Birdman: A Unique Achievement in Cinema

Directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu and starring Michael Keaton, Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a unique achievement in cinema.

Keaton headlines a star-studded cast that includes Zach Galifianakis, Edward Norton, Andrea Riseborough, Amy Ryan,
Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Lindsay Duncan, Merritt Wever, Jeremy Shamos, Bill Camp, and Damian Young. Iñárritu directs from a screenplay that was written by himself, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris, Jr., and Armando Bo.

The black comedy tells the story of Riggan (Michael Keaton), famous for playing the iconic superhero Birdman, as he struggles to mount a play on Broadway based on a short story by Raymond Carver. In the days leading up to the production’s opening, Riggan Thomson battles his ego as he attempts to recover his family, career, and himself.

By spearheading this ambitious play on Broadway, Riggan hopes that he will be able to revive a moribund career. He’s haunted by his past as the iconic superhero Birdman. Riggan walked away from the Birdman franchise and in many ways, he is seen as a has-been. A washed-up actor, maybe? This ambitious project is seen by many as a foolish move but Riggan has hopes that the gambit will pay off by legitimizing his work as an artist. Riggan has to prove not only to himself but to everyone else that he’s not some Hollywood has-been.

Whether Riggan likes it or not, his Birdman ego follows him as a shadow. There are some scenes where Riggan’s family and co-workers might look at it as his having a nervous breakdown. Is that the case? It depends on how you view it.

With the lead actor injured during rehearsals as a result of a freak accident, lead actress Lesley (Naomi Watts) suggests that Riggan hire Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). After his best friend and producer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) urges him, Riggan reluctantly hires the actor. Shiner is a loose cannon but hiring him means being able to sell tickets and can get the play a rave review.

As opening night draws closer, Riggan must deal with his girlfriend and co-star Laura (Andrea Riseborough), his fresh-from-rehab daughter and personal assistant Sam (Emma Stone), in addition to his ex-wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan).

Director Alejandro González Iñárritu and Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki on the set of BIRDMAN.

By using long takes, Iñárritu makes us feel that we are in the theater rather than just watching a movie. If one actor flubs a line, a scene would need to be re-shot. It’s certainly a different visual style but the seamless narrative is something that I enjoyed about the movie, which very well could win Best Picture.

Anchored by Riggan, the film takes a look at human existence as seen through the characters. However, it walks a tonal tightrope between comedy and pathos, illusion and reality. In doing so, it allows for multiple interpretations.