Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a movie about a washed up actor’s desperate grab for relevance by putting on a Broadway play of a Raymond Carver story. Throughout the movie Riggan, though in my head I call him Birdman, struggles with his life falling apart while simultaneously his play is falling apart. Out of desperation, he and his producer bring on Mike, a volatile actor who turns out to not only be a volatile actor, but a real jackass too. But the critics love Mike, so they’re stuck with him. Birdman also has an estranged relationship with his daughter Sam, who is also a recovering drug addict?
Like David Lynch’s Dune, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a movie that I really admire from a structural level. The people who made the movie knew what they were doing, and both the soundtrack and the way it is filmed (either as one cut or a series of very long cuts to give the impression of one long shot) are both very well done. I think the acting is great, I mean I’ve been a fan of Michael Keaton since Tim Burton’s Batman and Mr. Mom, Edward Norton was of course in the spiritual sequel to Ang Lee’s Hulk, The Incredible Hulk, and Emma Stone stars in Spider-Man movies but really should be the main character in those movies. Also, did you know Zach Galifianakis is in this movie? I could not recognize him. I think he did a great job.
My only real problem with this movie is that, upon reflection, I really don’t care or like Birdman. I think the movie is about him getting what he desperately wants (the respect of the art community) and about him reconnecting with his estranged daughter. On top of that there’s a railing against the impotent pettiness of critics and the hollowness of blockbuster action movies? One of the things I struggle with is that I’m not sure what the movie is getting at. Also, possibly the hypocrisy of “high” art? It’s difficult to figure it out.
First off, I don’t think Birdman gets redeemed through the movie. He’s kind of a petty wreck of a man at the beginning and he’s really unchanged by the end in my opinion. He’s apparently reconnected with his daughter, but I really don’t believe that since… well, it sounds like he was a neglectful father all his life followed by periods of intense attention. I feel like we’re just reaching a start of a new cycle of that.
Also there’s the problematic character of Mike. I think Mike is supposed to be sympathetic given how many scenes he has with Sam, Birdman’s daughter, but seriously this guy is the worst. I won’t go into it, but man this guy is a monster, and I pretty much hate him the more I think about the movie. Next to Mike, Birdman does seem like a much better person, because at least Birdman is mostly just self-destructive, while Mike is actively destructive on other people. And I think the movie wants me to like Mike and I’m like, no movie, get out. I’ll never like Mike.
I guess I’m just not on Birdman’s side during all of this. I keep going back to Groundhog’s Day with Bill Murray, or Thor. Both of these movies start with despicable protagonists but by the end you want them to win. That flipping point never happened for me in Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The movie is good at making me think that I do care about Birdman, but I don’t think I do really. I think I also disagree with the movie in its view on criticism and blockbuster movies. Maybe.
I’m not saying this movie is a bad movie. It was a movie made by talented people. I suspect that the ambiguity that is thwarting me from really understand what the movie is saying is also intentional. I think everything the movie wants to do, it does well, but ultimately it loses me because… I just don’t care about the one guy I really need to care for. And this is really after the fact, I was pretty caught up with the movie while watching it. I just won’t be watching this movie again, maybe ever.