A washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.
For those that have not seen Birdman, you probably shouldn’t read completely on. There will be spoilers ahead, and this is one of those films where you can’t describe it without unearthing a large portion of the plot. For now though, I will attempt to describe what I watched a week ago. It has taken me a week to put my thoughts down, simply because I do not think my words can do it justice.
Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest film, is in a league of it’s own compared to the likes of his previous outings Babel and Amores Perros. Both of those are worth watching in their own right with their fragmented, overlapping story lines, equally bleak and depressing. But Birdman is an altogether different beast, and takes on a completely different narrative style. It is practically the opposite of his previous work.
For those that have seen Birdman, I hope you are still as baffled and impressed as I am. It is an absolute technical masterpiece, incredibly well acted, a film that defies genres and one of the strangest films I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.
The film addressed celebrity status, the rise of social media, the role of the film critic, the superhero franchises, the desire to be loved and many more aspects; all of which were tastefully executed. As I mentioned before, technically and artistically it is a joy to behold. Filmed to give the impression it was taken in a single shot, set to a drummed score, you immerse yourself in Birdmans world. To elaborate anymore would ruin it for those who want to read no further, and repeat what those of us have seen. It would achieve nothing. But the ending, it left me puzzled. Not in a frustrated way, but it has taken me a while to process what I have watched.
What had I just watched? Well after some discussion with my friend, we came up with three unoriginal, highly pretentious theories, all highly plausible. Forgive the stream of nonsense about to be spouted.
1) He was dead the whole time. The entire film is a dying mans wish of how he bowed out.
I’ll start with the most ridiculous theory. The others make more sense and you will have to trust me on that. To say he was dead the whole time feels like a bit of a cop out, and fits the age old cliche of ‘it was all a dream’, but there is some substance to this to suggest so. He stated to his wife that he tried to drown himself but was surrounded by Jellyfish, he then retreated and essentially saved his own life. We see Jellyfish at the beginning and the end of the film, indicating that perhaps he didn’t pull himself out of the water in time. Additionally, the night before his final show his room was full of flowers and his wife dressed in black, resembling mourning/funeral/death type of situation. It was only after he had made peace with his wife, and with himself, that he went out there and blew his nose off on stage. Why only your nose though, if it is your dream? This is where the pretentious nature begins to creep in…
The shooting of his nose could be his literal interpretation of “cutting your nose off to spite your face”, in this death/dream like state, he wanted to prove that he was insanely committed to putting on a show if given the chance. It is defined as ‘A needless overreaction to a problem’.
Problem = Not taken seriously, Overreaction = shoot yourself in the face.
The pretension continues… The Ed Norton character is everything he wanted to be, and served a purpose in the way he wanted this to play out. He was a character taken seriously, and became much closer to his daughter than he ever could. The rant at the critic was a way of him saying what he wished he had always said to the critics. It is that feeling you get when you think of a great comeback after the moment has gone. The scene of him walking around town in his pants, after being locked out of the theatre, represents his total exposure to the public by literally going into theatre. Finally in the hospital room, his friend Jake heaps praise on him along with everyone else.
All the events are him coming to terms with his own demise. Everyone always shot him down, saying how he was nothing, and only Birdman told him otherwise. The stage-show and everything else was essentially created in his head to justify the end of his life. He throws himself out of the window and instead of looking down his daughter looks up because, well, she finally looks up to him.
Too much? Well, how about only part of it is real…
2) Everything is real until he shoots himself in the face, then he actually does take his own life.
Upon shooting himself in the face, the camera cuts away. It is the only time the camera cut away for the entire film. As I said before, in the hospital room his daughter now cares for him, critics love him, his wife loves him, Jake thinks he is incredible… it’s finally all come together. What an idealistic view, but when you are dreaming/dead of course it comes together how you imagined. The comet in the sky could represent the bullet through his head, and taking the mask off is him leaving Birdman behind, and jumping out of the window signifies him finally letting go…
It is more realistic than the last theory. However, this I believe is the most accurate…
His “special powers” and Birdman antics were part of compounded stress built up by money problems, mental issues and social perception.
The result is that he tries to take his own life, but can’t even do that right. In an ironic twist of fate, he is now lauded for it. We, the hungry masses and the media, love him for it. We tweet, record, write and lap it up. We cant see that he’s fucked up, we just see it as art. Is that not the same for a lot of entertainment these days? The most popular YouTube videos are idiots injuring themselves, the most popular entertainment shows are ones where the mentally ill are judged first and the best go through, and all of it is exacerbated and goaded on by the use of social media. That is how success is measured in a sea of likes and retweets.
Aware of his new found/restored celebrity status, he gives us one final ‘fuck you’. This time he will not mess it up. He leaps out of the window, to finally end it all. He kills himself.
His daughter looks down, and he is splattered all over the pavement. She then looks up because she’s finally seeing him what for he thought he was, Birdman.
I have no idea if anything is right, or it’s been completely over thought, but it is a fascinating film when you break it down. It is one of the great things about a film that leaves it so open to interpretation. One you want to go back and watch time and time again.
You could however just chalk it up to ‘Magic Realism’ and say that everything that happened actually happened. It’s not a bad fallback option when you realise you have spent the best part of a week overthinking a film, perhaps sometimes it is best to just ‘accept’ it…
What do you think?