Batman. Superman. Iron Man. Birdman? Most audiences have never heard of that last superhero. But with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s highly anticipated film officially released nationwide, this new character is set to become a household name. The reputation of the filming of “Birdman” is more prevalent with audiences than the actual plot of the film, and that’s for good reason. Filmed as though the whole movie is one continuous shot, it will be leaving audiences in awe. Finding a break in the filming is difficult, if at all possible.
Having been nominated for nine Oscars this past week, after viewing this film it’s no surprise why it is leading the awards shows for 2015. Before even seeing any of the actors in this film, the audience sees flashes of jellyfish on a beach. Not knowing what these literal fish out of water have to do with the storyline, the next thing the audience sees is Micheal Keaton in his underwear. In a dingy dressing room. Levitating. That’s a lot to take in within the first few moments of screen time. But the oddities that this film offers don’t stop there.
Declared by the media and society as a washed-up actor, Riggan Thompson (Keaton) has taken to directing, acting and even adapting the writing of Raymond Carver’s short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” into a Broadway play. But, with the first of three previews leading up to opening night on the horizon, Riggan isn’t impressed with his ensemble. Adding a bit of a supernatural element to this story, Riggan apparently has the power to control things with his mind. Apparently.
After taking out the least impressive actor, Riggan is in need of a replacement. His producer and friend, Jake (Zach Galifanakis) says there’s no way the actor of their dreams would just appear in this play. Lo and behold, a typical film and TV trope occurs with a knock on the door and Mike (Edward Norton) is not only available to take on the role, but he is eager to too. This trope seems to be a common motif throughout the film: When Riggan’s daughter, Sam (Emma Stone) says people don’t care about her father because he’s no longer relevant, he suddenly goes viral. With similar instances like this popping up throughout the whole two-hour duration, questions arise.
Are these instances none other than these supernatural powers Riggan appears to have? Are they just writers working their cleverness into the film? Or, is there something more serious going on? Shortly into “Birdman,” the audience hears what can only be described as Christian Bale’s Batman voice taunting and degrading Riggan. Later on, while Riggan seems to be badly handling his mid-life crisis, it is revealed this voice is none other than his alter ego, Birdman. Why does this voice taunt and mock this actor who is struggling to remain relevant? Does Riggan have a mental illness or is he having a hard time letting go of the persona of Birdman? Whether either, both or neither of these were the messages Iñárritu was trying to portray on the big screen, it garnered complete attention from viewers.
With each character having a damning or not-so-perfect story that led them to be involved with Riggan and “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” everyone seems to have something to prove once the play opens. Obtaining a good review, actually being a Broadway star, being able to stay sober, having the best performance of one’s life and staying pertinent all lead the list with what these characters want to happen to better their lives. And while it may have been awhile that millennials have last seen Keaton as the main star of the show (“Batman” is almost 30 years old … ), both he and Riggan will be relevant in 2015.
With Keaton, Norton and Stone all leading the Oscar noms, of course the acting in this movie was impressive. But the cinematography of the continuous one shot is more striking. Moving seamlessly from scene to scene and from day to day, there are some moments that when the camera pans, it doesn’t seem like it would be physically possible to do so. Viewers see the camera pass straight through a wall and move forward when a table is obviously in the way. But as is the way with movies and plays, the audience suspends their disbelief and doesn’t question where the camera pans nor how it does so. There is no actual reason to question the camera, however, because with the continuous one shot, it doesn’t seem like one is watching a shaky home movie or cell phone video. The camera remains steady and is never visible in a mirror or any form of reflection. The fluid movements the camera shows to audiences makes it evident why this film is nominated for Best Cinematography.
If there is one word to describe “Birdman,” it would have to be “bizarre.” But not the type of bizarre where a three-headed monster may immediately come to mind. No, bizarre aptly describes both the good and bad that comes with Iñárritu’s film. As Mike tells Sam she is like a candle burning on both ends, so is “Birdman.” The one shot aspect of the film preceded other aspects of it, including an extremely talented cast. And, there are many questions to ponder once the credits roll. How does Riggan control these powers? Where did he get them? Can he really fly or is that all happening inside his head? These question don’t add to the overall story of “Birdman,” but they don’t take away from it either.
A bizarre candle burning on both ends, “Birdman” receives an A-. With little information about the overall storyline, it was a trippy experience viewing a movie knowing more about filming and effects than what was going on. While Mike may warn Riggan that “popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige,” the popularity Iñárritu’s film will have among audiences won’t lower any modicum of its prestige.