If somehow Alejandro González Iñárritu’s excellent movie Birdman slipped under your radar, do yourself a favour and go see it. The writing is off the charts, the cinematography is brilliant and each one of the actors pulled off the best performance of their career by far. The movie is very hard to be put under a specific genre, but ‘human’ is an appropriate choice, since it mixes tragedy and comedy into one so well.
The movie tells the story of the failing movie star Riggan Thomson. He is a washed-up actor that used to play the superhero ‘Birdman’. Which is a bit ironic since he is played by Michael Keaton,who was Batman three decades ago. So, Riggan is looking for a fresh-start hoping to find artistic integrity and relevancy by directing and starring in a Broadway play based on Raymond Carver’s book – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
Throughout the movie, he is on the verge of a mental breakdown. He struggles to accept that he loved being the celebrity he was, that he still needs to feel relevant and he doesn’t want to accept the fact that for this to happen he’d have to use modern technology. During the whole movie, Birdman takes the role as Riggan’s inner demon, resulting in a constant dialogue between the two and his telekinetic/flying powers. This ongoing conflict makes it difficult for the audience to understand what’s real and what’s not. Perhaps the writers are even giving the viewers the option to choose.
We also get to meet Sam (Emma Stone) – Riggan’s daughter, who is struggling with drug addiction. He has hired her as his assistant, trying to spend more time with her, to compensate for the fact that he was a bad father. We are introduced to Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). He comes in as a replacement of one of the actors and is portrayed as a very narcissistic and entitled method actor, struggling with sexual problems. Because of his issues, he is also not an easy person to work with, making it harder for Riggan’s Broadway play to succeed.
We are also introduced to Riggan’s co-star Lesley (Naomi Watts) who is struggling with her self-realization; his overly sexual girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) who wants a baby; and his manager and best friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis). Even though they don’t take up that much screen-time, these characters still have a great impact on the movie.
The night before the play’s opening night, Riggan meets with a Times theatre critic named Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan). She despises him and everything he stands for, and as a result critic vs actor becomes the movie’s second central conflict. Ironically, even though this scene portrays critics as cowardly, talentless and shallow, the critics of the movie itself praised it highly.
It’s filmed beautifully – it gives you the impression that it’s been shot in one take. This makes the audience feel like they are part of every scene, in turn making the final product much more engaging and intense. Whenever Riggan is walking between his dressing room and the stage, we’re walking right behind him in the claustrophobic corridors; whenever he is on stage acting, we’re on stage acting with him; whenever he is feeling anxious, we’re feeling anxious with him. All of this is accompanied by a syncopated jazz beat as a soundtrack (composed by Antonio Sanchez) which is so good that it makes your body feel every drum beat, contributing to the intensity. Combining the realistic style of filming with the soundtrack results in an unforgettable experience.
Despite the fact that a lot of people dislike the movie – they find it pretentious since it suggests that overly commercialized art is not “true” art – it’s still a movie everyone can relate to. Not because we are all Broadway actors, but because we all struggle with something in our lives. Also, the conflict between Riggan and Birdman can be seen as a very good analogy for the conflict between a person and their ego, and well… we can all learn something from that.
Finally, Birdman tells a heartbreaking story, filled with self-deprecating jokes (the main one being that the three main characters are played by actors that have all starred in major superhero movies) and many tragic moments. And when it ends it will make you want to believe that a man can fly. And you’ll surely want to watch it again, just to see the little details that you’ve missed.
By Illyan Garnev