Be Yourself: Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Review

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Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Dir. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Wr: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris,

Armando Bo

Exec. Prod. Molly Conners, Sarah E. Johnson, Christopher Woodrow

Starring: Michael Keaton, Emma Watson, Edward Norton, Naomi Watts, Zach Galifianakas, and Andrea Riseborough. 

       A Professor once told me, that in order to be a good artist, you have to drop the ego. Then he said not completely—because you’re going to need it in order to compete with others. He often said one thing and then the other, and like the reader of a good novel, you’d have to fill in the blanks and connect the dots. Let things come full circle. In Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) Hollywood actor Riggin Thompson (Michael Keaton) a near after thought in the movie business, and a joke and a half in the theater world is trying to connect the dots as to just what the hell is going on with his life. Distressed, broke, and seemingly a bad father, a husband, lover, actor, director, the list could go on—Thompson decides late in his career to step out on Broadway and show people that he’s a real actor. He adapts Raymond Carver’s short story “What We talk about when We talk about Love", and joins a cast full of actors as insecure but guarded as he is. The entire film is shot in one take. We start with Thompson levitating, sitting crossed legged, thinking to himself “How did we get here?” He’s interrupted by a Skype call from his daughter Sam (Emma Watson), his assistant and recovering addict, and from then on the movie becomes a stream of conscious, Amiri Baraka, Allen Ginsberg-esc voyage of Thompson trying to put together this play and his life. In one scene, after the final preview, which had Thompson walking around Time Square in his underwear, he tells Sam in his dressing room “I feel like this play is becoming my life”. Unlike a film like Synecdoche, New York, or Inception, where the film promotes itself as a silver screen puzzle by having “layers”, Birdman, has layers without even trying. The film itself is an actor. A human. Its camera is shaky, never resting for too long, and unsure of what character to follow. Its self aware but unsure of what to be: a biopic, a documentary, an action film, or a romance or a play. And it’s charming but difficult to deal with, because it’s unpredictable. 

         The film follows Thompson as he battles with his ego, Birdman, the super hero character he played for three films, his only key to success, who continues to talk to him, taunt him, doubt him, and becomes what Thompson is trying to run away from in order to make good art. This is contrasted by Mike (Edward Norton) an actor who “gives all of him” on the stage, is known for his good performances and being three times the asshole Thompson is. He is an actor who thrives and craves the real, and nothing else. When he and Sam converse/flirt on the roof, after turning her down for the first time, she keeps his interest by playing truth or dare. He always picks truth. The truth, in always choosing truth, is that you only see one side, and that is what Mike and all the other actors struggle with: not being seen. Whether it be Lesly (Naomi Watts) who has to face the reality that she may not make it on Broadway, or Laura (Andrea Riseborough) who seems to be indifferent to acting, and more interested in being a supportive no-name, or Jake (Galifianakas) Thompson’s lawyer and producer, who often lies to him and himself, to keep the show going. But that is precisely what the film explores: whether you’re living as who you who are or  a constant performance? What’s at cost when you’re always making art?

    The hard thing to do as an artist is to deal with the truth. And in this case, as is the case for when you are making art, truth is the stuff you’ve been missing. Through this continuum, you see how the actors’ personal life and stage life become one. Art is a mirror–art is people. If there is a Virtue of Ignorance, it’s revelation. And without some ego, without being you for better or worse, revelation becomes a stagnant camera. 

by Jordon Briggs

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