Irrational Man (M)
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Joaquin Phoenix, Emma Stone
By Ben McEachen
Finally, Abe Lucas has found a reason to live. He merrily believes it to be the one thing he must do. Before this revelation, philosophy professor Abe had been so down on living he even felt empty while helping poor people in Darfur and Bangladesh.
Woody Allen might be 80 years old, but he keeps writing and directing one movie per year. Starring Joaquin Phoenix (Walk The Line) as Abe Lucas, Irrational Man is Allen’s 46th feature film — and his latest annual release.
Irrational Man detonates a bomb at the intersection between ethical concepts and what we actually do in real life. That critical point where we no longer talk about abstract ideas or attitudes, but we have to act. We must do something. If I reveal what Abe decides to do, it will rob Irrational Man of its biggest wallop. But here’s a hint: it’s extreme. Anyway, what Abe does is not as memorable as how he views what he does.
Having waffled on with theories about how people should treat each other, Abe comes to believe that real life is another ball-game entirely. He concludes that if something feels right and it can be justified, then you probably should do it.
Some people falsely believe Christianity is like what Abe is on about. While the teachings and principles anchored in Jesus Christ sound fine in theory, when it comes to living them out, they just don’t fit with reality. Abe becomes content with saying one thing yet acting in another way, depending on the situation. In the same sort of way as someone can say they love certain things about Jesus, yet they do the opposite to those things, when the chips of real-life are down.
Like how Abe changes his own code of morality to suit himself, you or I might choose to ditch the way of life Jesus leads. We can tell ourselves that the circumstances justify it, as Abe tries to convince his devoted student, Jill (Emma Stone, The Amazing Spider-Man). They argue about what he’s done and Jill admits she cannot intellectually compete with Abe’s arguments. Even though he claims to be led by feelings, not intelligence, his smarty-pants arguments support what he feels is right.
Christianity differs to the ways of living on show in Irrational Man. While there is incredible everyday freedom offered to those who believe in and follow Jesus, Christians are not to “use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another in love.” The early Christian figurehead Paul wrote this guidance in Galatians 5:13, to help Christians understand how to live as “free” yet loving and responsible people. The “flesh” refers to desires all of us can have to pursue things despised by God and Jesus. Paul lists such “works of the flesh” in 5:19-21, including sexual immorality, jealousy, selfish ambitions, outbursts of anger, and “anything similar”.
Unlike Abe justifying whatever he decides to do, Paul reveals God and Jesus call His followers to not use their Christian freedom in the same way. Instead, giving your life to Jesus and living for Him involves living out the teachings of Jesus.
In real, actual, day-to-day life.
Jesus describes the relationship between what He says and how His followers should live it out as “If you love Me, you will keep my commands” (John 14:15). Jesus summarises his commands as “Love God and love your neighbour” (Mark 12:28-31). This seemingly simple yet all-consuming moral code for living must be lived out by those who love Jesus as He should be loved.
Just because the situation is difficult, different or hard to work out, that’s not a reason for Christians to follow Abe Lucas. Instead, we should keep freely following Jesus, loving Him and His purposes.