What is the difference between love and admiration? That is the question provoked in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Academy Award winning film Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).
In Birdman we are introduced to a has-been actor, Riggan Thomson, played by Michael Keaton, who wants to get back into the limelight by directing a Broadway play. Throughout the production of this play, he must balance his job, his family, and his sanity as the premiere draws closer and closer.
The film’s greatness is powered by an all-star supporting cast led by Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, and Naomi Watts.
Birdman gives insight into the lives of actors and how they get lost behind the roles they play. Throughout the film we see Riggan battling his alter-ego Birdman, the Hollywood superhero that made him famous. He struggles with the fact that people only know him for a fictional personality, and this struggle is manifested in the delusions he has. The movie’s balance of what is in the mind and what is real is smooth, showing the events primarily in Riggan’s cracked psyche but also layering them with bits of reality.
The film’s style is very unique, shot in a seemingly continuous shot with no needless breaks in action. There are no jump cuts in life and that is shown through the editing in the film. No moment in the time of the film is wasted; every break in dialogue is charged with emotion.
The soundtrack is lively and reminiscent of the roaring 20s’ jazz beats with a drum-heavy score that picks up speed and energy as tensions escalate. The music parallels the hustle and bustle presented in the entertainment business.
This is one of the first films released in a while that feels like an art piece, and not a pretentious one. Birdman is very thought-provoking, calling out the theater industry on many counts, such as the role of critics and the difference between an actor and a celebrity. It’s not only about the entertainment business, it is also about the more universal themes of stress, mental breakdowns, egos, and self-doubt, all of which are packaged beautifully into a single developed character. The acting, editing, and music all come together perfectly to tell the story of a mentally unstable man who cannot face the reality of his fading stardom.