Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014)

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I’m at a loss for words. I can’t believe a film like Birdman actually exists. I don’t think I’ve ever been left this speechless by a film ever in my life. I was really excited for Birdman, and it was one of my most anticipated movies of the year. I wasn’t expecting it to be what it actually was – Birdman transcended the entire concept of movies itself, and created something that was the purest and most honest definition of art – something that wasn’t here before, but now is. Birdman occupies a space with There Will Be Blood, Synecdoche, New York and Drive as something completely unique and extraordinary, and like the three films I mentioned, Birdman could indeed be considered one of the greatest films of the 21st century.

It is no secret I am quite a big fan of Michael Keaton. I find his sarcastic and almost elitist acting style very endearing, and he was one actor who truly epitomized the 1980s cinema era. Many detractors will mention how Michael Keaton playing an actor who was once famous for playing a superhero, and is trying to mount a comeback, is oddly similar to Keaton himself. While that does seem eerily meta-referential, I have to say, being somewhat aware of Keaton’s post-Batman career, the character and Keaton are almost completely different. Keaton gives the performance of a lifetime as Riggan Thomson, who was once a huge star and now has declined into obscurity. His performance as Riggan was everything an iconic performance requires – intense, passionate and filled with humor, emotion and most of all allows us to relate to the character. Many of us have felt like we deserve better, and would go to any lengths to succeed or get back to your former glory. Keaton gives one of the greatest film performances I’ve ever seen, and while it may not be recognized that way right now, it surely will be in the coming years.

Alejandro González Iñárritu is a master of cinema – his previous films, such as 21 Grams and Biutiful were incredible, complex and brilliant films. One thing they were not is funny. Therefore, it seemed like quite the challenge that he would make his very first comedic film. Birdman may not be as gut-bustingly hilarious as other comedies, but it is definitely the darkest of comedies possible. It deals with serious topics like drug abuse, divorce and suicide, but with a bitterly cold and subtle sense of humor. It is a brilliant black comedy that is constantly funny, but not in ways one would normally expect. I honestly believe that very few films allow you to see Michael Keaton run down Times Square in only a pair of white underpants.

A lot of films attempt to make some scathing commentary on the concept of celebrities, and how someone can become famous by doing nothing but existing, and how some mediocre performers are pushed up to the god-like status of artists. However, Birdman will stand as the ultimate satire on the idea of fame, and how celebrities aren’t necessarily actors, and actors aren’t necessarily celebrities. This is shown in the relationship between Riggan Thomson and Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). Riggan is a former Hollywood golden boy thrust who made his career and reputation in huge blockbusters. Mike, on the other hand, is a dedicated stage actor who has made his living becoming New York’s premiere stage performer. Both men are incredibly arrogant, as they believe their careers and achievements are better than the other’s – and it raises some interesting thinking points about the differences between art and entertainment.

The performances in Birdman are fantastic. Keaton of course is absolutely brilliant as Riggan, and while he undoubtedly rules the film and serves as the most important character, Iñárritu also makes sure to shine some light on the excellent supporting cast. Edward Norton gives his best performance in a film since Fight Club fifteen years ago. As Mike, Norton is sleazy, arrogant and gloriously evil. Emma Stone has always been a very charming actress, and as Sam, Riggan’s former drug-addict daughter and current personal assistant, she brings a much darker and bleak aspect to her performance. Smaller, but still very important and notable, performances come from Zach Galifianakis in a very against-type performance as Riggan’s sane-headed and calm lawyer, best friend and producer. Naomi Watts is great as the conflicted stage actress, and Andrea Riseborough does her best in her small role as Riggan’s confused girlfriend. It is an eclectic cast of talented actors who bring exactly what is needed to the film, and did exactly what the script demanded and even more than that.

Another aspect of Birdman that makes it absolutely brilliant and unique is that it is filmed in a manner completely different to most other films – it is shot in such a way that it looks like the entire film is one continuous long-take, which gives the impression that the audience is navigating the labyrinthine mind of Riggan, showing his insanity and delusions of grandeur. It feels more like a journey rather than a story, and the first clear cut comes right near the end, after the heart-stopping climax. It is a unique approach to making this film, and makes it even more extraordinary, and sets it apart from every other film this year, which I think is an amazing achievement.

Birdman naturally lends itself to over-analysis, and anyone can have a field day contemplating the meanings of the film. It is a gorgeously philosophical and meaningful film that will leave your head spinning and your heart beating. There are so many interpretations of this film, especially to the vague but brilliant ending, you could analyze it for weeks on end, and still not come to a satisfying conclusion. It is eternally deep and full of mind-bending imagery, so anyone who enjoys having their intelligence challenged, and to try and reach some sort of enlightenment will really like Birdman, or possibly despise it, because it is just too deep to ignore, and the insane amount of thought that goes through your head could drive you crazy (and it certainly will, and that’s why I love it).

Birdman is extraordinary. It is mentally stimulating, meaningful and deep. It is an absolute masterpiece. It is a prime example of what art truly is – something unique and created with such passion and fire by a genius, it cannot be ignored. Birdman is going to become an iconic and legendary film for so many reasons – the philosophical message, the beautiful filmmaking, the incredibly complex story and the top-notch performances from the cast, especially from Keaton. It is beautiful, meaningful and absolutely brilliant. I adored this film like no other this year, and I really do believe it is an absolute masterpiece. In fact, Birdman is so perfect, it becomes a flaw, thus making it imperfect, which is the exact type of mind-bending philosophy Birdman thrives on.

Best film of the year…by far.

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