WOODY WEDNESDAY Woody Allen’s movie IRRATIONAL MAN and Nihilism

___

“Irrational Man” Review: Woody Allen’s Existentialism 101

“Irrational Man” considers the human will to meaning and capacity for evil.

Posted Aug 17, 2015

Wikimedia Commons. By Adam Bielauski
Source: Wikimedia Commons. By Adam Bielauski

Whether he publicly acknowledges it or not, Irrational Man, the intriguing yet appropriated title of Woody Allen’s new film, was one of my required texts (William Barrett, 1958) back in a freshman philosophy course I took on existentialism seemingly several lifetimes ago. As such, it telegraphs the, for Woody, not-so-new but persisting and, in this case, explicitly and insightfully depicted themes of this surprisingly enjoyable and well-made movie: existential despair, the problem of meaninglessness, aloneness and  loneliness, the search for love, ethics, freedom of choice and responsibility for those choices, the need at times to decide and act rather than ruminate, the irrationality and apparent randomness of the universe, morality, mortality, human potentiality, and the ever-present possibility of falling into evil despite good intentions.

Readers familiar with Allen’s films and/or with existential philosophy and psychology might imagine Irrational Man, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone, to suffer from, as Woody himself would say, “heavyosity.” Certainly some of his previous existentially themed films, like Interiors, for instance, did. But they would be mistaken, since the director wields a relatively light and deft hand in addressing these “ultimate concerns,” to borrow existential theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich’s term. Particularly impressive is Mr. Phoenix’s substantial performance as Abe Lucas, a withdrawn, endarkened, pot-bellied, middle-aged philosophy professor and author in the midst of a full-blown mid-life crisis. Less successful but still charming is Ms. Stone’s take as a precocious, beautiful, brilliant but very naive young college student, Jill, who falls for the older and ostensibly wiser Abe precisely because of his perceived combination of brilliance, vulnerability, and angst-ridden torturedness.

What happens is a cautionary tale of how precarious and dangerous a mid-life or other existential crisis can be, for both the person going through it and for those who care for him or, as in the case of Allen’s Blue Jasmine, her. Professor Lucas has careened headlong into nihilism, taken to drink, lost his sense of purpose and meaning in life, and become creatively blocked, impotent and suicidal (at one point playing Russian Roulette with a loaded pistol at a student party), all the while spouting pithy quotes from Continental philosophers Sartre, Kierkegaard, Kant and Heidegger, a heady combination his students and co-workers clearly find quite romantic and downright irresistable. Despite being preceded by a wicked reputation as a womanizer, it seems Abe had always as a younger man wanted to do good, selflessly volunteering to help others after natural disasters and being an activist for those things he truly valued and felt passionately about. But then something happened. There are hints provided that he has been severely traumatized by life, having lost his mother to suicide when twelve, later being betrayed and abandoned by his wife and best friend, and, perhaps the final straw, having another close buddy blown up by a landmine in the Middle East. These are existential crises, major losses, from which he evidently never recovered, but rather resulted eventually in a profound frustration, anger, rage, embitterment toward life, existential despair and morbid depression.

When the lonely and bored wife of a fellow professor (Parker Posey as Rita), and then his already spoken for student (Stone), throw themselves at him, Abe initially tries to be noble and good, fending off their sexual advances, at least for a little while. But eventually he gives in to getting involved with both, later resulting in breaking up both women’s long-term relationships. But this, and having their blind love and admiration, gives him no real satisfaction. Not until he happens quite by accident upon what he perceives as an opportunity to do something good, something important, something significant–to rid the world of a biased judge and the needless suffering he has supposedly inflicted upon others by murdering him–does his despair, depression, apathy and malaise suddenly disappear. (For possible parallels to Mr. Allen’s own contentious court battles, see this fellow PT blogger’s post.)  Like Raskolnikov in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Abe decides, after overhearing a conversation of strangers, to take action to make the world a tiny bit better than it is now by killing this “roach,” referencing perhaps Kafka’s The Metamorphosis. Taking the decision to act, to do something, enlivens him again, lifts him out of his clinical despair (see my prior post) and restores his capacity to enjoy existence and appreciate life’s sublime pleasures once more.The fact that he has rationalized that this evil deed is instead good, almost a delusional level of self-deception, completely escapes him, narcissistically seeing himself as some kind of Nietzschean superman who is morally “beyond good and evil.” Abe is convinced that by committing this single crime, he is following what might be existentialist Ernest Becker’s counsel in The Denial of Death (a book directly referred to by Allen in Annie Hall), that all any of us can do to make life meaningful is contribute something to the world while we are still alive, despite the fact that it is the equivalent to dropping a minuscule droplet of water into a vast cosmic ocean.

Abe actually goes through with his carefully considered, “creative” homicidal plan successfully, having committed an apparently perfect crime, since no one could possibly link him to the murder victim in any way. Except, of course, his student, Jill, whom he was with on a date in a diner when first overhearing the judge’s name and alleged bad behavior. He has no bad conscience or compunction about taking the judge’s life, nor about another man later being arrested and charged with the crime. When Jill finally figures out that he had indeed done the killing, she is appalled and, despite still being in love with  him, threatens to turn him in to the police, pointing out that, ethically, committing one evil deed opens the door to committing another. Which, without spoiling the ending too badly, is precisely what happens here.

Ultimately, Abe recognizes that his life had become meaningless and without purpose, that all his philosophizing was, as he tells his students, a form of “verbal masturbation,” and that his choice to commit murder had provided him with a raison d’etre, a renewed sense of purpose, freedom and power in life. Indeed, to take a life, of an insect, animal, and especially of a human being, is an extreme act of power over another, which often feeds into the psychopath‘s, serial killer’s, or mass murderer’s deep sense of disempowerment, helplessness, and impotence. It also provides an outlet for his or her repressed rage and hatred toward parents, people, authority figures, God, and the world. As existential analyst Viktor Frankl, whose writings Woody Allen is also almost certainly familiar with, and others observe, when we experience an “existential vacuum,” a loss or absence of meaning and purpose in life, there is always the risk that this emptiness will be filled by something neurotic, negative or evil. Nature abhors a vacuum. The inner necessity to create and assert oneself in the world can be expressed constructively or destructively. We, as individuals, are responsible for how we deal with life’s inevitable existential crises, and for ethically choosing between evil and good, destructiveness and creativity, disintegration or integration of the personality, in our efforts to resolve or weather them. Tragically, sometimes in desperation to find or create some sense of meaning, purpose, significance or recognition in life, we can be tempted to engage in evil by irrationally disguising it to ourselves as good. And, in so doing, we sooner or later, in some way or another, fall prey to the consequences of that same evil deed.

Annie Hall – The Opening Scene [HD]

Manhattan

Francis Schaeffer two months before he died said if he was talking to a gentleman he was sitting next to on an airplane about Christ he wouldn’t start off quoting Bible verses. Schaeffer asserted:

I would go back rather to their dilemma if they hold the modern worldview of the final reality only being energy, etc., I would start with that. I would begin as I stress in the book THE GOD WHO IS THERE about their own [humanist] prophets who really show where their view goes. For instance, Jacques Monod, Nobel Prize winner from France, in his book NECESSITY AND CHANCE said there is no way to tell the OUGHT from the IS. In other words, you live in a totally silent universe. 

The men like Monod and Sartre or whoever the man might know that is his [humanist] prophet and they point out quite properly and conclusively what life is like, not just that there is no meaningfulness in life but everyone according to modern man is just living out some kind of game plan. It may be knocking 1/10th of a second off a downhill ski run or making one more million dollars. But all you are doing is making a game plan within the mix of a meaningless situation. WOODY ALLEN exploits this very strongly in his films. He really lives it. I feel for that man, and he has expressed it so thoroughly in ANNIE HALL and MANHATTAN and so on.

According to the Humanist worldview and  Jacques Monod, the universe is silent about values and therefore his good friend Woody Allen demonstrated this very fact so well in his 1989 movie CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS. In other words, if we can’t get our values from the Bible then  the answer is MIGHT MAKES RIGHT!!!!

__

The question now becomes do you want to know if there is a God or not? Are you willing to examine the same evidence that I provided to the world’s leading atheistic philosopher in 1994 (Antony Flew)? Here some are links below that examine the subjects that Antony Flew studied before he switched from away from atheism, followed by the sermon by Adrian Rogers that I provided to Antony Flew and he said he enjoyed listening to.

Former atheist Antony Flew: “Although I was once sharply critical of the argument to design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formulated, this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God!

Former atheist Antony Flew said, “I was particularly impressed with Gerry Schroeder’s point-by-point refutation of what I call the MONKEY THEOREM!

Why the world’s most famous atheist (Antony Flew) now believes in God by James A. Beverley

BP)–Antony Flew, a legendary British philosopher and atheist, has changed his mind about the existence of God in light of recent scientific evidence.Flew –

Former Atheist Antony Flew noted that Evolutionists failed to show “Where did a living, self-reproducing organism come from in the first place?”

Former atheist Antony Flew pointed out that natural selection can’t explain the origin of first life and in every other case, information necessarily points to an intelligent source!

 

Related posts:

Former atheist Antony Flew: “Although I was once sharply critical of the argument to design, I have since come to see that, when correctly formulated, this argument constitutes a persuasive case for the existence of God!”

Discussion (1 of 3): Antony Flew, N.T. Wright, and Gary Habermas Uploaded on Sep 22, 2010 A discussion with Antony Flew, N.T. Wright, and Gary Habermas. This was held at Westminster Chapel March, 2008 Debate – William Lane Craig vs Christopher Hitchens – Does God Exist? Uploaded on Jan 27, 2011 April 4, 2009 – Craig vs. […]

Former atheist Antony Flew said, “I was particularly impressed with Gerry Schroeder’s point-by-point refutation of what I call the MONKEY THEOREM!”

____________ Discussion (1 of 3): Antony Flew, N.T. Wright, and Gary Habermas Uploaded on Sep 22, 2010 A discussion with Antony Flew, N.T. Wright, and Gary Habermas. This was held at Westminster Chapel March, 2008 Is Goodness Without God is Good Enough? William Lane Craig vs. Paul Kurtz Published on Jul 29, 2013 Date: October 24, 2001 […]

The argument from design led former atheist Antony Flew to assert: “I must say again that the journey to my discovery of the Divine has thus far been a pilgrimage of reason, and it has led me to accept the existence of a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent, and omniscient Being!”

  ____________ Jesus’ Resurrection: Atheist, Antony Flew, and Theist, Gary Habermas, Dialogue Published on Apr 7, 2012 http://www.veritas.org/talks – Did Jesus die, was he buried, and what happened afterward? Join legendary atheist Antony Flew and Christian historian and apologist Gary Habermas in a discussion about the facts surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Join […]

Former atheist Antony Flew pointed out that natural selection can’t explain the origin of first life and in every other case, information necessarily points to an intelligent source!

______________ Does God Exist? Thomas Warren vs. Antony Flew Published on Jan 2, 2014 Date: September 20-23, 1976 Location: North Texas State University Christian debater: Thomas B. Warren Atheist debater: Antony G.N. Flew For Thomas Warren: http://www.warrenapologeticscenter.org/ ______________________ Antony Flew and his conversion to theism Uploaded on Aug 12, 2011 Antony Flew, a well known spokesperson […]

Former Atheist Antony Flew noted that Evolutionists failed to show “Where did a living, self-reproducing organism come from in the first place?”

____   Does God Exist? Thomas Warren vs. Antony Flew Published on Jan 2, 2014 Date: September 20-23, 1976 Location: North Texas State University Christian debater: Thomas B. Warren Atheist debater: Antony G.N. Flew For Thomas Warren: http://www.warrenapologeticscenter.org/ ______________________ Antony Flew and his conversion to theism Uploaded on Aug 12, 2011 Antony Flew, a well known […]

(BP)–Antony Flew, a legendary British philosopher and atheist, has changed his mind about the existence of God in light of recent scientific evidence.Flew –

_____________ Famed atheist sees evidence for God, cites recent discoveries Antony Flew NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Antony Flew, a legendary British philosopher and atheist, has changed his mind about the existence of God in light of recent scientific evidence.Flew — a prolific author who has argued against the existence of God and the claims of Christianity for […]

Antony Flew in his book THERE IS A GOD talks about his “notoriety” as an atheist! ( also 7 News : Web Extra: Ricky Gervais on God)

  7News : Web Extra: Ricky Gervais on God Published on Mar 23, 2014 He’s not shy about sharing his opinion with 5 million social media followers so Ricky Gervais was happy to clear a few things up for us too. __________________________________ Discussion (2 of 3): Antony Flew, N.T. Wright, and Gary Habermas Atheist Lawrence Krauss loses debate […]

Was Antony Flew the most prominent atheist of the 20th century?

_________ Antony Flew on God and Atheism Published on Feb 11, 2013 Lee Strobel interviews philosopher and scholar Antony Flew on his conversion from atheism to deism. Much of it has to do with intelligent design. Flew was considered one of the most influential and important thinker for atheism during his time before his death […]

Why the world’s most famous atheist (Antony Flew) now believes in God by James A. Beverley

____________ Antony Flew on God and Atheism Published on Feb 11, 2013 Lee Strobel interviews philosopher and scholar Antony Flew on his conversion from atheism to deism. Much of it has to do with intelligent design. Flew was considered one of the most influential and important thinker for atheism during his time before his death […]

The Death of a (Former) Atheist — Antony Flew, 1923-2010 Antony Flew’s rejection of atheism is an encouragement, but his rejection of Christianity is a warning. Rejecting atheism is simply not enough, by Al Mohler

Discussion (1 of 3): Antony Flew, N.T. Wright, and Gary Habermas Uploaded on Sep 22, 2010 A discussion with Antony Flew, N.T. Wright, and Gary Habermas. This was held at Westminster Chapel March, 2008 ______________________ Making Sense of Faith and Science Uploaded on May 16, 2008 Dr. H. Fritz Schaefer confronts the assertion that one cannot believe […]

__

Advertisements
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: