I saw Birdman: The Unexpected Virtue of Innocence before the Oscars but I didn’t even attempt to write about it because so many other people did. The critics loved this movie and I cannot pretend to compete with what they know about films.
Initially I had very mixed feelings about the movie. It was beautifully put together, perhaps one of the best films I have seen lately in terms of production values. The acting was also top notch. But, at the time, the story struck me as self-indulgent, an aging actor missing his fame and trying to mount a comeback on the boards doing a play based on a short story by his favorite author, Ray Carver.
Often, when moviegoers see back stage we are shown scenes at a production such as a big cast musical with lots of chaos and cuing action, or we are seeing an investigation following a murder that was committed either off or on the stage. But here we have the Birdman, well, the ex-Birdman, who is used to swooping through space and being the center of attention or in other words to being heroic, yet now, in this little theater for this quiet little play he reminds us more of Willy Loman and it’s pissing him off. He wavers among his many real life roles, sometimes a stage manager, an actor, a boyfriend, an ex-husband, a father, someone who is almost broke and then that heroic winged avenger he once was. He wants to be that winged avenger again, but he is too old, he looks ludicrous in the role. So what? Why should we feel bad for him? He had a wonderful life. Not our fault if he mismanaged his money.
Then there is that soundtrack, all percussion, which I liked at times, but mostly found annoying. It created a tension which made everything seem dire and foolish at the same time. Sometimes it was pure jazz sophistication and sometimes it was vaudeville with all its slapstick and pratfalls.
I mentioned to my sister after the movie that aging actors seemed to be the topic of the moment because we had just finished reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel in which Arthur, another aging actor plays such a key role, even though he dies early in the book. My sister pretends she is not at all literary but she sometimes gets things quicker than I do. She said that this topic is popping up so often because the baby boomers are old – ouch! She is not a boomer, I am almost a boomer. I do believe, though, that she summed up the universal appeal of this movie and figured out the meaning of the ending all in one easy, if slightly snippy, little sentence.
The Birdman is not just the actor known as the Birdman, he is all us obsolete boomers. Everyone is ready for us to leave the stage but we still want to be relevant, even if we may make ourselves appear foolish to others. Perhaps the daughter is smiling at the end of the film because Dad gets to leave the world as the Birdman, and he has left her the center stage position that he cannot recover. (You can see the cast list at imdb.com)
By Nancy Brisson