“We all reflect ourself in an eternal mirror.”
~Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Birdman was one of my favorite films of the year, and I rightly think it won best picture. Some films surpass the standard Hollywood structure and style, and push the boundaries of what film can do - I think Birdman was one such film.
Birdman was originally imagined as a single-shot film, and though it did attempt that outright, the end result is even more superb. Director Alejandro Iñárritu wanted to present the film in a manner reminiscent of the human experience of life - a continuous flood of movement, emotion, and interaction - and through subtle CGI and the genius maneuvering of DP Emmanuel Lubezki, this ambitious project came to fruition. With every single movement in the film planned out - as Iñárritu mentioned during an interview - the extremely meticulous approach to the film created shots which seemed to flow naturally without pause from the beginning to the end. This gave the brief cutaways - to the beach, or the meteor in the off-blue sky - a deep impact which helped represent the transition into awakening that the main character (played by Michael Keaton) was experiencing, as well as provide a reflective moment for the audience, breaking up (or into) the action at the most important points in the film. The lighting of the scenes was incredibly difficult as well. As Lubezki stated in an interview, no less than eight people were constantly moving with him during every shot. Shooting an entire film using almost nothing but the internally available lighting is a magnificent feat, which added tremendously to the “feel” and “tone” of each scene - especially given the quality of continuous movement Iñárritu was going for.
The largest contention people seem to have with the film is its ambiguity - the way it plays with time, space, and narrative form itself. Birdman doesn’t stick to the conventional system most people have grown up with and are comfortable with - it forces the watcher to either leave, or confront their own issues - which have been mirrored for them in the characters on the screen. One could argue that many films attempt something the same, but Birdman seems to have actually caught that ideal position - partially no-doubt because that’s exactly what Iñárritu wanted to achieve.
“That's basically the story of every human being, including me. It's hard to deal with our mediocrity, I think.” ~Alejandro Iñárritu
The question here isn’t so much “what is the meaning of the film”, or “what are the hidden truths of the ending”, but rather “how do I [the viewer] relate to this film, and why.”
The ending sequence came to Iñárritu in a dream after all, but that dream created a poignant ending which will easily live on as something iconic in and of itself - a radical shift from the perspective of one character into the perspective of another. One could argue that this represents with a subtle hint the fact that each human being is living just as Keaton’s character Riggan did - enamored with themselves and their place in the universe. Whatever happened to Riggan in the end is immaterial to the point that, in the end, the audience is watching something utterly focused on the concept of perception.
It’s easy to dislike something, or relax into an admission of confusion, without giving that work itself room to maneuver. The greatest pieces of art don’t offer up easy answers for the audience - but the average viewer has become accustomed to the easy answer; Hollywood loves providing easy answers, because they don’t upset the audience, or force them to think beyond the framework of the film. Avengers (for one example) is a masterful piece of filmmaking, and is, in many ways, art - however it is directed at the innocent and juvenile side of the heart, and focused less on the exploration of life beyond its borders. Birdman is concerned very deeply with perspective and borders, and it forces its audience to journey with the characters into the unknown - no easy answers to be found.
In this, Iñárritu has managed to capture the essence of life perfectly - for humans are all self-centered creatures doing the best they can with their limited perceptions of the world. In Birdman all the characters are alive for themselves; they all feel like “real people”, but seen through the perspective of Riggan, he is the Sun, “and all the other characters [are] the planets going around him.” Who has not experience life in this fashion? Of course many do not experience life like this continuously, maybe Birdman is hinting at why it’s a good idea to think beyond the self more often.
Public project updates, author information, and the like. For more of Odin's thoughts, follow him on Twitter.