Birdman (2015) – The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance
‘A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.’
An adventurous forte into Americana, highbrow, gritty, with great writing, rich visual depiction, good acting, and then some, Birdman is amongst the finest films of times, a profound look into the struggles of artistically ambitious minds against challenging backdrops, finding resolve and experiencing living with the brilliant intensity of a fiery meteor. It is no overstatement to call Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) stupendous!
The film largely follows the intense, magical landscape of Riggan Thompson’s mind, played by Michael Keaton, a man desperately seeking validation, living with the burden of his mistakes and fall from popularity, making an all in go at cementing his position as an ‘authentic’ performer. Riggan is a former Hollywood star having played superhero character Birdman during times past, who now, years down the line, strives for artistic relevancy with his venture into Broadway, an attempt at being taken seriously as an actor, his path littered with self-doubt, the challenges associated with getting his cast to deliver nuanced performances, and tough audiences.
Acting in the film is sublime; close up and often intense. Keaton does an impeccable job of demonstrating the vulnerability of a stoic man with a heaving mind; surely amongst his finest roles of his career if not the pick of the lot! Edward Norton does well to convince the viewer of his awesomeness of personality and his self-centeredness as a product of his absorption with art and emotion, a man most alive on stage! Zach Galifianakis’s immense screen presence as Riggan’s manager Jake is irrefutable, able to convey composure, humour, and frustration with brevity, holding the plot together. Emma Stone and Naomi Watts deliver strong dramatic performances. And additional supportive acts by Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan are fine.
Alejandro González Iñárritu cements his role yet again as one of the great story presenters of the age. The direction in Birdman feeds the acting well, bringing to the fore the internal intensity of the characters. The writing by Alexander Dinelaris, Nicolás Giacobone, Armando Bo and Iñárritu himself is painstaking and brilliant, working very closely towards the visual aspiration of the film. The dialogues are well articulated and intelligent sounding, very often a joy to listen to and think about. Antonio Sánchez provides the music for the film, adding flavour to the mental landscapes via the erratic jazz drumming, reflecting much of the eccentricity of Riggan’s imagination. And the cinematography by Emmanual Lubezki is particularly noteworthy as the film is made to look seamless, as if shot in almost a single take. Keeping these elements in mind, it’s not hard to see the immense artistry and craftsmanship that makes Birdman a special film.
Riggan’s quest for validation is at the heart the story. His potential nemesis is theatre critic Tabitha Dickinson who wields the power to make or break theatre ventures. But it is the artist that stands bare and courageous! Yet there’s almost a larger picture here, something neither Riggan nor Tabitha seem to be particularly tangled with, that of popularity, of tweets, of YouTube sensations, and counts of hits, all of which isn’t so much concerned with ‘authenticity,’ but rather with trying to be simply be heard amongst the incomprehensible amount of noise that marks a world with diminishing attention spans. The struggles here are then perhaps more old-fashioned; paint replaced by neon! And it seems that the backdrop against which some fight battles of performance and judgment is one that really doesn’t give a shit!
The ending of the film has sparked much discussion; no doubt an intriguing finish and one that audiences will have to think about. The writers of the film have deliberately left a lot unsaid about it and are inclined to keep things that way. What they do hint at is an understanding on a symbolic and emotional level. Has Riggan’s sucess ‘flown,’ with Sam’s look symbolically representing the tone of the future? Is Sam secretly pleased by the associated cultural relevance of being the descendent of a gone legend? None of these things can be said with conviction as there is mystery let off by her enigmatic, staring smile. The idea perhaps is to get people to think about the various nuances of human experience. All in all, provocation of thought is hallmark of good art, and makers of this film have all come together to deliver a provoking work.
Birdman is brilliant in each of its elements. Everything in the film, according to director Iñárritu is deliberate and meticulously planned. The efforts and performances that have gone into it merit acclaim, and it every bit deserves the Oscars it has won. This is great filmmaking, and although not for everyone, it is an essential for those inclined towards serious film or art appreciation.
Verdict: An essential for artistically inclined audiences.