Oscars Challenge #35: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014) Movie Review
The thing about movies or just how you like them sometimes depends on how beautifully it was shot. Some have great sceneries from different places, and some may have a historical significance that tells an important story. It can have a mid-tier story yet because of how incredible the cinematography is you just feel captivated.
The thing about Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance is that it combines both a good story and beautiful cinematography. The movie lets you feel like whole this is shot in just one well-arranged take.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a former superhero movie actor that played the character Birdman. In some instances, he hears the character's voice telling or instructing him what to do and he starts visualizing himself doing what a superhero does like levitation or telekinesis. To regain his reputation, he writes, directs, and stars in a Broadway adaptation of a story called What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
The day before the first preview a light fixture fell upon one of Riggan's co-stars injuring him and is forced to not participate in the play. One of the actresses, Lesley (Naomi Watts) suggested replacing him with her boyfriend, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). During the first preview, everything went disastrous. Mike replaced the prop water with gin, attempts to rape Lesley, and comments that the prop gun is not real. This leads to a brawl between him and Riggan after reading in a newspaper during Mike's interview that he stole his reasons on why he did the play. The producer and also Riggan's lawyer, Jake (Zach Galifianakis) persuades him to continue the play. Riggan then met with her daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering drug addict, but discovers that she is still using marijuana. Angry, she tells him that the reason he did the play is to satisfy his vanity.
During the final preview, Riggan accidentally locks himself outside after discovering Sam and Mike kissing while his robe is stuck in the fire escape door. Desperate to continue the play he walks through Times Square with his underpants. He enters through the audience entrance to do the final scene. Sam was waiting in the dressing room worried while showing his father viral footage of him walking through Times Square almost naked. Despite all of this she mentions that this will help his career.
Riggan went to a bar to grab a drink when he met Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsey Duncan), a highly renowned theater critic. She promises to kill his play with bad reviews even without seeing it. This enrages Riggan and threatens her. He goes home disappointed and drank a bottle of whiskey before passing out. The next morning, with a terrible hangover, the Birdman persona tells him to abandon the play and instead make a fourth film. He imagines himself flying across Manhattan all the way to the theater.
During the opening night, Sylvia (Amy Ryan), visits Riggan in the dressing room and the two revealed several confessions about themselves. When she leaves, he picks up a real gun that he swapped with the prop gun to be used on the stage. As the play goes to climax, he shoots himself in the head with the audience reacted in a standing ovation. Riggan survives and is now admitted to a hospital. He shot his nose apparently and was surgically repaired. Tabitha, the critic, published a great review regarding the play calling the suicide attempt just what the American theater needed. Sam visits him and snaps a photo of him to show to his followers on Twitter. She then steps outside followed by Riggan going to the bathroom to remove the bandages covering his nose and says goodbye to Birdman who in a turn of events once again appeared in the bathroom with him. The movie ends when Riggan opened and stepped out of the window. Sam arrives and notices that her father is not there. She looks outside the window and smiles.
If you ask me how I feel after watching the movie, I honestly feel satisfied and at the same time disappointed. Satisfied because the whole story is like something that you can say is unique. It's very unusual and created a very unique sense of accomplishment. It is like looking at a good piece of artwork even though you don't typically understand the meaning of it. I kind of feel disappointed because it has a very open-ended ending. It leaves you with more questions than answers. But I guess sometimes you need some of those like No Country For Old Men or Inception for example.
So, did Riggan commit suicide at the end of the movie because his first attempt is unsuccessful? Why did his daughter smile while looking up at the sky? The movie just ends with questions.
But one thing that you cannot take away from this film is that it is a work of a genius. I mean from the start to the end you just feel captivated not by the sheer scale of production sets or the wide array of actors but by how brilliantly it was executed. It's like you are on a car ride going across the countryside and you see the different views or sceneries that are just like the film itself, you don't want to stop.
The premise of the story is not too enticing. Even the title is kind of like a facade of what the movie can offer. But then again just like the Birdman persona that has been haunting Riggan, you need to look into or accept the reality so that you can accept it.
All the actors and actresses in this film deserve a huge round of applause, Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, and Edward Norton all acted naturally in this brilliantly executed masterpiece.
The message of the film is clearly finding one's identity. We sometimes see ourselves as our own superheroes of society that sometimes we get engulfed with the thought that being one makes us better. And once we have lost that thought, we also lose our confidence and soon our identity as well. Maybe when we look deeper into ourselves we picture ourselves like how Riggan identifies his Birdman persona. We want something more or just simply want what satisfies our desires.
If you like movies that are uniquely written or have that unusual vibe, then this one is definitely for you. Plus it contains a star-studded cast so you may pretty much have seen some of them from other films.
I say for its brilliant cinematography, marvelous acting and terrific musical score, I will give this a solid 4 out of 5 stars.