Birdman or (The unexpected virtue of ignorance) (A. G. Iñárritu, 2014)

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Birdman or (The unexpected virtue of ignorance), directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu (2014).

Score: The expected vice of snobism.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a forgotten movie star once famous for playing the superhero Birdman on the big screen. Decades have passed and now he’s trying to be taken seriously as an actor by adapting, directing and playing the main role in a Broadway production of What we talk about when we talk about love by Raymond Carver. Just a few days before opening night, an “unfortunate accident” happens to Ralph (Jeremy Samos), the weakest of the actors, and Riggan refuses to let the understudy take over. Fellow actress in the play Lesley (Naomi Watts) suggests they hire Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), who is a talented method actor also known for being difficult to work with. As opening night approaches, Riggan is haunted by an inner voice of his that craves popularity, grandeur and admiration for his talent. A voice he’s very familiar with and tries to shut up.

Watching Michael Keaton playing the run-of-the-mill actor trying to come back and Edward Norton playing the insufferable method actor has a voyeuristic quality about it. I’m not sure if the casting decision is genius or so heavy-handed it’s not even funny but there’s that. All the cast does pretty good jobs.

The most striking feature of the movie is that it’s shot and edited as a false continuous shot, with only sixteen visible edits, which required perfectly timed and choreographed performances from the actors. Rope was made as a seamless shot for the suspense value of the corpse being at all times present in the room and played around with. Memento is edited in a chronologically inverse order in order to play with themes of loss of memory. Son of Saul is shot entirely following the title character around in order to have the audience sympathize with him. You might or might not like these movies but I think we can all agree that they used special editing for a reason. I’m still at a loss as to why Iñárritu chose to shoot this in a false single take other than “because he could”.

While the movie first deals with themes of ambition, obsession with recognition and awe from the mass, it later moves on to the ages-old topic of true art, how it is only attainable by me and my very talented friends and certainly by no one who ever made a living by playing a superhero, those abortions of the entertainment industry (1). I’m really tired of that conversation and as a fellow writer I don’t want to play that game. I hope Iñárritu is enjoying both his Oscars.

All in all, it’s not especially bad. But it’s not especially good either. Way to go, butchering critics for not risking anything and making a movie about who’s allowed to make good movies, instead of actually making one.

(1) I know it’s really off-topic but I cannot help but link to this video, which I found on this excellent article, where Robert Downey Jr. decided it was a good idea to counterattack by quipping “I think for a man whose native tongue is Spanish to be able to put together a phrase like ‘cultural genocide’ just speaks to how bright he is.” It’s such a kindergarten feud these grown ass men are having about troo art *affected gesture* that I can’t even. By the way, I don’t speak any English, I dictate all of this to a very intelligent donkey who translates it and then I ride it to work.

***SPOILERS***

I’ve read several sources defining what happens in this movie as magic realism. Just because Iñárritu is Mexican does that mean if there are possible fantastic elements in his storytelling it’s automatically magic realism? I have a few reasons why it’s not magic realism.

In magic realism, several characters can do magic. Even if they can’t they can see the other characters doing magic. If nobody sees you doing magic or flying you’re probably delusional. Riggan never does anything extraordinary in the presence of other characters: when he’s thrashing his dressing room using telekinesis, the moment Jake enters the room, Riggan is actually ripping shelves from the walls with his hands. In the scene where he jumps off the roof and starts flying up and down Broadway nobody gives a shit, as opposed to everyone noticing him when he’s walking around in his underwear. Also, he arrives at the theatre in a taxi afterwards, a taxi we never see him take.

In the final scene, he jumps off the hospital window out of sight of everyone else but later Sam comes in the room and notices he’s gone. She looks out of the window and smiles. This could mean two things: he is actually flying out there and Sam is happy for him. For some reason nobody saw him do that earlier, even a woman hanging up her clothes to dry who noticed him when he was about to jump.

The second thing it could mean is: the scene in the hospital never happened, it’s a dying dream or a delusion or he’s in a coma or whatever. It makes you think: why would Tabitha change her mind about Riggan after seeing him shoot his nose off onstage? Also, someone more observant than me noticed that Tabitha refuses to give the play a standing ovation and leaves the theatre while people are still applauding. Is that true art? Blowing your nose off with a gun onstage? Or is that what the ignorant mass would buy as the ultimate artistic experience? Also, how do you aim a gun at your head point-blank and end up shooting only your nose? How has he even got a nose the first time he wakes up?

Now where have I seen this ending before? I know! In Black Swan! I love when someone preaching about the expensiveness of true art decides to have the same idea as Darren friggin Aronofsky.

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