Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is an R-rated 2014 comedy and drama film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. The film’s script was written by the director himself along with Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo. It stars Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough and Amy Ryan. It is the story about a faded Hollywood actor, who once was famous for his iconic role as Birdman, now struggling not to lose his career by adapting, directing and starring in a Broadway play written by Raymond Carver. The film is quite extraordinary. Iñárritu’s one-take illusion is mesmerizingly unbelievable! Michael Keaton’s performance is the winner in this one; truly one of his best. Edward Norton’s was excellent as usual. Whatever is shown to us in movies, whether relevant or not at the time, it is important to keep those things in mind, for if we ignore them, we won’t be able to come up with more than one interpretation in the end and this movie definitely has more than just one!
!!! SPOILERS AHEAD !!!
Okay, so watching the movie following it as it goes along turned out well for me. The struggling story of a once-known actor and his dream of becoming someone again is inviting. I mean, we can all understand what that is/could be like. Nobody wants to be forgotten and everybody wants to be at least somebody to someone. So Riggan’s struggles are real except for the fact that he has hallucinations and the voice of Birdman talking to him from time to time. Let’s get this straight, in case some of you do believe he had superpowers. He didn’t. They are obviously works of his imagination which made him feel like a superhero, made him remember how it was like in the days he was Birdman; made him an important somebody. Which is why I enjoyed Keaton’s acting. I also enjoyed watching Zach Galifianakis because of his change in roles. He’ll always be Alan from The Hangover to us, so this new serious role was refreshing and shows he can become more than just the funny guy from the blockbuster trilogy.
The normal-not-absorbing-everything interpretation:
Riggan Thomson once was famous for Birdman. After Birdman 3 his fame and film career plummeted. Years later before he completely fades out, he adapts, directs and stars in a Broadway play of Raymond Carver’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” who was Riggan’s reason to become an actor. Having that destroyed by Mike Shiner telling him Raymond was probably drunk when he gave him that cocktail napkin, him desperately trying to become a somebody again, his uneasy relationship with his daughter, Mike screwing up the play at first, and his ex-wife being there as a reminder of how his life was with her but now not anymore… All this depresses him and eventually leads to his attempted suicide. Riggan does not have telekenesis or can fly. It’s his imagination. The taxi scene, we can only assume he came out of it since we didn’t actually see that but the taxi’s door was open. With the promise of the critic to “kill” his play, I believe it is here where Riggan decides to really kill himself during the final scene of his play. He points at his head (at least it seems from our angle) and shoots. If the film had ended there, I would have liked it too. Turns out he failed and shot off his nose. Now in the hospital, his accident has made him famous again nationwide. One last look at the hallucination of Birdman, Riggan says “Bye-bye… and fuck you.” Goes to the window, opens it and smiles while getting out. We don’t see him jump but it’s what we all imagine. To me, this wasn’t literal. When Sam looks down onto the street then up and smiling at “him” as if he could fly, I thought this was his triumphant moment in his life. Where he has finally made it and is now free of his worries and Birdman. Sam was seeing this, perhaps not literally and the hospital scene after him going into the bathroom didn’t happen.
Alternative ending: Riggan jumped, Sam saw him dead on the street and because of that horrible and traumatic experience she immediately starts to hallucinate about her flying father, “Birdman,” with the birds in the sky.
But then again… what about the jellyfish?
The absorbing-it-all interpretation:
Remember the jellyfish in the beginning and right after he shoots himself? What the hell, right? But wait… There’s a scene where Riggan tells his ex-wife that he once tried to drown himself by walking into the ocean but was stopped from the many jellyfish that were in the water stinging him all over. He ran back onto the beach and cried out in pain. Now, a level of pain that high can easily make you pass out and hallucinate or have intense vivid dreams. It is from this interpretation that perhaps everything we saw, didn’t happen. It all happened in his dreams as he lay passed out on the beach from the jellyfish. His dreams could have been his fantasy and true wish in life of not being a failure. But how could he in his dream, tell his ex-wife about the jellyfish if that moment is happening because of the jellyfish incident? I believe that that could have been a dream within a dream. Has it never happened to you, that you dream of an event and later on in another dream (of that same night) you tell someone that you had a dream where that event happened? (the jellyfish in this case) That’s the mind at play. Also, we see the marching band, Spiderman, Ironman and Optimus Prime costumes from Times Square (when he was running in his underwear) on the same stage of the night right after his shooting. Those are dreamlike interactions. So the first time we see the brief jellyfish scene is what Riggan sees before passing out. The second time we see the jellyfish scene is when he slowly regains consciousness again. Like this was all a wake-up call for Riggan; for him not to waste away his life and appreciate it more.
I’m not saying that is the one but it is likely just for the fact of the double flashing jellyfish scenes. This is what I took from watching it for the first time last night. Next time, I will look out for more other details. I read somewhere that Iñárritu plays with the color blue to indicate when a dream is happening.
Or Riggan is dead and is seeing all this as he’s dying. There is that line he says to his ex-wife from the same scene, “I wasn’t even present in my own life, and now I don’t have it, and I’m never going to have it.” Another clue is when the stage manager’s voice over the intercom says to him, “The last scene has started and you’re not here.”
Either way, it definitely makes you think and it truly is extraordinary, beautiful and original!
Thanks for reading my review!
– Nick Andersen