Birdman: Or the nagging voice in your head

Thanks to the rerun of films nominated in award season, we got the chance to see Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) at the cinema last week. Watching the film was not an entirely enjoyable experience, mostly because of the persistent drums on the sound track – if they were supposed to represent a harrassed mind, or a mind spinning like a continuously over-charged motor, then I guess they did the job. I found them incredibly annoying, though, and obstructive to the drama.

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The washed-up actor, Birdman, or Riggan Thomson, undoubtedly has a lot of issues going on in his mind. The scenes in which Riggan does something which appears to defy the laws of physics (e.g. the opening scene where he is hovering, or the scenes in which he appears to move objects without touching them) obviously cast doubt on the stability of his sanity. However, he functions normally for the most part, except when Birdman talks to him. The film plays out as a representation of a dual personality. It is almost like Riggan’s subconscious also believes he has Birdman’s powers, when he nonchalantly defies gravity and accomplishes other rule-breaking feats. The film brings to light the dangers of taking on a new personality, which conflicts with, or subsumes the original personality. This is something actors do to make a living. Is it a dangerous game? Probably most actors don’t end up with a nagging voice of their character in their head. But who doesn’t have a voice in their head? Would they all be as dangerous as Birdman?

His struggle to create a broadway play is his attempt to “do something right”. It stems from his desire to do something beyond Birdman. Is the human message in the film about the ego? Does Riggan want to succeed with the broadway play because he wants to be remembered as himself, rather than as Birdman? Is it ultimately futile, as he will always be BIrdman – even in his (presumed, we don’t see it) death by suicide, when his daughter looks down out of the window he jumped from, seems not to see him, then looks up to the sky and smiles as the film ends?

Or maybe he will be remembered for himself, the actor, since he breaks through into the viral world of social media when he accidentally locks himself out of the theatre, trapping his dressing gown in the door and prompting him to run through Times Square in his skimpy underwear, being filmed on the way. Maybe in this technological age, this is how we are seen to be ourselves, through published snippets that are sometimes beyond our control. His daughter then creates him a twitter account to harness some of this fleeting popularity and posts a picture from his hospital bed. Is this, then, what Riggan will be remembered for – the last picture taken of him alive? (It is also interesting that ‘Birdman’ would shoot his nose off, the distinguishing feature of his superhero mask).

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I’m glad I’ve seen the film, but it wasn’t entirely a pleasant experience watching it. Perhaps the constant drumming is supposed to drive you to the same psychological place Riggan was in. It almost worked.

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