People vested in the arts enjoy opportunities to call fictional writing, 'meta' if it is properly sufficient on their self-referential scale. On some occasions, it is a contrived effort but other times fully applicable. Alejandro Iñàrritu´s auteur brainchild accomplishes so much in its run time and there is plenty of adulation to spread around, a collective bow is deserved from all those involved. While combining elements of fellow art house films this remains a unique vision, regardless if similar sentiments have been made in modern and classic films. The extremely coarse digs at entertaining the public and show business in any arena was masterfully portrayed without becoming trite.
Riggan Thomas (Michael Keaton) is a former Hollywood darling that was adulated for playing a popular superhero called Birdman, presumably a successful tentpole film franchise that has grossed absurd amounts of money. However, Riggan is focused on a personal Broadway production in which he gets seemingly no recognition and works himself to the point of madness to execute. The casting of Keaton as a former superhero actor is obviously no coincidence, nor the personal statements the film itself makes both about actor and director. Riggan even makes reference to his Birdman character's planned sequel that was set for 1992, the year Batman Returns was released. Keaton's supporting cast are all top notch; Edward Norton once again commands screen presence in his satirical yet factual portrayal of eccentrically jaded stage actor Mike Shiner. The two feed off of one another extremely well; giving the brilliant script merit and authenticity. Shiner is the age old cliché- the brilliant yet overly difficult performance artist who yearns to challenge the grain, even seemingly due to traces of self-loathing.
On a technical level, Birdman is truly a work of genius; director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki in accordance with AI present a complex array of framing, utilizing every trick in the book. The many continuous reverse tracking shots through the backstage couldn't help but incite call backs to Goodfellas but instead of wandering through the VIP entrance of a club it is through the chaotic catacombs of a stage production. Even the simplest of character interactions are filmed in a neo-Hitchcock style that oozes style and personality, inclusive sweeping shots of the stage and its crowd. The interesting decisions made regarding this film's aesthetics and visual styles mirror that of the cyclical rotating door; the chaos of a fixed venue live performance- from the glory days at the Globe Theater to the modern high tech on Broadway, concert tours and major sporting events like The Super Bowl and Olympic ceremonies. Watching this film does not feel like going from point to point but rather making recurring circuits that unveil growing tension in the story. In this sense, Birdman is a modern masterpiece as it takes the film medium and gives it the shape and form of a live spectacle.
Poignant and darkly humorous commentary litter this script and due to the expansive ravine of Michael Keaton's range in this Oscar-nominated performance, the personalty of Alejandro Iñárritu´s vision is also carried through from Norton, Naomi Watts and a rough-around-the-edges daughter played by Emma Stone, whose character serves as a buffer to the nurturing ambition of an artist and that of a younger internet culture of today who covets recognition and power through capitalist ventures. She delivers a particularly brash criticism to the mindset of the selective elitist art crowd. The interesting thing about the various commentaries in Birdman is the unabashed fashion in which it criticizes all those in show business- executives,writers, actors and the patrons. The paradoxical, faux morality of creators and their ideals; the narrowly focused aggregate concerns of executives and investors; the cynical and selfish desires of the audience who want to watch something memorable regardless of the harm it may potentially do to others.
Birdman certainly has lots to say- from the perspective of the artist. People who are so obsessed with bearing their soul for the amusement of others that sometimes, they lose it. As the film progresses, Riggan becomes more and more deranged as he tries to gain validation from the authenticity of his production and not the popcorn summer commerce of what many high brow creators deem empty insignificant contributions in big budget superhero movies. Prominently displayed at the bottom of Riggan's showtime mirror is a philosophical quote reading, "The thing is a thing, not what is said about that thing." This remains an important mantra for Riggan and the seductive nature of his Birdman persona, which stays within him despite moving on from the character. It is a statement on not being molded or swayed to formulate to the public's expectations and sub standards about which type of entertainment they most fully digest; to stay true to the organic nature of one's artistic voice. Bucking the lazily copy and pasted labels of professional critics was an emphasized theme in the film, within both character interactions and visual imagery.
This film bears thematic similarities to many great satires and social commentaries like American Psycho, Black Swan, Synecdoche, New York, the Wrestler and Raging Bull with strong visual cues from legends like Hitchcock and Scorsese. Where Birdman succeeds entirely in its own air space is with a very specific tone hat is not overly dramatized, contains dark sarcastic humor yet is not a categorically comedic film and also is carried by excellent performances from all that feel wholesome and lived in. The struggle of many artists is to come to peace with the disparity between the indifferent coldness of consumers and the overflowing richness that resides within; the desire to project that convicted perception of life unto the masses. Many struggle with the realization that often our impact may or may not ultimately be within a practical reach. The Birdman will follow these types forever until extravagant work is created; until extreme measures create lift within the spirit or a plummet to depravity.