A look back at the decade-defining Birdman, directed by Alejandro González, as a guide to the entertainment world and the different parts of the self. This is the Universal Theme with Keagen Fritz!

Written by: Keagen Fritz – October 14th, 2020 12:27 pm pst

Breaking down the film Birdman

Official Birdman Artwork – Regency Enterprise & Affiliates

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) has been one of my favorite films to come out over the last decade. It is a revoltingly raw look behind the scenes of the entertainment world in the form of a dark deconstruction of the many ways artists suffer for their art. While commentating on the implications of said suffering, it also highlights the differences between how we see ourselves and how the world sees us and what that can mean for one’s sanity. The film’s powerful reflective nature and meta-grounding in reality demands that viewers turn their attention inward alongside the characters and entertain the same questions about themselves.     

Will you answer the questions? Credit: Fox Searchlight 

Choosing to devote your life to being an artist in any capacity requires a commitment to the never-ending struggle against being juiced for creative pulp by those who cannot make their own. Instead, they devote their lives to making money off of those who can. It’s the high price creatives pay to be able to say they make a living off of being an artist, and such circumstance fuels an anxious battle for one’s sanity. Birdman puts us right at the center of this fight with the main character, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) as he desperately tries to hold onto himself.  

Naomi Watts & Andrea Riseborough as admiration starved actors  Credit: Fox Searchlight

Director Alejandro González and Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have become brilliant professional partners. Look at the run they had of Birdman (2014) and The Revenant (2015).  Both Academy Award winners for Directing and Cinematography. Emmanuel Lubezki utilizes many of those same claustrophobic visual techniques here in Birdman that he honed while shooting his previous film, Gravity (2013) but just applied to a wildly different environment.      

Tight close-ups similar to Gravity. Credit: Fox Searchlight           

The suffocating setting of backstage corridors, small dressing rooms, and dark theater stages guide the beautifully fluid one-shot appearance. It doesn’t take long before we’re wholly attached to the characters as they bounce off each other with elegant choreography. The camera is so tightly pressed against the characters that it creates the sensation of being inside their heads as they wrestle their art.  Being set in the competitive air of Broadway theater only magnifies the ruthless nature of a world that survives off taking advantage of the human spirit. It’s like a cold hug that says, “It’s this terrifying and stressful for everyone. No one’s figured out how to make it less painful yet”. Of course, for those of us removed entirely from any showbusiness beyond consumption, this becomes a ghastly backdrop for meaningful inquiry into the self.   

Worlds within worlds. Credit: Fox Searchlight

                            

On a more universal level, the film also questions each character’s relative importance concerning how they view themselves, how their chosen professional and personal domain views them, and how society at large views them. This full-throttle inquiry into the splitting parts of ourselves is exhausting, brutal, and leaves you soaking in the familiar torment found in life when caught between different versions of yourself in both how you are and how you think you should be. Michael Keaton’s character becomes dangerously consumed by the contradictions in these three identities as he attempts to sort out who he actually is and where his place is in the world.  Edward Norton and Emma Stone’s characters go through their own unique turmoils as they suffer from the inconsistencies of how they view themselves and how they, in turn, are viewed.

Emma Stone & Edward Norton on the rooftop  Credit: Fox Searchlight

Few films reach this level of humanity as we witness every piece of us laid out on the table decorated in sensory magic that leaves you profoundly satisfied.  Then, when the credits roll, you’ll find yourself asking; How does the world view me?  How do I view myself? What are the differences? A lot of the anxious energy you might feel could stem from those discrepancies. At the very least, it’s worth taking stock of these perspectives to better understand how we present ourselves and how we see ourselves. Learning these components will always be beneficial to success when operating in a world centered around communication, whatever that success may be.  

Don’t forget to enjoy the show  Credit: Fox Searchlight

You can stream Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) on Amazon Prime.      

If you love Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and PTN, share this article with a friend. Tune in daily to Popcorn Talk Network for the latest news, info, and discussion on the world of film. 

About The Author:

Keagen Fritz is a screenwriting and production major at California State University Fullerton with growing industry experience looking to make a living off the written word.  He currently writes for AfterBuzz TV and has his own series “The Universal Truth” where he dives into art to pull out messages that could relate to anyone.    

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