The highly acclaimed film Birdman follows former blockbuster star Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, whose Batman history is a strong parallel) as he attempts to revamp his career. He becomes dedicated to writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaption of a Raymond Carver work. Feeling the pressure of critics, he grapples for a good review that will help him leave a legitimate legacy.
Riggan Thomson lacks support systems as his family is alienated by his fame and critics disregard him as a real actor. Is his play just an attempt to save his name, or does he actually care for true artistry? These are just some of the thoughts that the plot provokes in its audience.
Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a lot to take in. This film is brimming with complex themes that can only be subjectively assessed. The only way to understand them completely is to watch, or re-watch, the movie and develop your own theories.
Birdman may be criticized as a pompous look into the world of the celebrity, but on a deeper level it investigates Riggan’s search for acceptance. Critics see him as a sell-out, a washed-up actor who does not understand the complexity and sophistication of real art. Riggan wants to prove these critics wrong, but more importantly, he wants to prove himself wrong.
Riggan relies upon the success of his play for renewed confidence in himself. Although he is striving for acceptance among the Broadway community, his journey is relatable to everyone who desires to leave an impact. Birdman effectively portrays this desire through Riggan’s undying passion for the play and resilience against the requests of his family.
Following the introduction, Riggan is found meditating in his dressing room, clad in just underwear and floating three feet above the ground. His levitation in this scene is supplemented throughout the movie as he often flies through the streets of New York to let off steam. Riggan also displays telekinetic abilities, frequently hearing a grave voice that mocks and taunts him.
These surreal aspects to the movie are confusing and make us question whether everything that happens is real or not. If they are in his head, then why does Emma Stone look up at the end? Ultimately, the elements of magic realism in the movie allow us access to Riggan’s perception of his own reality. We are living in his projection of reality, so yes, it is as real as it gets.
“You confuse love for adoration,” Riggan’s ex-wife tells him. Riggan’s endless family issues stem from his inferiority complex about his fame and status as a celebrity. He prioritizes his play over his relationship with his newly sober daughter, Sam (Emma Stone, better than she has ever been), and his fellow cast member in the play. Riggan substitutes the real love of a family for success and the superficial love that goes with it.
Edward Norton stars as Mike Shiner, a brilliant actor who connects being genuine with the way in which he does his work. During a preview of the play, Mike suggests that he and Lesley (played by Naomi Watts) partake in intercourse in front of the audience. He says that this raw and real portrayal would create a genuine performance that the audience would love. He later confides to Sam how he hides behind his performances and cannot “get it up” otherwise.
Riggan and Mike show how intimidating is can be to expose your thoughts and inner demons to someone else. A simple fear of judgment and rejection frequently prevents us from being genuine. Birdman reminds audiences that even people who professionally deal with emotions struggle to be intimate and genuine in the real world.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and his cinematography team give the movie a unique and new dimension. Rather than viewing separate scenes, the audience seems to experience one continuous shot throughout the film. Through this stylistic choice, Iñárritu emulates how we live our lives in a fluid chronology of events, with some being more significant and memorable than others.
Birdman is a difficult masterpiece to interpret, but the best part about the movie is that it makes you think. It accomplishes the goal of all inspiring art: to open dialogues and provoke thoughts on which we can all capitalize.