My first impression after sitting through Birdman directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and staring Michael Keaton as the star character Riggan Thomspon/Birdman was “what a strange movie.” My second impression was “I understand why the Academy Awards awarded this movie with Best Picture of 2014.” I’ve seen 3 of the 8 nominated pictures, now this will be the forth. And the 3 that I’ve seen (American Sniper, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Imitation Game) I enjoyed immensely. But in all honesty, how could the academy bypass a satirical, dramatic, superbly performed commentary on acting, theater, and Hollywood movie making? Most artists enjoy artistic movies that comment output themselves.
I don’t say this often because I actually like artsy films, but this film was a bit too artsy fartsy for me. There was too much I didn’t get, and I knew it when I was watching the movie, which isn’t always a good sign. Was there too much experimentation? I don’t know. There were quite a few long winded moments when the camera would pan the burgundy painted hallways of the theater or remain fixed on a stairwell for a few seconds longer than expected. I realized in those moments that the film was trying to convey something that I simply did not understand. It was like standing in front of a piece of abstract, contemporary art where you stare and say, “uh… ok…” The nudity and sex felt like it was put in to shock or give the impression that “we’re doing this because we can” instead of it really being essential to telling the stories of the actors in the film. The music was also very experimental, but even though I found it to be distracting and a little too modern jazz for my taste, it fit the movie wonderfully. The music, with it’s frenzied beats set the mood and enhanced the storyline in the way that a soundtrack should.
I found the whole birdman concept within the main character to be very intriguing. I liked how you are convinced at the beginning that this guy really could be a fallen super hero who got disenchanted with his life and decided to become a theater actor. (Crazier things happen in real life.) But as in The Black Swan (another fascinating yet disturbing movie) you gradually realize that these things you think are super powers may actually be delusions. The end was a bit more ambiguous than I was expecting, but I liked that because it allowed the movie to be interpreted as the audience wants. So, was he really a man with super powers or simply delusional?
I had mixed feelings about the presentation of the big message in the movie. It’s difficult to tackle a subject as complex as of being an actor struggling to create art and be appreciated as an artist in our contemporary, ever changing, fickle, instant gratification society and the irrational desires people have to make a difference for others. Many of these subjects were conveyed too subtilely in the cinematography and some other areas of the film and a little too heavy handed in much of the dialogue and interaction between the characters. One such scene between Riggan and his daughter left the movie goer part of me thinking, “Thank god. So that’s what this story is about.” But the writer in me was disappointed thinking, “Did it really have to spell it out so obviously for me to get it?” It left me wondering whether or not the the audience had to be told the point outright because the artsiness of the film was too subdued to make the point instead.