Sunday, February 22, 2015

Deconstructing Birdman: Part 1: The Sub-header

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Tonight's the night. Will Birdman win Best Picture? We'll know in a few hours. But I want to begin a series on my blog deconstructing the many, many layers of the film. More so than any other movie I can think of, Birdman is a film that deserves to be picked apart piece-by-piece. It's for this reason that I think a lot of people didn't enjoy it--They're not really sure what to make of it. Over the next few days, I'm going to try to break down the film so that those who hated it might appreciate it a little more. There's a lot to talk about so let's get started. And we'll begin with something that you see before you even WATCH the movie. The sub-header. (Note: Everything I'm about to say is PURE interpretation).

1. Birdman (Or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

There's a lot of ways to look at this sub-header (And it is there, so you can't just ignore it). One way to look at it is to focus on Michael Keaton's character, Riggan Thompson, in general. In many ways, Riggan seems ignorant to the fact that he's a washed up joke. I mean, he knows he is, which is part of the reason why he's having a breakdown, but his character seems pretty ignorant throughout the film about the fact that people are only coming to see him on Broadway because he's a celebrity. But what is virtuous about being Ignorant? Doesn't this ignorance only hurt Riggan in the long run when he finally comes to the conclusion that people are just laughing at him (Most notably in the scene when he walks through Times Square in his underwear and the clip goes viral)? Well, yes and no.

One could argue that his ignorance is what saves him throughout the film, especially when he ends up shooting himself and merely blowing off his nose (We'll get to that ending at a later date).

But I actually think that ignorance runs even deeper than the surface level. I think, in many ways, that the ignorance both the audience and the actors themselves indulge in is what brings about such virtue. And the virtue exists because we, as an audience (and the actors, too) are willing to accept anything in movies. We're willing to buy in to the "reality" of a story, which is why the ending of the film doesn't work for so many people. But again, I'll get to that at a later date. As viewers, we allow ourselves to be ignorant to the story in order to enjoy it. The moment we start picking away at its plot and guessing how it will end, is the moment it loses its merit and fun for us. We are no longer engrossed in its reality. We are just watching a "movie". The same goes for the actors. Yes, actors know how a film or story ends because they read the script. They are privy to something that the audience is not (Well, prior to the internet age anyway, when even fans can sniff out the scripts and read them). But they are ignorant to the final product, which really saves their performance since it doesn't allow them to know what the film will look like when it's all said and done. They buy in to their own reality as the film is being made, and thus, become engulfed by the role (I promise not to make all of this too pretentious).

In that way, ignorance is unexpectedly a virtue for both the audience (to enjoy the film or art), and to the actor (to give a believable performance).

Next up, I'm going to discuss allusions to Icarus falling. Hope to see you again!

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