Birdman, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu

Birdman is a fascinating satire of fame and self-obsession. Set in New York, the movie focuses its attention on Riggan Thomson – wonderfully played by Michael Keaton – who directs, and acts in, his first Broadway play. Once a celebrated movie actor, Riggan hopes to revive his past success thanks to this theatrical performance. The movie traces the theatre’s life all the way through to the opening night, and explores Riggan’s thoughts and motivations as we hear and see his tyrannical ego – impersonated by the superhero Birdman he used to enact – obsessively taunting him for his failures. 

Birdman is a fascinating satire of fame and self-obsession. Set in New York, the movie focuses its attention on Riggan Thomson – wonderfully played by Michael Keaton – who directs, and acts in, his first Broadway play. Once a celebrated movie actor, Riggan hopes to revive his past success thanks to this theatrical performance. The movie traces the theatre’s life all the way through to the opening night, and explores Riggan’s thoughts and motivations as we hear and see his tyrannical ego – impersonated by the superhero Birdman he used to enact – obsessively taunting him for his failures. 

Iñárritu’s directing is elegant and daring, shooting the movie as if it were a single continuous long take. This is not a purely formal exercise, a skilful but ultimately meaningless technique: rather it enables the movie to work more fluidly and connect all the disjointed scenes in a single ray of consciousness. The movie constantly switches from surreal moments - where Riggan levitates or flies for example - to realistic ones, and joining all the scenes in a continuous shot helps create a sense of magical realism, the impression that the seemingly fantastical moments are no less real than the others. It also fittingly appears to make the actors look more exposed and vulnerable, just as they would be on stage.

Iñárritu explores with great art what many of us struggle with: feeling a sense of purpose in life. For Riggan, that purpose lies in fame and success. The irony, which constitutes the foundation of the movie's tragedy and humour lies in the fact that this pursuit is ultimately self-defeating: Riggan's search for admiration leads him to embarrassment and alienation, and his desire to survive his own death through his work takes on a suicidal angle. The movie's strength however is that it slowly expands this tension to reveal the same contradiction in everyone else. The movie convinces us, with strength and humour, that we all host a Birdman within us, whispering our presumed failings in our ears and soaring above us like a cruel hallucination.

In one of the movie's scenes, Riggan passes by a stranger overacting a passage from Macbeth outside a liquor shop:

"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more.

In another touching and seemingly absurd moment, Riggan's daughter Sam uses a toilet roll to illustrate the fact that human beings represent a minute fraction of time and space in comparison with the universe's immensity.

Birdman is a powerful reminder that we are not as significant as we would hope - or if we are, that our significance lies elsewhere than in what we often tend to value so highly.

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