Man” & “The Diary of a Teenage Girl”
In a post-religious culture, where are the ethical moorings?
Certainly not the Bible. (It's largely ignored as a motley
collection of moldy legends reflecting values of earlier eras.)
Certainly not ministers. (Also
largely ignored as an unpleasant collection of judgmental nerds
representing outmoded ideas.)
So how do we make moral decisions?
Just do what we feel like doing, and maybe think about the
consequences later? What
In “Irrational Man,” Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe, a philosophy
professor hired on at a small college, who's an instant hit with the
students, because he's so scathingly honest.
Sure, he's also caustic, sarcastic, morose, and susceptible to
sweeping generalizations, such as, “The Existentialists thought that
all experience needs to be personal.”
Yet even his forays into Immanuel Kant's categorical imperatives
(when has that ever been discussed in a Hollywood movie?) somehow make
connections with the students, one in particular, Jill (Emma Stone).
OK, before you start internal
ly groaning with one of those “Oh no, not another
professor veering and leering toward an inappropriate relationship with
a student,” this movie is....yes, exactly like that.
Abe and Jill take longs walks together where he plays the wizened
old sad sack, and she brings her youthful enthusiasm and energy to try
to cheer him up, and though he at first deflects her advances, reminding
her that she has a boyfriend, eventually he succumbs to her charms,
after trying but failing to get interested in someone more his own age.
Our over-educated, loquacious, introspective lush has now managed
to justify that despicable behavior to himself, so why stop there?
Since he's smarter than everyone else, he can also justify to
himself a premeditated act of violence in order to help a random
stranger be rid of an unwanted obstacle.
Yes, by rejecting conscience you make a shipwreck of faith (I
Timothy 1:19). Not to
mention your relationships with others.
“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” is based on a 2002
comic/graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner.
Set in San Francisco at the height of the 1970s hippie movement,
Minnie ( 23-year-old British actress Bel Powley) is a 15-year-old girl
with a disastrous home life. Her
mother Charlotte (a very unfunny version of Kristen Wiig) is into the
free love, pot-smoking, partying, do-what-you-please subculture.
She has a boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgard), but they don't
live together, and “they're not exclusive”(according to Minnie).
Minnie also has an annoyingly nosy younger sister, and an absent
divorced father, whom she rarely sees because he lives in another city
(we meet him once).
So basically Minnie is left to her own devices, with seemingly no
rules and no boundaries and no supervision, as she enters into her
adolescent sexual awakening. At
first, it's just self-examination in front of the mirror (the nudity is
inert and almost clinical). But
then, the raging hormones attach to the nearest target, which is....the
boyfriend. Monroe can't
resist doing mother and daughter (see “The Graduate”);
even the guilt is delicious.
His clumsy occasional self-loathing pushes her away, temporarily,
but now she's ready to branch out in her experimentation, attaching
herself to a local party scene complete with drug use and
partner-swapping. The tragic
part is that she's 15, not 23. The
sad part is that she's looking for love in all the wrong places.
She says she just wants someone to touch her with tenderness, but
what she finds out there is a lot of self-absorbed callousness out
there, which is what she's always found at home.
By the time Charlotte emerges from her stoned, inebriated stupor,
and realizes what's happened, the damage is done.
We're supposed to think of this as a kind of “coming of age”
movie, a young woman trying to find her identity as a female, a sexual
being, a seeker of personal fulfillment.
It's really early feminism, because her inordinate inappropriate
attachment to her first man convinces her that she really doesn't need
men to be self-fulfilled. But
she can't undo her promiscuous behavior, and we can't un-see her
poignant story, either. The
psychedelic art work in this film lends a “Sergeant Pepper” feel,
but the content here is way too graphic for a genteel church audience.