Birdman Rising, or The Unfortunate Occurrence of Differing Perceptions

Birdman
Photo from wired.com

Alejandro Iñárritu’s new film, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), has been getting a lot of positive press lately, so I figured I would jump on the bandwagon and talk about my experience of the film.

A few weeks ago, my whole family (sister + parents + myself) went out to the movies together. This is a fairly rare occurrence nowadays due to lack of free time, lack of similar interests, and lack of living in the same building or town. But my parents and my sister and I had each independently heard things about Birdman, and we each became interested in seeing it. I mention this for no other reason than the fact that this was miraculous – a statistical anomaly that shall never again be witnessed by gods or men.

So we grabbed our coats and our preconceptions and headed to the theater.

From the very beginning of the film, I knew I liked it. It presented this weird, surreal reality that wasn’t actually reality, full of real people who weren’t actually real trying to prove the contrary to themselves and others. Combine that with titles that use a sans serif typeface and variable kerning, and a soundtrack that consists mainly of one continuous jazz drumbeat, and I’m in. I am so in. And hey, Michael Keaton!

But as the film went on, its stylistic oddities suddenly popped out at me. Ten minutes in, I leaned over to my sister and whispered, “Holy shit, we haven’t cut yet!” And that was it. Birdman had earned my undying love. It was trying something new, it was being strange and experimental, and it was working.

My parents, however, did not share this experience. My mother in particular found the sharp edge of the film’s dialogue objectionable. In hindsight, this makes total sense. Birdman just isn’t their kind of movie. If I had seen it on my own first, I never would have recommended it to them. And that’s fine! And their experience of the film didn’t adversely affect my experience in any way. It’s just kind of a funny thing.

At its core, Birdman is a commentary on the current superhero-obsessed media landscape and our own fixation on celebrity culture. The film gets its message across mainly through the struggles of Riggan, the main character, played by Michael Keaton. This often occurs overtly by having Riggan discuss those themes out loud with his inner superhero celebrity. It’s a fantastic device that never comes across as trying too hard, and fits right in amid the myriad strange and surreal moments that keep the tone of the film lighter than it could otherwise be.

All in all, I couldn’t be happier having seen Birdman. There was just something about the film that gave me something I needed right when I needed it. The tone, the message, and the creative risks, to say nothing of the incredible performances of not just Keaton, but also Emma Stone, Edward Norton, and Zach Galifianakis, all came together in this big, beautiful shot in the arm.

If you’re needing something like that right now, go see Birdman. Hell, see it even if you’re not. We could all stand to look at cinema differently now and then, and this is just the film to help you – nay, force you – to do that.

— Mike Egan, Film Blogger

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