person and what conclusions to draw with regard to New Jersey's ethics and legality. ("New Jersey's Filth, Failures, and Flaws.")

It is likely that a number of persons have also received "no response" to their efforts and/or communications aimed at obtaining the truth from officials in these matters.

The next item posted at these blogs dealing with New Jersey issues will be sent to John Brennan, Director of the CIA, as a kind of "exploding cigar." 

No doubt the CIA can get to the bottom of these mysteries. ("An Open Letter to Cyrus Vance, Jr., Esq.") 

It is always possible that I will be prevented from writing further at this blog. I will do my best to continue writing on-line for as long as possible at some location.     

"Irrational Man": WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY: Woody Allen; DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: Darius Khandji; EDITED BY: Alisa Lepselter; PRODUCTION DESIGN BY: Santo Loquasto; PRODUCED BY: Letty Aronson. RELEASED, US: July, 2015.

STARRING: Jackie Blakely (Roy), Joaquin Phoenix (Abe), Emma Stone (Jill), Betsy Aidem (Jill's Mother), and Ethan Phillips (Jill's Father). 

Alternative Review:

Manohla Dargis, "From a Senseless Crime, A Sudden New Lease On Life," The New York Times, July 17, 2015, p. C8. (The usual review by "Manohla Dargis.") (''The Reader': A Movie Review.") 

Primary Sources:

Woody Allen, "My Philosophy," in Getting Even (New York: Warner Paperback Library, 1972), pp. 27-32.

Woody Allen, "Death (A Play)," in Without Feathers (New York: Ballantine, 1983), pp. 43-107. 

Secondary Sources:

William Barrett, Irrational Man (New York: Doubleday, 1990), pp. 149-177, pp. 177-206. ("Kierkegaard, Nietzsche.")

Don Ihde, Hermeneutic Phenomenology: The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur (Evanston: Northwestern U. Press, 1971), pp. 59-81 ("Phenomenology Within Limits: Fallible Man") and see also pp. 95-135 ("Phenomenological Hermeneutics: The Symbolism of Evil").

Iris Murdoch, "The Existentialist Hero," in Peter Conradi, ed., Existentialists and Mystics: Writings On Philosophy and Literature (London: Penguin, 1997), pp. 108-115, also p. 352 ("On God and Good").

Scholarship On Woody Allen as Philosopher and Artist:

Marc T. Conrad & Alan J. Soble, eds., Woody Allen and Philosophy (Chicago: Open Court, 2004), pp. 5-68.

Graham McCann, Woody Allen (London: Polity, 1990), pp. 81-129 ("Love and Death").

Classics Thematically Related to This Film:

Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2007), (1st Ed. 1886).

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay On Ontology (New York: Washington Square Press, 1956), pp. 340-401, "The Look."

Please contact the 92nd Street Y for a Lecture: Tuesday, April 5, 2016, at 12:00 P.M. "On Woody" with David Evanier. (212) 415-5500. (A retrospective discussion of Woody Allen's films and ideas.)  

12 Woody Allen Movies You Must See:

1. Take the Money and Run (Co-written with Mickey Rose), (1969).
2. Bananas (Co-written with Mickey Rose), (1971).
3. Play It Again, Sam (Directed by Herbert Ross), (1972). (The funniest romantic comedy I have ever seen.)
4. Sleeper (Co-written with Marshall Brickman), (1973).
5. Love and Death (1975). (Leo Tolstoy meets S.J. Perlman.)
6. The Front (Not written by Woody, but he takes over this dark satire of McCarthy's blacklisting era that was directed by Martin Ritt and written by Walter Bernstein.) (1976).
7. Annie Hall (Co-written with Marshall Brickman), (1977). (The classic romantic comedy with a stellar performance from Diane Keaton.)
8. Manhattan (Co-written with Marshall Brickman), (1979). (The beauty of the black-and-white photography alone is worth the cost of this DVD. The film is a love-letter to New York, classic movie romances of the forties and fifties, as well as the eroticism of "Manhattan" in the pre-AIDS-era.)
9. A Midsummer's Night Sex Comedy (1982). (Woody meets Shakespeare with an unsuspected performance by Jose Ferrer, a "serious" dramatic actor and now long-gone friend of Woody Allen's, playing an over-the-top academic.) 
10. Hannah and Her Sisters (1985). (Mastery of the ensemble piece. Woody's French film set in New York. Michael Caine delivers a performance for which he received a long-overdue Oscar.)
11. Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). (Masterpiece of twentieth century cinema worthy of Igmar Bergman and/or any of the finest directors of the century dealing with ultimate issues of goodness and justice as well as the frailty of human nature plus there are a million laughs for all members of the family.)
12. Everyone Says I love You (1996). (Utter charm, with dancing by Woody that puts Gene Kelly to shame. Who knew? Drew Barrymore and Goldie Hawn are so shockingly beautiful that your popcorn melts. ) 

The Critique of Pure Dread: "Eternal nothingness is O.K., if you're dressed for it." -- Woody Allen. 

"Woody Allen" (born Allen Konigsberg) is one of the few geniuses of cinema in the world today.

Mr. Allen's body of work combines piercing wit with a powerful existential dread of death as well as the sense of absurdity and meaninglessness in the face of lost religious faith and in light of the inevitable confrontation with a powerful force of evil in the world that seems to have won everywhere. 

Woody hates cruelty and stupidity, violence and greed that he sees as defining the vast majority of people on most occasions. Beyond this modest reservation he has a cheerful view of human nature: 

Carl Jung said that "every good man must wrestle with the devil."

Woody Allen prefers to play checkers with the devil. However, Allen remains an opponent of the evil around us -- and he would never cheat in any competition -- not even against the devil. ("The Sleeping Prince" and "Drawing Room Comedy: A Philosophical Essay in the Form of a Film Script.")

Woody Allen was born in 1935 in Brooklyn, New York. The "Koningsberg" in his family name, if accurate, suggests his family may come from Immanuel Kant's home town. 

Ironically, the two greatest philosophers in the modern world -- Immanuel Kant and Woody Allen -- may come from the same territory in Eastern Europe. 

It may be symbolic that Auschwitz is also in the same region of the world. The Holocaust as well as the Cold War's nuclear confrontation between the great powers, Richard Nixon's "Watergate," and the Vietnam War, together with the impact of the Kennedy and King assassinations serve as the backdrop  to Woody's early life. 

It is difficult for a sensitive young man not to be scarred by the message that such a historical context (or experience) delivers about the prevalence of evil and consequences of nihilism, ignorance, and the seemingly irrepressible human tendency towards self-destruction postulated by both Freud and Jung. 

The twentieth century will not make for many optimists and starry-eyed idealists about human nature. 

Woody Allen deserves to be thought of as a philosopher and also a "serious" (important) cinematic artist, despite his humor and frequent association with "show business," along with some personal romantic scandals which have made him lasting enemies in the "politically correct" media world -- enemies who may seek to limit the success of his films. 

Many "skinny-dressed-in-black" media persons who dislike Woody Allen's movies are Nazis, often lesbian Nazis. ("Skinny People Dressed in Black.") 

Woody's lack of political correctness (I happen to agree with him concerning America's hypocritical p.c. nonsense!), has made it difficult for some of his later films -- such as Irrational Man -- even to receive a fair assessment from reviewers. 

These days they seem to prefer movies about computer-generated Martians at The New York Times. ("Manohla Dargis Strikes Again!")

Woody's struggle (like your struggle) is to find a way to remain free and authentic, good and creative, alive and self-giving, dignified and just in a world determined to destroy him -- or any of us -- in the fullness of time. ("Shakespeare's Black Prince.")

Woody finds himself placed amid social forces committed to his enslavement and oppression (thanks to ISIS, maybe even determined to kill him!) for his presumption in being (in no particular order) a Jew, artist, non-scientist, humanist, philosopher, genius, but (mostly) for insisting on living in accordance with the strictures of his conscience and by his personal values as a free American. 

Woody's "sin" is to cherish laughter while remaining skeptical about the claims of all powerful politicians, seeking solace only with a few like-minded individuals, through love and friendship, as well as the madness of art. 

Recent events in Paris have underscored the insanity that we live with that has generated equal madness in response. 

Woody Allen wishes to remain a civilized human being doing something other than hurting fellow human beings with his fragile and fleeting lifetime. This effort on his part to remain free and civilized infuriates some people for reasons that are too bizarre for me to understand. 

I love Woody Allen's works. I am not neutral about his achievement as an American artist in the twentieth century and beyond. 

Allen is a thinker as well as a cinematic artist. Cinema as well as literature (for Woody) is the most profound language of philosophical expression (among other things). 

Allen needs to make movies and write stories in order to come to terms not only with his own life-conditions, but with the human tragedy today, along with his ever-more uncertain place in the world. 

Woody Allen deserves the medal of freedom for his achievement. 

Although Irrational Man is not one of his best films, it is a very good movie, a work of ideas, much more artistic and profound than most other movies these days while managing to entertain and amuse audiences as did his early "light" comedies. 

Woody's recent comedies are not, usually, about fart jokes and pratfalls, but much more a kind of "high comedy" of manners influenced by traditional Jewish humor, of course, but also by the aristocratic social comedies of Britain and America that thrived in an earlier era.

Dorothy Parker and Noel Coward are relevant sources for Woody together with Bob Hope and Jerry Lewis to say nothing of the Marx Brothers. Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw seem to lurk in the background to many of Woody's excellent scripts. ("Richard and I" and "The Sleeping Prince" then "Faust in Manhattan.") 

Not included among the top-12 hits I provided are the globally-celebrated Matchpoint and Midnight in Paris. There are also postmodernist classics credited to Woody Allen that are much-loved in the American academy: For example, Celebrity and Zelig, also Deconstructing Harry. ("Jacques Derrida's Philosophy as Jazz" and "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Author.")

All of these later films have generated scholarly attention in Europe, Latin America, and within the US. In these mature works an effort is made to engage with issues surrounding quantum physics leading to new understandings of time and space ("Matchpoint") as well as the link between these ideas and developments in aesthetics, especially cinema, in relation to what we laughingly call "reality." ("'Interstellar': A Movie Review" and "'Inception': A Movie Review" then "'Ex Machina': A Movie Review.") 

Irrational Man dramatizes on film the tragic dilemma of Dostoevsky's "Raskolnikov" in Crime and Punishment: In modern society's condition of alienation and anomie, when so much of our lives have become routine and banal, when we feel alienated from the institutions that ensnare us, the one way of asserting our value and power and continuing importance, we are told, is through what Andre Gide called L'Acte Gratuite. (Blessedly, no accents are necessary in democratic America.)

This refers to the "gratuitous act" of self-assertive and Nietzschean violence, the primal murder that tears to the shreds the fabric of normality by establishing human will as supreme in an inert environment. In fear or violence, through passionate hatred (and/or by loving intensely), we are most fully alive and free:

"Life is like a concentration camp. You're stuck here and there's no way out. You can only rage impotently against your persecutors ..." (McCann, p. 35, quoting Woody Allen.) ("'The Stepford Wives': A Movie Review" and "'Invasion': A Movie Review" then "Drawing Room Comedy: A Philosophical Essay in the Form of a Film Script.") 

Through "struggle" (Jihad) you can take matters into your own hands by killing the "other" who threatens you while demonstrating one's "dreadful freedom." 

Many of the young men driven to join terrorist organizations interviewed recently on the BBC's news service expressed ideas (usually unknowingly) that are reflective of twisted versions of the existential-postmodernist issues central to Continental thought that are, often, derived from American movies by these same young men in the Middle East, and elsewhere, who nevertheless claim to "hate" America. ("'The Matrix': A Movie Review.") 

The Leap Into the Abyss: "It is impossible to experience one's own death and still carry a tune." -- Woody Allen.

Joaquin Phoenix delivers a bizarre, on-again-off-again performance as "Abe Lucas," a philosophy professor who is newly-arrived at an elite East Coast campus of what appears to be a liberal arts university.

In fairness to Mr. Phoenix the sense of dislocation, drift, or confusion attached to his characters's actions may be perfect for this drama (in his own estimation), but his performance fails to establish the "presence" of this central character which is a serious weakness in the drama.

The movie seems to combine Brown University with Amherst to provide a visual feast adding to the myth of ideal splendor in Fall colors with lots of pretty young people walking into and out of shots in expensive sweaters with sparkling white smiles that are a tribute to American dentistry. 

Abe is a distinguished thinker, tending towards alcoholism and depression, having established an important reputation in youth based on scholarly writings in philosophy that he now disowns without providing more recent work of comparable value. 

Abe is struggling for a sense of meaning and renewed purpose in his life and work, against the overwhelming sense of banality and futility in contemporary life. Abe is condemned to teach philosophy to undergraduates. There are worse fates in this world. Many audience members may find it difficult to identify with Abe's complaints which may be Allen's point.

Emma Stone is "Jill," dazzled by Abe's riffs on Continental theorizing, she finds her utterly safe and predictable boyfriend "Roy" (played by Jamie Blakely) dull by comparison with her new professor, Abe. 

"Rita" (Parker Posey) is a sexed-up faculty colleague offering alternative romance for Abe. Ms. Posey is clever, alluring, and underused in this part. 

Posing a traditional existentialist challenge to audience members' predictable scientism and analytical proclivities Woody Allen -- through Abe -- explains that, unlike analytical philosophers, Continental theorists wonder not what a philosopher "means," but much more: "What does a philosopher mean for me." ("Is clarity enough?") 

To affirm the elan vital (Henri Bergson) or "life-force" is to be "reborn" through confronting the life-or-death choice described as a "leap into the abyss" by Kierkegaard. 

Rationality must be doubted when it counters life. Passion as selfhood is affirmed in murder or love-making. 

The best discussion of these issues is found in William Barrett's classic study of existentialism that is invoked in the title to this work. Woody is making the vital connections easy for reviewers who missed them anyway. (Again: ''The Reader': A Movie Review.") 

To risk greatly -- for example in a shared moral effort to fight Franco or the Nazis for an earlier generation -- is to FEEL oneself alive rather than merely "existing." One cannot "think life," Nietzsche warns readers, one must "live dangerously," or risk not living at all. ("Friedrich Nietzsche On Self-Realization.") 

Like Woody Allen, I prefer to live cautiously. 

The greatest existentialists would disapprove of both of Allen and me, I am afraid, insisting that we face the existential crisis that defines us as free men bravely facing death to say nothing of boredom. 

To judge others by deciding who gets to live or die is to affirm a "dreadful freedom" that we usually ignore in our pursuit of safety and comfort as well as money. 

I especially like money as well as safety and comfort. Woody Allen tends to agree with me on this issue. 

At every second we have the power to recreate the reality we inhabit with a single dreadful action, or monstrous crime. Much of the motive for terrorists may be found in these metaphysical dilemmas with a theological component in all of the world's great religions. 

After all, we may also "save" (or re-invent) the world through a single great act of love or self-sacrifice, according to Simone Weil and Edith Stein, or Iris Murdoch. ("The Soldier and the Ballerina" and "Magician's Choice.")

Jill is seduced by Abe's mind. This is far better than being seduced by someone's bank account or anything merely physical. 

On the other hand, as Woody Allen points out, "there is a lot to be said for the merely physical and, as meaningless acts go, wild sex with a beautiful woman has a lot going for it."

Unfortunately, Jill has chosen the wrong "mind" -- or misinterpreted the mind of the man she thought she loved -- as she will discover when Abe's crime is revealed. (I will not disclose a crucial plot twist.) 

The insane presumption in even suggesting a "primal murder" of a "deserving" victim/culprit -- a man who judges others, falsely -- in order to set the world a little closer to justice is a matter of absurd arrogance on anyone's part. 

We have no right to tell others how to live nor should we judge our neighbors. The murder at the center of this drama is close to Raskolnikov's crime and leads to the identical doubts and self-recriminations concerning the inadequacies of all human justice. One murder will lead Abe to attempt to commit others in the failed effort to, as Jean-Paul Sartre suggests, "become God." 

Jill's awakening from a trance-like state with the discovery of Abe's guilt is intended to underline that the proper existential choice lifts the agent into (and not out of!) the moral condition that is our true humanity. 

Woody has provided more than a clue to his deepest intentions with this final realization by Jill:

"Despite the intensely personal sources of his theme, Nietzsche was dealing in his work with a problem that had clearly become central in German culture." 

William Barrett explains Woody's message delivered through his characters in this movie much better than I can:

"Schiller and Goethe had dealt with it -- Schiller as early as 1795 in his remarkable Letters On the Aesthetic Education of Man, and Goethe in his Faust. Schiller has given an extraordinarily clear statement of the problem, which was for him identical in all its salient features with the problem later posed by Nietzsche. For man, says Schiller, the problem is one of forming individuals. Modern life has departmentalized, specialized, and thereby fragmented the being of man. We now face the problem of putting the fragments together into a whole. In the course of his exposition, Schiller even referred back, as did Nietzsche, to the example of the Greeks, who produced real individuals and not mere learned abstract men like those of the modern age. [Abe?] Goethe was even closer to Nietzsche: Faust [Love] and Zarathustra [Power] are in fact brothers among books. Both attempt to elaborate in symbols the process by which the 'superior individual' -- whole, intact, and healthy -- is to be formed; and both are identically 'moral' in their content, if morality is measured in its usual conventional terms." (Barrett, pp. 189-190.)

Woody reveals the options available to audience members. While tempted to ponder the punishments that should be meted out to racists and Fascists (Mr. Trump?), Woody chooses love and artistic creativity as the only proper means of self-becoming. Me too. 

The Works of Love: "By love, of course, I refer to romantic love -- the love between man and woman, rather than between mother and child, or a boy and his dog, or two headwaiters." -- Woody Allen.

In his later films Woody Allen has been ambiguous about the possibilities of transcendence for humanity.

Irrational Man remains confident about the human impulse towards goodness and justice. The "culprit" gets his just deserts at the hands of his previously "blind" admirer. 

Betrayal at the hands of former acolytes is a theme that appeals to Woody, for some reason, along with "blindness" (as metaphor) for the good person who refuses to see evil in others or in world history.

There is something fundamentally unsatisfying (for me) about art-works that abandon all morality for a fashionable nihilism. It seems to me that one of the great responsibilities of art -- the primary reason for the need to create and enjoy art according to Aristotle's theory of catharsis -- is the yearning for ethical satisfaction as well as the inevitability of tragedy in life. ("Nihilists in Disneyworld" and "John Finnis and Ethical Cognitivism" then "The Wanderer and His Shadow.")

These aesthetic insights have become controversial in Woody's natural habitat, that is, in trendy corners of Manhattan and among Hollywood glitterati everywhere. These philosophical theories certainly apply to cinema -- especially for an artist obsessed with ideas -- and may contribute to the persistent disdain for Woody's genius among the makers of t.v. commercials and newspaper reviewers. (Again: "Manohla Dargis Strikes Again!")

The fragile consolation offered by Woody links with the options that have concluded all of his recent films: beauty in art to ease our moral suffering and the pains of solitude; laughter that is shared with loved-ones, especially children; but most of all love for one another in our broken condition and amidst colossal suffering.

These are Kierkegaard's (Christian) and Simone Weil's (Jewish) solutions to the universal existential dilemma in contemporary life. 

Iris Murdoch's inheritance of the Western philosophical tradition dealing with these very issues -- transformed into explorations of identical themes in her novels and philosophical works -- may provide useful examples of ways to answer Woody Allen's great questions in literary narrative and/or sources for future films:

"It is true that human beings cannot bear much reality; and a consideration of what the effort to face reality is like; and what are its techniques, may serve both to illuminate the necessity or certainty which seems to attach to 'the Good'; and also to lead on to a reinterpretation of 'will' and 'freedom' in relation to the concept of love. [emphasis added] Here again it seems to me that art is the clue. Art presents the most comprehensive examples of the almost irresistible human tendency to seek consolation in fantasy and also the effort to resist this and the vision of a reality which comes with success ..."

The dialectic between fantasy and realism defines Woody Allen's cinema:

" ... A great artist" -- this includes Mr. Allen for me -- "is, in respect of his works, a good man, and in the true sense, a free man."

Iris Murdoch, "On Good and Good," in Existentialists and Mystics, p. 352.  



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