What if an alien in the future stumbled upon Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman? Welcome to Earthling Cinema, where we examine the last remaining artifacts of a once-proud culture and try to understand what human lives were like before their planet was destroyed. I’m your host, Garyx Wormuloid.
This week’s film:
Stars: Michael Keaton, Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Emma Stone
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Production Co: Regency Enterprises, New Regency Pictures, M Productions, Le Grisbi Productions, TSG Entertainment, Worldview Entertainment
Written by: Ben Steiner
Directed by: Jared Bauer
Analysis by: Kevin Winzer and Jared Bauer
Starring: Mark Schroeder (https://twitter.com/mark_schroeder)
Edited by: Ryan Hailey (http://www.ryanhaileydotcom.com)
Original Music by: David Krystal (http://www.davidkrystalmusic.com)
Opening Animation by: Danny Rapaport
Produced by: Jacob S. Salamon
Birdman’s Hidden Meaning – Earthling Cinema
Greetings, and welcome to Earthling Cinema. I am your host, Garyx Wormuloid. This week’s artifact is Birdman Or,the Oscar-winning masterpiece directed by British prankster Ali G. Inarritu.
The film follows Riggan Thomson, a mentally ill former movie star who puts on a Broadstreet play in an attempt to jumpstart his car. What? Oh, not car. Career. Riggan surrounds himself with yes men, like his best friend, his girlfriend, even his daughter. There’s one guy Riggan doesn’t like, so he murders him with a light fixture.
They have a few previews, which is when you do a fake show for a bunch of freeloaders. Riggan gets locked outside in Walter Whities, but fortunately, it goes viral, which is good, even though usually on Earth viruses were bad. A mean critic from the Earth Herald Gazette tells Riggan she’ll write him a bad review no matter what, even if he goes on a reflective journey that leads him to a bold self-sacrifice. So Riggan gets plastered and imagines himself flying around like some sort of…bug? Bug is another word for virus.
On the day of the big premiere, Riggan tells his ex-wife that he tried to kill himself in a not at all suspicious way. Then he goes onstage for his suicide scene, but he brings a real gun instead of a prop gun. Also not suspicious. But then out of nowhere, he fucking shoots himself in the head! Everyone cheers because they’re so surprised.
Riggan wakes up in the hospital feeling much better, other than the loss of his mouth awning. The play got a rave review for its “super realism” — a shitty superpower, by the way — and now his family likes him again. Riggan tells Birdman to go jump in a lake, which is basically the worst thing you can say to a bird, since birds and fish are natural enemies. Then he climbs out the small glass door in the wall. Moments later, his daughter looks outside and sees a funny billboard.
Birdman creates a meta-textual conversation through its casting of Buster Keaton’s son Michael as the main dude. Just as Riggan was famous for playing Birdman, Keaton had starred in the blockbuster hits Batman 1 and Batman Comes Back to Town. Both Riggan and Keaton left their comic book stardom behind in the name of artistic integrity, and both subsequently dropped off the face of the Earth. Figuratively, of course, since humans were still decades away from developing an interplanetary slingshot.
This meta-textual layer cake contributes to a greater dichotomy within the film kitchen: reality versus fantasy. The movie was edited to appear as though it was filmed in one continuous shot, invoking the authenticity of live theater. At the same time, the single-shot technique lends a dreamlike quality that makes you feel like you’re falling and all your teeth are made of Jello.
Certain sequences appear natural at first glance, but upon closer inspection prove to be impossible given Earth’s physics. For instance, Mike goes from doing a little hankity pankity up in the rafters one moment, to appearing onstage the next.
Similarly, at first we think the drumming is simply the film’s soundtrack, no big whoop. We’ve all heard stick music before. But when the action sweeps by a drummer playing the very notes we’re hearing, it becomes unclear what is being experienced by the characters and what we are hallucinating because we just OD’ed on ludes.
Mike Shiner embodies the “reality” of the theater, and he keeps ’em bodies tight. When he’s performing, he drinks real liqour and tries to commit real sexual assault. He frequently berates Riggan for being fake, never once turning to wink to the camera to let us know he’s Edward Norton and the whole thing’s just a goof. While Riggan is annoyed by Mike’s antics, he appreciates the need to sacrifice in order to deliver a genuine performance. His race through Times Quadrangle in his tankini bottoms is a metaphor for acting, where one must strip away all inhibitions and let randos see the outline of your forbidden zone, or “dong.”
In shooting himself onstage, Riggan is lauded for his authenticity, if not his marksmanship. But in fact, he is simply giving people the same blood, guts and cheap thrills he gave them in his blockbusters. There is no difference between a “lowbrow” film or “high art” theater; it’s all a performance done to win valuable hand claps. This point is underlined by Riggan’s bandages. Even after being deemed a true artist, he still wears Birdman’s mask. Only now he has returned as Birdman the White. Additionally, Riggan has come to embody the character he won’t shut up about in his play, looking at the woman he loves through his stupid eyeholes.
Ultimately, both of his characters are simply costumes that obscure who he really is: a guy with a purple honker.
The ending of the film is left deliberately ambiguous. Does Riggan die, and merely imagine that his daughter sees him as he sees himself, flying triumphantly over the city? Or, having achieved success and made peace with his family, is Riggan’s flight actually real? Did they cast Emma Stone just because her eyes are so damn big?
All these question and more, answered next time! Just kidding.
For Earthling Cinema, I’m Garyx Wormuloid. Ca-caw. Ca-caw.