This post includes a character analysis of Abe Lucas, the protagonist of the 2015 film “Irrational Man”. Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Woody Allen, the 2015 drama stars Joaquin Phoenix as Abe Lucas.
In Irrational Man, Abe Lucas is a respected philosophy professor who moves to a small town. Despite the admiration of his fellow colleagues, Abe is a brilliant mind plagued by a deep sense of existential despair. Often, the professor feels that his life lacks meaning.
One day, Abe’s life takes a turn when he overhears a conversation in a diner about a biased judge who is causing immense suffering to an innocent woman. This sparks a newfound purpose in Abe, and he decides to take matters into his own hands.
Abe meticulously plans the murder of the judge and successfully executes it by poisoning him with cyanide. After the incident, Abe feels like a new person, and he starts an affair with one of his students, Jill Pollard.
The young woman eventually finds out about Abe’s dark secret and she confronts him. And to her surprise, Abe admits to his crime. Their romantic relationship comes to an end, and Jill pressures Abe to go to the police.
Unwilling to give up his freedom, Abe plots to murder Jill by making her fall from a broken elevator. This time, the professor fails miserably. While Jill survives a murder attempt, Abe falls to his death.
Note: For those who are interested, here is another article with an in-depth discussion about what happened at the end of “Irrational Man”.
Abe Lucas Character Analysis in “Irrational Man”
Irrational Man presents Abe Lucas as a brilliant philosophy professor who appears to have it all, except for one thing: a purpose in life. Despite the void Abe feels in life, he always has ladies wanting to keep him company.
In terms of personality, Abe Lucas is cynical, nihilistic and self-destructive. The disillusioned philosophy professor has lost his appreciation for life, which often leads him to drink excessively and start multiple superficial affairs. At the lowest point of his life, Abe even contemplated suicide as an attempt to do something different with his life.
The turning point in Abe Lucas’ life occurs when he sets his mind to kill the judge. It gave him a new purpose to exist, and the man really thought he was doing a favour to society. After ending the judge’s life, Abe was a complete new man. One could say that his life restarted after that, which allowed the once depressed professor to enjoy the simple fact of being alive.
Abe Lucas’ Character Evolution
Throughout the film “Irrational Man”, Abe Lucas’ personality suffers significant changes. In the beginning, the protagonist was just someone who lost his “joie de vivre” or “raison d’être”. However, everything changes after he kills someone.
After the judge’s death, Abe became a much more energetic person. Someone who actually seeks and enjoys the small pleasures in life. Nevertheless, his happiness is short-lived. Jill eventually finds out about Abe’s secret, and she pressures him to turn himself in. Actually, Abe’s crime doesn’t only involve the judge. An innocent person is about to go to prison for his crime unless Abe turns himself in.
At the very end, Abe forgoes his morality and decides that his life is more important than Jill’s. As a result, he decides to sacrifice her. Unfortunately for him, the professor’s plan backfires, and he ends up being the one who falls to his death.
Abe Lucas and Moral Dilemma
The moral dilemma that Abe Lucas faces in “Irrational Man” can be simplified into two questions: “to kill” or “not to kill”. Abe knows that killing someone is legally wrong and might cost him his freedom. But then, because he felt his target was a despicable human being, Abe felt that it would be “morally right” to kill him.
Since Abe Lucas didn’t have much to lose, he did not hesitate to plot murder against the judge. The successful execution of his plan gave him a new outlook on life. For a while, things go really well for Abe, but then his lover catches on and finds out what he did.
Now, the professor has another difficult decision to make: lose his freedom or kill an innocent woman. In the end, he convinces himself that Jill needs to die. So, in order to keep his freedom, Abe Lucas had to let go of some of his moral values.
Abe Lucas and Relationships
As mentioned before, Abe Lucas is a very depressed individual, but somehow he still manages to have some time to sleep around and start some casual affairs. Having said that, there are two superficial affairs explored in “Irrational” that involve two ladies from the small town school: Rita Richards and Jill Pollard.
Abe Lucas and Rita Richards
The relationship between Abe and Rita is very one-sided, she is the one who is into him. Abe lives in a world where women approach him frequently. Although he doesn’t see himself as a womanizer, Abe is not the type of man who says no to sex. So, when Rita popped up at Abe’s doorstep and threw herself at him, he decided to accept the offer.
Abe Lucas and Jill Pollard
The relationship between Abe and Jill is very superficial. During his “rebirth period”, Abe wanted to be more light-hearted and enjoy the simple things in life, and that included Jill. In other words, he just wanted to have some fun, and Jill provided him with that lightness in the beginning. Having said that, Abe was never really in love with Jill, he just liked having her around.
To sum up, the ladies like Abe because he’s interesting. Physically, he’s far from being a specimen, but these women see Abe as a fantasy. In a way, both Jill and Rita want Abe because they are trying to escape who they are. Rita is a married woman, but she’s unhappy in her marriage. So, when Rita first met Abe, she saw him as a ticket to get out of her mundane life. The same goes for Jill.
Abe Lucas is a character who represents the existentialist view that life is absurd and that humans have to create their own meaning and values. The professor is a complex and flawed character who tries to find some reason to live but ends up in a tragic situation.
Deep down, Abe is a very selfish man. Although the professor likes to see himself as an altruistic human being, he’s not. When Abe enticed Rita to leave the small town with him, he did it for his own benefit. Not for a single moment did he ever consider Rita’s husband or anyone else. That’s why Abe did not hesitate to plot against Jill when she became a liability.
When Abe killed Spangler, he did it to feel good about himself. Although the professor thinks he’s doing a favour to society, he’s not. That train of thought alone makes Abe a big narcissist, but he’s not evil. The desire to be free and enjoy life is actually very human.