What do we talk about when we talk about Birdman, Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance? Is it the subtitle, reminiscent of a lost Luis Bunuel masterpiece? Could it be Michael Keaton's showstopping performance, replete with vibrant co-stars to play off of? Or maybe it's the biting satire on the modern state of celebrity journalism and franchise filmmaking? Actually, it's none of these things. Honestly, when anyone talks about Birdman, there's one thing that we're all talking about, whether we know it or not: we're talking about arrogance.
Birdman, at its heart, is the story of Riggan Tomson's arrogance and the arrogance of those around him feeding into and reacting to his singular focus. We're with him for the most time during the film, we're focused on his life, his interior monologue, and above all else, his reality. It's through this lens that we see Mike's (Edward Norton) narcissistic command over the play given to him, Lesley's (Naomi Watts) ambition to make sure her Broadway debut goes off without a hitch, and Jake's (Zach Galifinakis) anxiety that the play will not make back the money that's been sunk into what's essentially Riggan's vanity project. Perhaps the ultimate sign of Birdman's singular, arrogant focus is Antonio Sanchez's brilliant drum score. Comprising of only percussion, it drives the film's focus, and rules the tone of the film. It also serves as the most perfect extended metaphor for the film's importance of ego, as Riggan's the drummer that the film is marching to, and we're privy to that drummer's impressive – if not insane - chops.
So why should a film so focused on tearing down the industry that bore it, as well as poking fun at the real life images of its cast, win the top film industry honor of Best Picture? You'd be a fool not to ask that question by now, as it's peeked its head around the corner with every passing sentence, much like Riggan's inner Birdman – who, by the way, has more than a thing or two to say about the comic book franchise fad and how much he's inspired its eventual success. Well, the reason that Birdman, Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance should win Best Picture is that, quite frankly, despite the high levels of ego, narcissism, and genuine "fuck you" spirit this film has for the world it inhabits, it's a marvelous picture that dares you to enjoy it. In spite of how much it mocks the audience's tastes, it dares them to enjoy this film that's showing them the monster they've created, and what it does to the stars that they supposedly "love."
By dropping us into a story that follows the life of Michael Keaton's troubled protagonist, we – much like Amy Ryan's practically angelic Sylvia - start to actually care about Riggan Thomson's life, despite his flaws. In fact, the deeper we get into the psychosis of Birdman, the more we start to think if we know anyone that's like Riggan in our lives. Or worse, we start to wonder how much of Riggan Thomson's life identifies with our own struggles and failings. This is where Birdman's true genius lies: you show up for the meta-contextual dark comedy, filled with biting satire and a kick ass drum score; but you stay for the self analytical drama that reminds us just how good or bad we have it at times.
So what do we really talk about when we talk about Birdman, when the artifice of the entertainment industry and its egoism is stripped away? In the end, we're really talking about ourselves and how much we want to just not fuck up in our lives. That at the end of the day, we really just want to get from Point A to Point B with the best outcome possible, and more than a little bit of praise on our plate when the curtains fall. Ultimately, we're talking about living life on your own terms, and knowing the difference between when to take a bow and when to take another shot. Birdman, Or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance is a film that takes no shortcuts, pulls no punches, and provides as many answers as the audience needs to start asking the right questions; and it does so in a film that's as artistic as it is poignant. Alexjandro Gonzalez Inarritu and Michael Keaton, as well as everyone else that's aboard the ship that is Birdman's brilliance, should be extremely proud that this film turned out to be the gem that it deserves to be. It is for this alone that Birdman deserves the Best Picture honors of 2015, but if you need any more convincing, then perhaps you should take a second spin in the mind of Riggan Thomson, and the insanity of Birdman.
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.
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