Birdman: Two movies in one

CP   | Photo Credit: GRJGM

Are you the kind who is expecting to watch a superhero film given the title of this film — Birdman? Or someone who is looking for a deeper meaning (like The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)? Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is what you want it to be.

It is kind of redundant and futile to review Birdman because it mocks at the very idea of criticism, especially the tendency of critics to deconstruct art with a series of adjectives… lazy labels, as Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton better get the Oscar this year for Best Actor), the frustrated artist, screams at the critic in one of the many outstanding scenes in the film.

A thing is a thing and not what is said of it, says a prominent sign in the green room that reminds you throughout the film that interpretations simply do not matter.

Inarritu’s previous films Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel and Biutiful are all explorations of life and death, experiments with linearity and chronology of events as they try to examine cause and effect, the interconnectedness of the universe — deeply profound, depressing and dark. This time, the master filmmaker springs a surprise, like he’s finally figured it out — the Birdman is an epiphanic statement about the point of life, meaning and art, of course.

Genre: Comedy
Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu
Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis
Storyline: fading star most known to have played a superhero needs to bounce back with his Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.

After making four award-winning, critically acclaimed arthouse films, maybe Inarritu has realised that it’s not really about making something a few will appreciate before figuring out where to go for their cake and coffee when it’s over. So, Innaritu lays it down for them simple this time, saying: All right, you lazy dumb popcorn-munching idiots, here’s a linear superhero film with a lot of laughs, told with pace, urgency and histrionics because subtlety doesn’t seem to get through your thick empty skulls.

Not that he’s kind to the critics and the patrons of high art. To them, he says: All right, you pretentious movie snobs who are going to kill me for making a funny film because comedy is low art, here’s a pretentious little title and a few clues that will help you see the meaning you seem to be searching for, so that you can use a few more adjectives.

Birdman returns to the very basics of art — the sacred stage where it was born. Where there were no second takes. And to adapt to the form of theatre, he borrows a few techniques — like seamless start to finish cinematography (executed with a few cheat cuts, of course), a very basic drums score and the basic outline of Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, the Broadway production that forms the backbone of the film, one that turns meta as the film progresses.

The cast of characters he picks for Birdman are all battling their roles/masks.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a jaded fading star best known to be the face of the Birdman movies (Incidentally, Keaton was Burton’s Batman and turned down the third film because it wasn’t dark enough) wants validation, acceptance and relevance again after turning down a profitable franchise because he just wanted to be a real actor. Mike Shiner (Edward Norton who plays this flawlessly without a single false note or wrong beat) is a popular Broadway actor who doesn’t really care about what they think. He seems like the antithesis to Riggan because he doesn’t need validation. The only place he finds himself at home is at pretence. The scenes where they spar make for some of the best moments in the films — this could be a conversation between two alter-egos (one man’s life is the other man’s alter-ego). Sam (Emma Stone is going to lose her Oscar despite the nomination only because Patricia Arquette spent 12 years on Boyhood) is the voice of epiphany in the film trying to hide under an invisibility cloak.

Birdman embraces the meta-narrative by becoming the duality it explores — the real and the make-believe. At any point, Birdman leaves it open to interpretation whichever way you want to interpret it because it is both. A serious arthouse film wearing a funny movie mask.

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Printable version | Nov 25, 2021 8:56:22 PM |

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