Before I begin, I would like to state that I did not quite know what to expect from this film prior to seeing it. I had never been exposed to the work of Alejandro G. Iñarritu, but I had been told that his films tend to draw along the lines of the art film. Moreover, I expected that Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), would not possess a strong storyline or central themes, but would have a high reliance on visuality and a plot-driven narrative. Having said that, Birdman certainly fell into said characteristics pertaining to the art film, especially in the film’s final act. However, in the first half of the film, Iñarritu brilliantly combined the artistic experimentation of the art film while taking a critical view of the entertainment industry and the ways in which an actor’s struggles for fame are enough to drive him or her mad; the grand possibilities that fame promises are often illusory.
The story followed veteran actor Riggin Thompson (Michael Keaton) who became a household name after landing his breakthrough role as the superhero “Birdman” in the 1980s, and was never able to match his success after famously turning down a fourth sequel to the franchise (which is almost comparable to Keaton’s success as Batman in 1989, and how he never really maintained his success after leaving the coveted role following Tim Burton’s departure as the director of the first two films). In the hopes of reclaiming his lost fame and credibility as an actor, Riggin decided to write, direct, produce and star in a Broadway play in hopes that the success will likely become the catalyst he needed to return to Hollywood fame. Unfortunately, conflicts plagued the production, which drives Riggin further into madness as the outcome of failure was seemingly drawing ever closer.
Birdman featured several well thought-out and memorable characters that contributed to the overall chaotic nature of the setting and the overall representation of the personalities that one finds surrounding both the creative, financial and media–based aspects of the entertainment industry. Supporting cast members include Edward Norton, who played method-actor Mike, whose egocentric, lewd behaviour and work ethic often brought the framework of the play that Riggin had meticulously strove to achieve into an increasingly fragile and unpredictable state. Emma Stone played Riggin’s daughter and condescending assistant, Sam, who had recently come out of rehab, and resented her father for being regularly absent from both her and her mother throughout her upbringing. Finally, Zach Galifinakis provided light comic relief as Riggin’s associate producer, who desperately tried to bring Riggin out of his insanity and boost his confidence in his ability to make this play work and, more importantly, not draw negative publicity concerning Riggin’s well-being which could ultimately alienate viewers from going to see the play.
The first half of the film excellently conveyed the themes of fame, egotism, publicity, and the loss of artistry in and amongst the process of successfully opening the play without any issues. The second half, unfortunately, took a completely different direction, which resulted in the loss of the main arguments and storylines that were established in the first half. I felt as though the ending of the film was an example of the art film director’s blatant refusal to create any form of closure or coherence in this story, despite the fact that the writers of this film put a great deal of effort into creating the wide variety of unique characters, conflicts, themes, settings and storyboards (especially the cinematography, which comprised of a series of long tracking shots to create the atmosphere as the camera followed the characters throughout the theatre as they interacted with one another, and contributed to the chaotic nature of the various conflicts taking place throughout the setting as they occurred without any interruptions that would suggest a jump in the timeframe of the storyline).
Overall, despite the brilliant performances, thought-provoking themes, and artistic tendencies featured in this film, Birdman would have benefitted from a more unified (and even realistic) conclusion, furthering its success as a critique on the star system, the entertainment industry, and the media. In my opinion, I don’t feel as though it was worthy of the four Oscars it received, but it was nevertheless highly original and I look forward to any future attempts by Oscar recipient Alejandro G. Iñarritu.