Released in 2014, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a Masterpiece. Compelling..timeless..to some extent epic. In fact there are endless things to debate or fascinate about Birdman. Just let us look eight of them.
1. Alexander Gonzalez’s Birdman and Federico Fellini’s 1963 Masterpiece
Unlike most films that have a clear beginning, middle and end, the films ‘Birdman’ and ‘8 ½’ by Alejandro Gonzalez and Federico Fellini respectively are highly symbolic, self-indulgent and dream-like. Both open with a man flying. In Birdman it is Riggan (Michael Keaton) levitating in his dressing room, while in 8 ½, it is Guido (Marcello Mastroianni) drifting through the sky. Reality interrupts them, with Riggan required to fulfill his directorial duty, whereas Guido is being asked about his next movie. The former is stricken by his spent popularity and obscurity. The latter is hit by conscience whether to make a film with profound meaning, or with just the crowd pleasing romantic or sci-fi themes. Both in a way are in dilemma. In both the films critics play a central role, challenging the creative visions of the protagonists. Both endings are nothing but fantasy: with the heroes letting go off their creative impediments, and pursuing their imaginative course. Both the films were lauded with Academy Awards.
2.The caped crusader Birdman is a reference to the Greek mythological figure Icarus
When the craftsman Daedalus and his son Icarus are imprisoned in the labyrinth by the king Minos, the former makes wings with wax and feathers in order to fly away and escape. In spite of Daedalus warning, Icarus flies high, ventures near the sun whereby the wax melts and he falls into the sea. Icarus’s rise and fall parallels Riggan’s pride. Riggan jumps off the New York City building to uphold his celebrity and reputation. Riggan is unable to let go off the respect and fame he once had. This causes his career and life to come cascading down.
3. Why the jellyfish and the falling meteors
The jellyfish and the meteors represent the two sides of Riggan. The meteor is the bright star he imagines himself to be, a superhero. He is destined to fail or fall as would a meteor. Jellyfish represents his indecision and death. He tries to drown himself in ocean, but when he feels the stings of jellyfish, he is overcome, perhaps by the love for himself that he comes out of his watery grave. The image of jellyfish appearing again towards the end could probably mean that he succumbed.
4. Symbolic flower power
Roses, lilacs and alchemillias make their appearances in the movie. Riggan’s daughter Sam gets him a bouquet of lilacs when he is hospitalized. He is unable to smell them, and while getting up, he tosses them on Tabitha’s Times Review of his play. The lilacs obscure the article from vision. Probably, this symbolizes that he has finally valued his family more than the status his career had given him.
5. Lines from Shakespeare’s Macbeth
A crazy street person belts out the lines “Tomorrow, Tomorrow..” as dazed Riggan walks out into the New York street one night. The man cries out in despair and his recitation is in a slow drag. The tomorrows speak of painful infinity. Riggan fears that he will strut and fret his hour upon the stage and then be no more. The lines also pertain to his play. Riggan is worried if his theatrical adaptation of Raymond Carver’s story would turn out senseless, with no one to understand or care about. It could be all about sound and fury, signifying nothing.
6. Raymond Carver’s poem “Late Fragment”
Birdman starts with this poem as an epigraph. Ironically, the poem Late Fragment is the last published work of Carver and it is engraved on his graves stone. Feeling beloved is a crave or life’s goal that actually translates into wanting to be remembered, and this can be either a sweet proposition or egotistical nightmare. The kind of love Riggan spends chasing in the movie can be no different from what Carver talks about.
7. Parallels between Riggan’s adaptation and Birdman itself
There are many occasions when the dialogues within the play in the film get repeated off stage. The character Nick played by Riggan has this line “Shut up for once in your life”. Later in the hallway we have Jake yelling at Riggan with the words “Just shut up for once and listen to me”. Similarly the character Laura, played by Andrea Riseborough says “I guess we make choices in life, and we choose to live with them, or not”. This ‘or not’ has some parallels in the real life of the movie, such as Riggan attempting suicide a few times because of his inability to live with his choices.
8. Birdman reflects its director’s thoughts
Alejandro Gonzalez on turning fifty realized that it was at this age that one made revision to the priorities given in life. Retrospection on the mechanics of his own perception made him think them to be incredibly interesting. There was a constant bipolar relation in the process, wherein the ego seemed to be a tyrant. And he thought it a cool thing to be portrayed in a film. Thus was born the idea of the movie, Birdman whose main character deals with the pride of the defiant superhero hanging over head.