Film, In Review: Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Obsession has been known to corrupt the advantageous human, but imagination, that swelters in the mind like a freshly crewed bruise.

Michael Keaton (Riggan Thompson) in "Birdman"

Michael Keaton (Riggan Thompson) in “Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)”

Actors depend on their imagination to convince audiences that what they are witnessing is inconceivable because for the time being, they are. For the tell-tale actor, imagination isn’t simply a gear to an axle, a means to an end. Imagination is the be all and end all – it is the crux of their being. Acting, like any job, occurs in seasons; imagination is everlasting. It can be ignored but it somehow, always finds a way to creep back into the crevices of our unsheltered minds. Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” festers in the beauty that imagination has to offer by provoking our minds without aggravating the whole frontal lobe.

Michael Keaton (Riggan Hindu) in "Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)"

Michael Keaton (Riggan Hindu) in “Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance)”

As the preview date to his Broadway play draws closer actor Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) prepares to thrust his forgotten name back into the bashful spotlight and relive the fame that once donned him ‘Birdman’. His play, the highly anticipated “What We Talk About When We Talk about Love”, debuts in a matter of weeks, yet Riggan is unsatisfied with his cast of characters, specifically the supporting actor. After a suspicious stage accident, the supporting actor is injured during rehearsal and replaced by critically acclaimed thespian Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). A reputation for both causing havoc on and off stage, Shiner is determined to ruin Riggan’s preview simply by upstaging him at any chance he gets. Behind the curtain, Sam (Emma Stone), Riggan’s daughter and personal assistant, floats around the theatre vigorously looking for a distraction after her post rehab stint while Jake (Zach Galifianakis), Riggan’s manager pulls his hair out by the fist fulls as Riggan loses all sense of himself in the process.

Emma Stone (Sam) in "Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"

Emma Stone (Sam) in “Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Written and directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu, “Birdman” confronts the indistinguishable duality that emerges when actors become their characters. The film, starring Michael Keaton, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Naomi Watts, and Andrea Riseborough not only becomes a visual spectacle but offers a commentary about the complexity within the tortured artist.

“Authenticity, in the world of performance, determines how much a performer can be validated for their work. Performers, nonetheless, will always be scrutinized because the line delineating sincerity and sympathy is so fraught with pretentiousness.”

Michael Keaton (Riggan Thompson) and Edward Norton (Mike Shiner) in "Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)"

Michael Keaton (Riggan Thompson) and Edward Norton (Mike Shiner) in “Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)”

Characters, moreover, are essential to revealing an actor’s true self but this can sometimes lead to an additive persona even after the lights and cameras have gone. Riggan’s inner voice for instance, challenges him daily to resurrect the past for a better future. Whether or not that may be fulfilling, the option for Riggan is everlasting and overtly tempting. This interplay is demonstrated when Mike flips out during one of the previews and is confronted unexpectedly backstage by Riggan. Actors rarely provide insight into their own performances unless compelled to do so by audiences or critics, thus having an entire film that provides such commentary becomes necessary, especially when its actors revel relentlessly in it.

Cinematically, Iñárritu’s technique is flawless seamlessly transitioning from one scene to the next as Riggan struggles to master his personal and professional life. Location in the film varies between Riggan’s dressing room, the stage, a corner street bar, and the theatre rooftop. How we get to each one of these locations, how we transition from sunset to sunrise however, is the greatest treasure in this film. Performance wise, Keaton held his own as the actor struggling to re – brand himself as did Norton, nonetheless, the film’s more memorable instances took place its elements.

Leaving something, if not everything to the imagination, “Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” succeeds in giving audiences a choice between striving for the inconceivable or subjecting oneself to the unattainable.

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