Following my friends into the cinema, we were about to get tickets for Birdman. I knew three things about this film: it starred Michael Keaton and Emma Stone (to name a couple), was labelled as a black comedy, and included a plot that was ‘about some man that dresses up as a bird’ (quote taken courtesy of my younger sister when I told her which film I’d be watching).
I always like to walk into a film not really knowing anything about plot, setting, trailers, or terrible/rave reviews. So I sat down in my cinema seat, opened my bag of popcorn and let director Alejandro González Iñárritu lead me wherever he wished to take me.
The film is about an actor, named Riggan (played by Michael Keaton), who was formerly on top of the world: everyone knew his name, everyone praised him as an actor and cast him in big blockbuster movies. Now retired from his major film role ‘Birdman’ (a superhero that can fly and cause explosions and move objects with his mind), he has taken to the broadway stage to direct and star in a play, hoping to relaunch himself as a Hollywood star.
What we’re given is a play within a film within a reality. Confused? Basically, Birdman/Riggan reminds me of what could be Michael Keaton himself. Now, I know Michael Keaton because he played Batman in the 1980s. Have I seen another Michael Keaton film? I don’t think so, but that’s mainly my fault as I haven’t watched every film in existence (a fact my film degree does not like). So I’m sorry to say that I
could see parallels between Riggan and Keaton.
Riggan, Keaton’s character, is known primarily as his role as Birdman (sounds a little like Batman, no?). He takes a risk, telling us and everyone and anyone that will listen (including a less than happy critic) that this play is everything to him. If it’s a failure, he too will become a failure. Part of me thinks that we are supposed to think the same thing about Keaton and his role in this film (don’t worry, Keaton is not a failure with this film).
A great cast joins Keaton: Emma Stone plays his ‘just got out of rehab’ daughter, Edward Norton plays his loved-by-all-critics-and-audiences co-star, Zach Galifianakis plays his agent in what may be Zach’s most serious role (although I’ve only seen him in The Hangover to be fair), and Naomi Watts plays the desperate-to-fulfill-her-dream-as-Broadway-star actress.
What we’re forced to witness is an actor who wants fame and recognition – but only through talent. He doesn’t want to be known as Birdman forever. It is Birdman that haunts Riggan when he feels hopeless and disappointed with the lack of appreciation he achieves, or the lack of support he gains. At one point his daughter tries to introduce him to the online world, where viral videos can seemingly make anyone a star, but Riggan wants none of it. He simply wants to create a play which people will love: he wants critics and audiences to realise his talent and his efforts, and add him to their list of talented actors.
It’s because of this that Riggan stops at nothing to get it right on opening night. At previews a few mistakes are made, but these only add to the drama of the play’s plot, not it’s reception.
But it’s only when a hard to please critic tells him that his play is not art and that she’ll “destroy” his play in her review that Riggan makes the ultimate sacrifice for the success of his play.
A film with so many shots that lack cuts between them really shows just how stellar the cast are. The backstage behind-the-scenes shots we’re given of the play and Riggan’s cast create a realist tone, yet Riggan’s powers and our uncertainty as to whether they actually exist or whether they exist only in his mind creates a creative surrealism. Surreal in a few moments, and deadly serious in the next, this film is truly a piece of art.
Saying that, I don’t think the majority of movie-goers will appreciate this film as much as those that go to see independent movies would. I don’t want to deter people from seeing this film: it’s interesting, it’s entertaining and it keeps the brain active (things I always love about film). Although there’s the superhero Birdman, it’s not a Hollywood action film. There are love interests in the film but it’s not a romance. There are dramatic and comedic elements but it’s not a drama or a comedy really.
But then this may be what is so captivating of the film. Brushing the surreal moments aside, the film is somewhat relatable in what could be argued as its central message.
Riggan wants the appreciation and the admiration from people that he feels he deserves. He puts the hours in, he uses his finances to fund his play – the one thing he prays will give him the recognition he deserves as an actor. And surrounding this and himself is the crazy chaos and the unexpected from his cast, family and the play.
So Birdman is basically life itself. We dream and hope for the best while life throws it’s unexpected plot twists at us. Birdman also represents the daring, creative people of the world risking it all to bring us entertainment, creativity and inspiration. I admire those people like Riggan and director Iñárritu, who himself has delivered a creative and innovative movie.