As I left the theatre, I found a grin creeping wider and wider across my face. I told my companion it wouldn’t leave for a while. It didn’t.
I got in the car and brought out a notebook I’d written in during the film, flipped directly to the center and read a sentence I’d written as I watched Birdman’s final scene play out:
It tells you things about your life you didn’t want to hear / but so often, secretly, we want to choose truth over dare / until we choose dare and get truth / and we discover what is beautiful / in truth / when it all, it all is stripped away.There were two other words following: “or . . . oh.”
That’s it. A grin, a sentence in a notebook and the impression I’d just experienced a very important work of art.
“Birdman” follows washed-up, attention-starved former superhero film star Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) as he finds his way writing, directing and starring in a stage adaptation of short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Alongside an ensemble cast including Emma Stone (daughter), Zach Galifianakis (agent/producer) and Edward Norton (actor), Thompson grapples with his professional mortality and self-worth. Like Keaton, who played “Batman” in Tim Burton’s 1989 adaptation, Thompson has drifted away from the public eye and been put in the box of his former roles. Thompson’s theatre attempt is a final push to be recognized as relevant and creative – as an artist.
Director Alejandro González Iñárritu certainly has succeeded in doing what Thompson tries to. This is immediately aesthetically evident in two qualities: the entire film is presented as if it was filmed as one continuous shot and the entire soundtrack is composed of unaccompanied jazz drumming (perhaps making “Birdman” a great double feature alongside “Whiplash”). These bold decisions allows the film’s narrative a kind of freedom. It’s so different that it is only itself.
But Birdman’s status as Birdman, a unique work of art, something to be experienced and something violently open ended, makes it difficult to talk about in this context. Most of you have not seen this film. Despite these facts, this is also the film I’ve conversed most about this and last year with other people. The people who see it are passionate about it, want to talk about it and have thoughtful opinions. I also haven’t spoken with a single person with my same interpretation of the ending. Not many films possess that unique topic of conversation.
“Birdman” is Oscar-nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role and Best Director. But “Birdman” lives up to its alternate title, “The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” in that it is far above any kind of nomination or award that could be placed on it. The film itself is so out of the box, well-crafted, acted and presented that it places itself on a higher, blissfully ignorant level. (This is particularly unexpected given the all-star cast.)
So, watch the trailer, watch the film, grin, write and tell people how wrong they are about the ending. It will not get old. Trust me.