I grew up on “Batman” played by Michael Keaton as my first (big screen) encounter with the character was film made by Tim Burton (1989.) Career of Michael Keaton after “Batman Returns” in 1992 was mostly focused on lending voice for cartoon characters and, until the “Robocop” reboot, the only role worth of mention was the one of James Angelton in brilliant spy mini-series “The Company” (2007.) The main character of “Birdman” is a copy of real life Michael Keaton. Riggan played “Birdman” in the nineties and similarities are even more obvious by making 1992 the year of his greatest success, but Riggan (as Keaton) has another goal in his life. He wants to make something other than superhero movies and prove to himself (and everybody else in the process) that he can be a great actor. In one particular scene we can see the character mocking superhero genre and while mentioning the names of the possible actors that he wants in his play, some of them are dismissed with a sentence: “Oh my God they’ve put them in the cape too…” Disappointment with consumerism behind the superhero world is never more obvious than in that scene. I am an actor, not just some guy behind the mask.- he says. In the same time poster of Birdman is in his dressing room and he keeps seeing Birdman and he talks to him. He doesn’t know where Birdman ends and where Riggan begins. All that gave me a feeling that the more he tries to get away from the character more he’s getting away from himself.
Meanings that can be read of the movie are numerous. Riggan can’t be himself by not being the Birdman and if he’s not true to himself then he will not perform as well as he’s supposed to on the stage. By his ambition to succeed on Broadway, Riggan is sending a message to us all, acting for masses is not the same as “high-culture”. Real heart of the act is the theatre. When Tom (brilliantly played by Edward Norton) comes as replacement actor to his play, we can see “school of method-acting” on the screen. During the film, I wondered if Marlon Brando on the same way played Stanley Kowalski in the theatre, with the same amount of passion and being an asshole as Edward Norton did in the movie. Here, method acting becomes just what Riggan needs to find himself within all the layers of deception he gathered through the years.
Alejandro González Iñárritu is one of the most experimental directors out there today. He proved that so many times and he still proves it with “Birdman”. His direction of the movie is real treat and after watching this I would say that he is (with Linklater and Anderson) real competition for the “Oscar” in that category. That is hard choice for the voters, all three films are great and the decision should not be easy. However, it is always a possibility that “Boyhood” will win in the end just because of the way it was filmed. The way truly unprecedented in the movie history. That should be worth of the Academy voters, but that specialty aside, “Birdman” is very close to “Boyhood” in that category. Iñárritu is not alone to be credited for visual brilliance of “Birdman”. His cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki made exquisite work of art from the movie. His camera is following characters but it’s also flowing through the movie like and that flow pulled me in. Camera-work is wonderful and movie was to me visual trip while it lasted. Both of them made great movie, worth of watching more than once.
The cast was great. Edward Norton, Emma Stone and Michael Keaton all deserved nominations for the parts they played. Emma Stone was pleasant surprise. Her character was a bit shallow, but her performance made me feel for Sam and her character did rise above the cliché that it would be otherwise. Edward Norton was perfect cast for the role of arrogant, self-righteous and hard to get on Tom, before mentioned method actor. who is catalyst (and key) for Riggan to question his motives and ways of acting to find the real truth in himself. Throughout the whole movie we can hear drum-rolling and the drums just made the tension grow to the dramatic finale in which the second title of the movie “unexpected virtue of ignorance” came to light.
Film is full of Easter eggs for the experts in popular culture. We can see the critic of criticism, we can see critics that made their mind about something before they’ve even seen it and we can see heart and soul of performers that is so truly and without second thought, thrown at us to write and to judge, to give “Oscars” or “Razzles” or to just ignore it all.
What is that saying about us?
Are we capable of ignoring someone’s soul given to us on a silver platter?
Can we look ourselves in the mirror if we subdue to that kind of cultural arrogance? If we do, what will we see? Birdman” or ourselves. I read an interview by Stephen King recently in which he said that critics often don’t have a clue about what the artists do. In their Ivory tower of “excellence” they are blind to the passion, suffering and finally – the truth. “Birdman” seen that way is slap in the face of the Academy voters but also of the audience so enchanted with cheap thrills of CGI and special effects in which true acting is often totally irrelevant.
Who’s hiding behind the mask? Birdman of ourselves? Who is more truthful in the end?
Riggan’s transformation in the movie will not answer that question. In the moment when he looks in the mirror in one of the last scenes in the movie he will know… But the answer will not be told to us.
Choice isn’t made for us. We must make it. That choice will end the movie. Real and surreal, life and death, freedom or slavery, deception or truth… These are the choices presented to us by “Birdman”.
Iñárritu did it again. He slapped high and mass culture in the face and then made us the ones to decide which one of these are we, and depending on our answer, which one is “Birdman”? In not knowing the answer lies “The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance”, but I’m not sure are we entitled to it.