“Yes sir, I am a tortured man for all seasons, as they say, and I have powerful friends in high places. Birds sing where I walk, and children smile when they see me coming.”–Hunter S. Thompson
One day, we will all be dust. Cryptic thought, but yet the truth. Until that day comes when we enjoy our last breath, we just want to be loved, make our mark and cease to be forgotten. After achieving personal success in our personal or professional lives, reality comes knocking with the dilemma that we might not be as relevant as we once thought, and maybe we will fade away unnoticed.
This dilemma is very real to Riggan Thomson played by Michael Keaton of Batman (1989) in award winning black comedy/drama, Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014). Thomson is a washed-up blockbuster actor, famous decades earlier for portraying the popular superhero Birdman. Riggan in the desperate hope of reinventing and jumpstarting his career once more, writes, directs, and stars in a tense Broadway adaptation of author Raymond Carver’s popular short story, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
Riggan is surrounded by supportive eccentrics such as best friend and lawyer, Jake, (Zach Galifianakis of The Hangover ), Riggan’s girlfriend, Laura, (Andrea Riseborough of Oblivion ), and needy actress, Lesley, (Naomi Watts of Tank Girl ). Fighting with many personal regrets from his past and the pains of production, Riggan struggles to mend his strained relationship with recovering addict and outspoken daughter Samantha, Emma Stone of The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) and Broadway bad boy and seeker of true art, Mike, Edward Norton of The Incredible Hulk (2008).
If Riggan didn’t have enough on his mind, the film dives into magic-realism storytelling as he also has bouts of telekinesis and the voice of his alter-ego from years ago, Birdman (parodied voice of Christian Bale’s Batman in The Dark Knight), to deal with who constantly criticizes the man he has become like a tough love coach trying to motivate a student.
Birdman was co-written, co-produced, and directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu of Babel (2006). Iñárritu’s film has seamlessly blended genres, and comes across to the viewer as a personal and insightful character study that has the feel of a documentary (due to single-shot style) and well-rehearsed stage production. Themes explore the complexities of love and trying to maintain integrity to one’s soul while dealing with the ups and downs of the environment that surrounds each one of us. Great performances are delivered by the ensemble due to the film being thoroughly rehearsed before principal photography commenced, leaving no room for the production to improvise or make mistakes, mirroring that of actual rigors that accompany pulling off a Broadway play. Due to the storytelling style; there are only sixteen visible cuts throughout the 119 minute runtime unlike Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) which was the first feature to give the appearance of being shot in one continuous take.
Though Birdman is one of the most unique films to be released in the past decade, it does pay homage and nods to new wave icon Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou (1965), Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), Tim Burton’s Batman Returns (1992), and many of the blockbuster superhero movies that have flooded cinema since the beginning of the century.
So as we fight to find ourselves and discover meaning in our crazy lives take a break invest your time on the quirky and entertaining Birdman. If you are still pondering after Birdman, lighten up and be content with the realization with the insight Bob Dylan shared, “No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.”