Monday, January 26, 2015

Birdman Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

I had a vested interest in watching Birdman because it's about a former superhero actor who is cracking up and almost 9 years ago now I wrote a novella about, wait for it--a former superhero actor who is cracking up.  Beyond that the two stories don't really compare, but obviously I wanted to see for myself just how similar or dissimilar they were.

This was the kind of movie where afterwards I thought, "What the heck was that about?"  A movie that odd I know is supposed to be dripping with deep meaning and thus I have to try to come up with some kind of deep meaning out of it beyond, "When it comes to suicide, if your first attempt fails, try try again!"  Because I'm pretty sure that's not what the filmmaker wanted me to think, even if it was accurate.

Eventually I came up with an old-fashioned deep meaning that goes back to ancient Greece and stuff:  You can't fight your fate!  Like in Oedipus Rex where it was foretold he would kill his father and marry his mother so his father had the baby sent out to a mountain to die but the kid grew up and ended up killing his father (whom he didn't know as his father) and marrying his mother (whom he didn't know was his mother).  Thus by trying to avoid fate, the father had brought it about, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy.  (Though the real message is like in the Austin Powers movies, if you're going to kill someone, just do it and be done already!)

There's no murder or incest in this movie because that's not the fate for former Birdman star Riggin Thomson (Michael Keaton essentially playing himself in a comeback bid which ironically is like when Robert Downey Jr. essentially played himself as Tony Stark and made his comeback bid as Iron Man.)  Riggin is trying to avoid the fate of the has-been, fading away until only echoes remain in Trivia Pursuit questions or merchandise sold on eBay.  He doesn't want to become a joke like say my hero Bill Shatner or Gary Busey or a multitude of other celebrity has-beens.

To avoid this, he decides to write, direct, produce, and star in a Broadway play based on the Raymond Carver story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love."  I haven't really read any Carver; all I know is that he's not Raymond Chandler.  Anyway, the idea is that this will be his big chance to show everyone that he's not just some has-been joke, that's he's a serious artiste.

And yet events undermine all of Riggin's attempts to be serious.  First his lead actor (Edward Norton who also was a superhero once upon a time) gets drunk on stage during one performance, followed the next night by displaying a huge boner.  When he's frustrated with his actor's antics, Riggin goes out to smoke a cigarette only to get his robe caught in the door and end up running through Times Square in his tighty-whities, which of course breaks the Internet.

Even his attempt to make a last grand gesture on stage fails with tragi-comic results.  Thus my supposition that the more Riggin attempts to not be a pathetic joke, the more he ends up becoming one.  Had he not staged the play, he could have just gone gently into that good night, just faded away into obscurity.  By staging the play, he ends up getting a lot of attention, but not really in a good way.  He becomes the punchline he tried not to be.

That's how I saw it anyway.  A movie like this I suppose you can come up with all sorts of interpretations or theories.  I haven't seen most of the "Best Picture" nominees so I can't tell you if this is the best picture of the year, but I enjoyed it and obviously it made me think.  My main criticism is that we should have seen more of his Birdman career just to have something more than a poster to weigh his present against.  You know, like start the movie with an old clip from his movie, but maybe that would have cost too much money.  The only other thing is that Zach Galifinakis seemed too young to be Riggin's lawyer best friend.  I mean he would have been what in his early 20s back when Riggin was at peak superstardom?  I'm just saying.

It's worth watching and now it's in wide release, so go check it out. (3.5/5)
Here's an appropriate song from another Has Been:


  1. I haven't seen Birdman but it's on my list. I've seen Selma, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, and Boyhood. I still need to knock off American Sniper. If I can get Birdman and American Sniper off my list, I think I'll be ready to weigh in on Academy Awards.

  2. I do want to see Birdman, as it looks both weird and good.

    Unfortunately, I haven't seen any of the Best Movie nominees at all.

  3. I haven't seen them all either but I love thoughtful movies like this.

  4. I really liked Birdman and want to see it again. I think part of the point is that before the debut of the play, everyone had already written him off as a poser/joke. The scene with the critic is central and her shift in perspective. Which is all I'll say because I don't want to leave spoilers.



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