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Super Realism


Plot Overview

A star falls from the heavens and we watch the fireball. Washed-up actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton of “Batman” fame) who played an iconic Birdman in a three-film franchise declined to do the fourth and is him­self now in decline. To recoup his reputation, he is directing and acting in a Broadway play that he also wrote, a stage production of Raymond Carver's short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”. We find him doing yoga meditation to center himself, but the project is still up in the air.

He joins rehearsal at St. James Theater in New York City, close to Times Square, where a mediocre actor Ralph (Jeremy Shamos) has an untimely accident. They find a replace­ment for him in 'method' actor Mike Shiner (Edward Norton) who doesn't come cheap, so Riggan goes further into hock. He is plagued by: his rebellious daughter Sam (Emma Stone) who's in rehab from drugs, his former wife Sylvia (Amy Ryan) who doesn't like him giving away the store for his project, his worried friend/ producer/ lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis), his overly sexual actress mistress Laura (Andrea Rise­borough), his insecure co-star Leslie (Naomi Watt), a hostile New York Times theater critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan), and a deep persistent inner Birdman voice that's always on his case. As opening night looms and failure seems imminent, he may resort to cutting off his nose to spite his face.


There's an oft-displayed note on Riggan's dressing room mirror: A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing, attributed as a quote by some­one whose name is unread­able. A “thing” comes up when his lawyer averts a law­suit by threatening to publish the photo­graphic contents of Ralph's computer, of whom it was said, “He has a thing for nuns in diapers.” Ralph wouldn't want any­thing said of that “thing” of his. This is a double entendre on the word continence that can mean control either of (especially sexual) appetites or of bodily discharge, the lack of it in the latter case necessi­tating diapers. Hey, what­ever turns him on.

This “thing” also correlates to the bedroom scene they are rehearsing in which a man who Riggan plays burst's into his wife's bed­room bran­dishing a pistol, to find her in bed with another man, she being incontinent with respect to sexual fidelity. Riggan's line when she reveals she doesn't love him is, “I'm nothing. I'm not even here.” He doesn't exist. That's almost identical to a line from the movie/play “Chicago,” which cuckold Amos sings in the song “Mr Cello­phane” (designating his invisibility).

The reason for the nuns' incontinence is echoed by Laura who finding it difficult to get pregnant, says, “My body is not cooperating with me.” Another kind of bodily nonco­operation is encountered by Mike who can't perform sexually—except some­times (“I'm hard.”) Also by aging Riggan whose gift of easy tele­kinesis seems to have deserted him when he closes a locking door behind him and can't open it from his side—his usual gift would have allowed him to. Where is the miracle when he needs one?

The general point seems to be that a man's identity is to some extent invested in his marriage being the vehicle for procreation that carries his name (identity) through succeeding generations. That identity is still there even for (temporary?) lack of one's body cooperating because of sickness, diminished desire, or age, resulting in no off­spring jumping out of the womb. The nuns, after all, are still married to Jesus even if they've got the trots.

The other rehearsed scene we see is one in a kitchen where they are discussing (appropriately enough) the meaning of love. A back­stage open ended discussion concerns a lesbian pass one actress makes to another (“What are you doing?”) In our broader society, there is a lot of debate, state by state, whether homo­sexuals who love each other could be accommodated by a legal marriage. By this movie's formulas, their identities would not be as much wrapped up in such a same-sex marriage because it could produce no offspring, and not for a (temporary?) lack of bodily cooperation, but because they have the wrong body pairings to begin with. If we were to call such marriages real, then a hetero­sexual marriage would be “super real” as was termed this play's artistic endeavor. Or to use common dictionary definitions, one marriage is the close union of two unspecified entities, the other of a hetero­sexual couple, the latter being synonymous with holy matrimony, the former in the case of gays, synonymous with domestic partnership or civil union.

The thrust of this movie is that the only opinion that matters is that of the critic on opening night, which is similar to a Christian's position that the only opinion that matters is God's, see 1Cor. 4:3-5. All the voting in the world to make a homo marriage equivalent to a hetero one won't matter a hoot if God doesn't agree.

Production Values

“Birdman” (2014) is shot as a play adaptation of Raymond Carver's classic short story, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” It was master­fully directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. It was written by him, and co-written with Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr, and Armando Bo. It stars Michael Keaton, Zach Galifiana­kis, Edward Norton, Andrea Rise­borough, Amy Ryan, Emma Stone, and Naomi Watts. Three stand­outs are Keaton, Norton and Stone. Cinema­tog­rapher Emmanuel Lubezki and editors Douglas Prise & Stephen Mirrione did an out­standing job augmented by a jazzy drum score by Antonio Sanchez.

Cineasts will appreciate the filming device of long takes subtly edited to look like (after the intro) a single long take for the whole movie, as was seen before in “Silent House” and more notably in Hitch­cock's “Rope.” I don't know, though, whether it adds much to the regular movie­goer's experience. It's rated R for language through­out, some sexual content and brief violence.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

“Birdman” is fast paced and intense, happening almost entirely in a warren backstage at an “800 seat shit­hole.” I appreciated it because it reminded me of my high school theater days. It's perhaps comparable to jazz music: some people will love it, others not so much. If you like something twisty and weird and involving, go see it. If you like standard fare stick to that. But it's well made and might be worth it just for a different experience.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability For Children: Not Suitable for Children of Any Age. Special effects: Absolutely amazing special effects. Video Occasion: None of the Above. Suspense: Keeps you on the edge of your seat. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.