“Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” is a film exploring the self-absorption of actors, the nature of reality and the role of the theatrical arts in the lives of those who watch. Or it could be a movie about what is real and our own self-absorption. Either way, it is a film one must negotiate along with the characters.
Birdman is worthy of our attention. It was nominated for 7 Golden Globes, on Thursday, and garnered four nominations from the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Wednesday. Oscar nods are rumored, as you might expect.
But, be aware that this is not an easy film to watch. Michael Keaton plays Riggin Thomas, an actor whose career went off track after he played a superhero named “Birdman” and turned down a fourth installment of the series. He has taken a play to the stage in an attempt to redeem his reputation as an actor and director. His daughter (the brilliant Emma Stone) is just out of rehab and serving as his assistant. Edward Norton plays Michael Shiner, a big name actor brought in to save the play.
Movie poster for ‘Birdman.’ Courtesy/Reel Deal Theater
You might expect the success of the play to be the focus of the story. However, in the very first scene of the film, we witness a certain madness in Keaton’s Riggan. He sees himself as having telekinetic powers. he hears the voice of the Birdman in his head coaching him to rise above this and be the movie star again. Riggan has sunk what was left of his wealth into the play. He wonders if he even exists anymore if he isn’t receiving notoriety. A key quote from the early part of the film has someone tell Riggan that his trouble is that he’s always confused admiration with love.
Director Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu has filmed Birdman in long takes, with the camera often following one character through the backstage area of the theater and into the next scene. Film professionals love this kind of stuff. But it gets tedious.
Whatever else we might think of this movie, the ensemble cast is terrific. Naomi Watts is Lesley and Andrea Riseborough is Laura, the two female actors in the play being staged. They, along with Riggan and Mike, show us the inward struggle of actors who have lost their true selves to their craft, or perhaps have found several selves to inhabit as an actor. Are we any more sure of who we truly are? How much acting is required of us on a daily basis? What is reality, after all?
In one memorable scene, the Birdman criticizes the movie going public’s desire for action flicks. Later the movie critic, played by Lindsay Duncan, derides superhero films and those that she calls “pornography masquerading as art”. Such films have reduced the theater to entertainment rather than an exercise in making us think.
Birdman is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content and brief violence. It has left Reel Deal, but will be playing in Santa Fe, no doubt, for some time.