With the Oscar race coming to an end this weekend, it is only natural that we be left pondering some of the Best Picture contenders. And even so, aside from the nominations, there is one film in particular that has an ending so obscure, it has become one of the most talked about scenes this year. But why is it being discussed so much? Because of its cinematic beauty? —Maybe. Because of its stellar performances? —Somewhat. No, more so than anything, it is still coming up in discussion because we have no idea what the hell it means.
Having already won a slew of awards including a Golden Globe for Best Screenplay and Best Actor, Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman, Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a story about artistic frustration in an industry with the highest levels of arrogance and narcissism. Riggan Thomson (played by Michael Keaton), a middle-aged actor who reached his ultimate fame behind the mask of a comic book superhero, hopes to show the world that he is more than just a character, but a true actor and artist, by writing, directing and starring in his own Broadway play. But, the constant struggle between artistic integrity and celebrity arrogance keeps Riggan off in his own world, specifically a world where he has obtained the superpowers of his former titular role, Birdman. So in a film that is constantly playing with magic realism and leaving questions open to whether or not Riggan really does have these seemingly imagined powers, the ending makes total sense.
In case you haven’t seen the film quite yet, this is your warning. Here on out there will be spoilers, so proceed with caution.
What HappenedThe final scene of the film ends on an ambiguous note. It comes right after Riggan Tomson replaced his prop gun with a loaded handgun and shot off his own nose on stage opening night of his Broadway show. The scene opens with Riggan laying in a hospital bed, with his face covered in bandages. When he wakes up he is greeted with the concern of his ex-wife and the sheer excitement of his lawyer and friend, Jake. Jake shows Riggan that he made the front page of the Arts section in The New York Times, and by this, Riggan has finally reached the artistic success that he dreamed of. Soon after, his daughter Sam (played by Emma Stone) brings him a bouquet of flowers, and the two embrace, completing Riggan’s dreams even further.
It is at this point Riggan’s life seems to finally be complete. And as the title sequence of the movie quote:
And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?
So, when Sam leaves the room to fetch a vase, Riggan gets up, takes off his bandages (a metaphor for the Birdman mask he had been wearing before the artistic success that he finally has achieved). He glances once more at his Birdman alter ego, and leaves it behind to head to the window, where he gazed at the birds flying in the sky above. This prompts Riggan to open the window, take a deep breath of fresh air, and then climb out. There returns Sam, who searches the room for her father, until she sees the window open, runs over to it terrified, and as she looks down expecting to see her father below, her gaze slowly moves upward until the final shot of the film— wide-eyed Sam, shocked and smiling, as we assume she is seeing her father flying above.
Like I said before, the scene ends ambiguously in that we never see Riggan flying, or on the pavement below. We never even see him leap off the sill. But the final shot is not out of line with the theme of the film, and actually makes total sense...