“It’s very scary when you run out of distractions.”
Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) has a reputation that precedes him. As a new college grows abuzz with his pending arrival, Abe indulges in booze and philosophy to get through his days. He joins the faculty as a philosophy professor only to capture the attention of one of his students, Jill (Emma Stone). Jill and Abe strike up a friendship, but are intrigued when they overhear a story about an unforgiving judge that might pull Abe out of his haze.
Okay, so the guy has a serious drinking problem bordering on suicidal ideation. Oh, and he is impotent and has been for a year, as he tells his wannabe bedmate, Rita (Parker Posey). Abe probably suffers from Major Depressive Disorder, but that seems like an obvious takeaway. The curveball Abe throws into the mix is when he decides to kill the judge and notices a great improvement in all of his negative symptoms.
Anatomy of a Murderer
Irrational Man portrays a guy that kills not for love or for hate or even for passion. Instead, Dishonest Abe kills a judge out of sheer boredom. This begs a chilling question: Can depression manifest as boredom, so much so that it drives people to kill? I guess the real answer is that this is always possible, but it might make sense here to analyze Abe via his recent diagnoses and assess how each of them could (in theory) lead a person to commit murder.
Alcoholism – Habitual drinkers rarely think clearly. This is distilled by the fact that alcoholics refer to lucid moments as “moments of clarity.” Long-term drinking habits can actually engender impotence and depression in men, though it is difficult to pinpoint which came first with Abe since we meet him in the throes of all of his problems.
Impotence – Sometimes, the inability to do the do comes from a physical problem. “Whiskey dick” is a phrase for a reason; this could have something to do with Abe’s drinking. Then again, chronic, high levels of stress can also be precursors to impotence. Abe first tells Rita that he has had this problem for a year, which may mean that he has lost some of his sex drive, a common symptom of depression (and ironically, also a common symptom of antidepressant medications).
Major Depressive Disorder – Just called depression, it is possible of course that Abe is bored and his depression is most obvious as a bored philosophy professor having his own existential life crisis. There might be something deeper here. Abe might actually be incredibly angry. Rumors around the school allude to a close friend that stepped on a landmine, a mother that committed suicide, and a best friend that ran off with Abe’s ex-wife. Though bored on the surface, Abe may actually be brooding. He controls his rage with alcohol and is unable to perform sexually due to fear of what might happen if he becomes too close to another woman. On top of that, his lack of performance is a direct insult to his manhood, only capitalizing on his frustration.
While it may be that Abe commits a murder out of boredom, the more likely conclusion is that he is furious. He sees yet another man getting away with sticking it to a victim and he decides to act. Not everyone yells or swears or throws a tantrum when they are mad; some stew until they do something unexpectedly evil, like Abe. This is most obvious when he attempts to murder Jill after she insists he go to the police. Only someone with a lot of pent-up madness could attempt to kill his lover like that. Irrational he may be, but the lack of reasons to kill a stranger comes from Abe’s lack of anger expression, not something as harmless as boredom.