Monday, February 23, 2015

Deconstructing Birdman: Part 2: The Fall of Icarus

(Image taken from:

Yay! Birdman won Best Picture. I feel kind of weird about that. A film that I thought was my favorite of the year has never won Best Picture before. I wonder what all this means...Well, anyway, time to continue the discussion! Just yesterday, I covered what the sub-header of the film could possibly mean. You can find that here. And today, I'm going to cover the allusion to Icarus that appears in the film. Let's get started! (Remember. Everything I have to say is pure interpretation).

There are usually two interpretations of the Icarus story. One, is the mythological one that a person should not fly too close to the sun since they shouldn't be like the gods. We are human beings, and should be content with being as such. Don't break the mold. Stay on the land. That sort of thing.

And then, you have the more modern interpretation--even if you get burned and fall to your death, at least you shot for greatness. You went for it. You tried! You might have failed, sure, but what is life without trying to soar toward your dreams? Well, in Birdman's case, I think that a little of both interpretations might be at play here. In the beginning of the film, following the intro, the first sight we see is of a ball of light falling from the sky. At first, we're not entirely sure what we're seeing. It's only through watching the film that we get a sense that the visual was meant to be Icarus. And Icarus has already flown too close to the sun. He's already falling right at the beginning. This puts us in a prime location in Riggan Thompson's life. As Birdman, he both literally and figuratively soared, and now, as he prepares to put on this play that seems to be a disaster, he's falling to his death, both literally and metaphorically. Simple enough.

But then, we have the other interpretation. The one where we shouldn't be like the gods, and I think that's the more interesting aspect of the film. Birdman, the character that now exists in Riggan's head, is pushing him. He is pushing him to take his place as a godlike figure, now that superhero films are all the rage (Remember, when Birdman/Batman--Because the comparison can't be avoided--came out, superhero flicks were more a joke than anything else). Riggan "handed over his keys to the kingdom" as the voice in his head says, and it's now his time to reclaim that spot. Be like the gods. Fly close to the sun. Take what's yours. Because on the big screen, these actors ARE like gods. We suspend belief (If the movie is good enough) and accept that they can run at supernatural speeds and move mountains. They can even fly! And it's that aspect that Riggan can't let go of. But it's also the aspect that he needs to let go of in order to move on with his life (and he eventually does let go of it when he finds the godlike figure, Birdman, sitting on the toilet--like a regular human being!--at the end). In the last scene of the movie, Riggan Thomas truly DOES fly, but I'll get to the conclusion of the film at a later time. In Birdman, Icarus falls, but he can also be redeemed and rise again. Entirely off-screen, of course.

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