Entering the cinema for Birdman, the only thing I was really expecting was a black comedy. What I got instead was something much, much richer. The trailer for Alejandro González Iñárritu’s feature length is ambiguous, not only due to the wise decision to not condense the entire film into it’s trailer (a common pattern for Hollywood) but also because to do that would simply be impossible. The themes presented in Birdman are so intense that a two minute trailer could not do it justice. The fact that a large majority of the cinematic audience for Birdman only have a vague idea of what the film is about allows us to be unconsciously thrown into the world of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), his daughter and assistant Sam (Emma Stone), his lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) ,his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) and his co-stars Mike Shiner, Laura and Lesley (Ed Norton, Naomi Watts and Andrea Riseborough).
Riggan is, put simply, a washed-up Hollywood actor, who formerly portrayed the iconic superhero role of ‘Birdman’, which most have observed is a nod to Keaton’s mirrored experience in the form of his late 80s and early 90s portrayal of Batman. The basis of the film is that Riggan is attempting to take on the challenge of convincing the masses he is more than just ‘Birdman’ by directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’. But a combination of self-doubt, a lack of faith from those around him and a set of straining personal relationships result in Riggan’s growing delusion and instability.
This delusion is represented by the Birdman figure, a voice inside Riggan’s head, verbalising what Riggan is thinking deep down inside; what he is too scared to confront. It’s possible to interpret this character as an alter ego or a representation of mental illness, but a more accurate way to describe it is that it is just one of the many examples of the film bending reality.
Birdman is different to the films released this year in this sense, as audiences appear to have grown more accustomed to separating it’s films into genres – films like ‘Boyhood’ take on a slice of reality style filmmaking which delves into the depths of black and white reality, whereas the popular Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films present a twisted version of reality; added elements in the form of superheroes. It seems to be, therefore, that Iñárritu is making a comment on how our recent Oscar-winning blockbusters are either reality, or what reality could be. His own film, an odd mixture of these two genres, seems designed to criticise this close-minded attitude in the world of cinema and the repetitive patterns Hollywood seems to take.
Birdman is bold. It is not a plot-centric film. We never get to see Riggan’s play and subsequently discover whether he is as remarkably talented as he aspires to be, or how his relationships with the people in his life turn out. Ultimately, Birdman is more interested in the process than the product. Iñárritu is much more interested in delving inside the mind of the artist and how overwhelming the creative process is.
As Iñárritu has commented, the film has the appearance of one continuous long take in order to help the audience understand Riggan’s perspective. A combination of Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography and a soundtrack composed by Antonio Sánchez make us feel like we are with Riggan at all times; an external portrayal of Riggan’s emotions.
But Birdman is not a timeless film, it is extremely resonant in today’s society with it’s heavy focus on social media. Emma Stone’s monologue, possibly her best performance to date, attempts to open Riggan’s eyes to the real world. As she informs Riggan, his own struggle isn’t significant because making yourself noticed is literally what everybody is striving for.
Birdman is a remarkably intelligent film. Everything about it – it’s comedic timing, it’s cinematography, it’s dialogue and it’s use of music – all create a perfect portrayal of the struggles of artists (those working in the film industry, in particular) in a world consumed by social media where all people want, as Birdman puts it, is “…action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit!”
Georgia Berry is from a small town in England but permanently daydreams about living somewhere else. She is 15 years old and interested in art, film, literature and music. Her favourite films are Submarine and The Boat That Rocked. You can find her on twitter @georgiaberry_