BIRDMAN, or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Birdman or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (Alejandro Gonzalez Innaritu, 2014)

(also, in case you missed, from Projectorhead Magazine, Interstellar)

There’s rarely a moment to breathe within Birdman, and its hectic narrative, filled with verbal vitriol between stage actors, film actors, critics, fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, estranged lovers, and Riggan Thompson’s internal monologues with his alter ego, the famous “Birdman” (both Michael Keaton who is simply fantastic in this movie) is constantly making you take into consideration every viewpoint that could possibly be working as a force for or against Riggan’s latest project: “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love?”… a stage-play based on Raymond Carver’s story, but more than that, a last ditch endeavor for Riggan to rid himself of his face-value, box-office driven fame as a superhero and movie-star and re-enter the world as an artist. Innaritu utilizes the “entire film in one shot” to, obviously, maintain continuity of the preparation for Riggan’s play all the way to opening night, but also to show us that this means so much for his ‘career-revival’ and his need for attention that he virtually, at least in the context of the film, doesn’t sleep… ever.

The film is like one of those physics textbook problems… a box on an incline with a certain mass, a certain frictional coefficient, and you must figure out every thing else with everything you know. Birdman has a secondary title, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance because it calls into question what is the difference between the theatrical and cinematic, between art and entertainment to try to decipher what, in turn, is the same. When the crowds of New York follow and film Riggan, you hear more shouts of “Birdman” than you do Riggan Thompson. Does entertainment, an actor’s entrapment within a franchise or a suit rid him of any merit to his own acting? How much can you really “act” behind that costume anyway?

These are all questions for which we are given assertive monologues, several by family and colleagues of Riggin who are both trying to support him and ruin him, and by Birdman, who’s nagging nostalgia for Riggin’s better and more ‘popular’ days as a beloved American superhero keep trying to pull him back out of the art world, a world where he seems to not belong but badly wants to (an esteemed critic scoffs at him: “You are no actor, you’re a celebrity“), and into the world of entertainment blockbuster cinema one where his lack of acting talent is something no one gives a shit about, because… oh look, fucking explosions and shit!. They are all forces that need to be summed and calculated to reach an ‘answer’, but remain resolutely unresolved, and for good reason. “Ignorance” in this film comes from the ability of the audience to decipher what is the most it can take away from a certain film… Birdman in this way, can be considered meta because it discusses this within the movie itself, but also poses this outward towards its own audience. Does ignorance provide any virtue? Can you still learn from a film which strictly resists any opportunity to say something about its subject matter. Is the subject matter itself a catalyst for discussion, regardless of how its treated?

If you’re game for something different, Birdman is a perfect movie to whet your appetite for a transitional film between the realms of artistic cinema, and good old fashioned ‘entertainment’ and trick your brain into thinking about how you perceive one approach vs. the other.

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