Birdman Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance) (15)

Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu

Cast: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts

“Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.”

Back in the ‘90s, the superhero of the hour was Birdman. Birdman was a massive box off smash, the franchise ran for 3 films and made Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) a major star. But now his hero days are over and Thompson is a has-been desperate to recapture some credibility by putting on a Broadway play called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.”

But Birdman has never really left Thompson and he still ‘speaks’ to him from his subconscious via hallucinations – kinda like a superhero Gollum who taunts him to return to his blockbuster film series and forget his Broadway dreams. Oh, and he’s also given to thinking he can fly and move objects with his mind… maybe it’s the stress of having a high maintenance leading man for his play in Mike (Edward Norton), an on/off flirtation with his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan), a maybe pregnant girlfriend Laura (Andrea Riseborough) and a daughter with a drug problem Sam (Emma Stone).

Throw into the mix an influential arts critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), who tells Thompson that she ‘hates Hollywood celebrities who pretend to be actors’, and promises she will “kill” his play with a negative review and stand back as the fireworks kick off. The resulting meltdown is a visceral, vital viewing experience – you literally can’t look away as the tension cranks up in the run up to opening night.

Keaton is on top form and must surely be in with an Oscar shout in the lead role, but all the cast go for it with manic energy and the result is a film that grips you, traumatizes you in the best possible way and then leaves you wondering ‘what just happened’.

My wife really enjoyed the film too, especially the incredible tracking cinematography that often makes it feel like a claustrophobic single shot narrative throughout.

The underlying ‘art’ versus ‘entertainment’ struggle is deftly handled (the delicious irony of a movie about a play, championing the virtue of art by leaving the world of cinema behind is exquisite).

Birdman tells Thompson at one point “People, they love blood. They love action. Not talky, depressing, philosophical stuff” and causes the world of the Birdman movies to crash into ‘real’ life with helicopter gunships, alien robots and buff commandos bursting into existence. This brief action packed special effects scene is awesome in itself but it also – much like The Player did with it’s Bruce Willis fake ending shows that there are a great number of people who are only looking for a cheap thrill rather than meaning.

This is a film for art lovers and films fans alike – a must see!

Thinking material:

Birdman is a film that presents a lot of material that will resonate with men of various ages – the inner drive and ego that guys’ draw their sense of worth from is one of the strongest. Do we have an inner voice (as personified in the film by the Birdman superhero) that taunts us, makes us feel that we’re not accomplishing all we should or challenges us to give up our dreams and settle for what we know?

Being a man in the current age is tough, no doubt about it, but it would be easier to move forward with confidence if we had a ‘positive’ internal reference point to call o, rather than being held hostage to voices from our past – and I’d argue that is exactly what God wants to give us in the form of the Holy Spirit!? (part of God you can have with you all the time – kind of like how a Jedi would refer to The Force)…

How do you measure your actions? What sources of inspiration and invigoration do you draw upon? Don’t rely on the ‘unexpected virtue of ignorance’ – engaging with the here and now is essential and Birdman is one of the best ‘thinking’ movies to hit the screen in a long time.

CVM Rating: ***** 5 out of 5 stars

Related Films: Fight Club, The Player, 21 Grams, Nightcrawler